'Responsible' investing: scorecard at 30

Do-good investors have done pretty well. Assets in "socially responsible" mutual funds rose five times faster, on average, than those in all other funds over the past three decades, according to a new report by Portsmouth, N.H.-based Pax World Funds, itself a socially responsible investing firm.

The report notes that 192 such funds, which screen for a range of environmental and social-justice practices before buying shares of firms, have total assets of $103 billion, having broken the $100 million mark this year. By most accounts the first such fund was launched in 1971.

"I can't confirm the assets, but this is a growing industry," says Catherine Hickey, an analyst with Morningstar Inc., the Chicago-based fund tracker. "Many have strong performance records, and as a group they've been competitive with the overall mutual-fund universe." Funds like Domini Social Equity, she says, are making it into 401(k) plans.

Some fund experts say social funds have simply been riding the past decade's bull market.

Ms. Hickey says that's not entirely true. "This is not like a tech-fund phenomenon," she says. "[But] one of the real challenges for this industry will be adding funds that are value-focused instead of just focused on growth. The value options for social investors are few right now, but it might be slowly changing," she says.

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