Salvation Army becomes big stock market player

SYDNEY, Australia, AP

Australia’s richest and most popular charity has become a major force on the Australian stock market, investing millions of dollars each year, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The Australian said the Salvation Army has net assets worth more than 1 billion Australian dollars (US$515 million), and an investment portfolio totaling 300 million Australian dollars (US$155 million).

The Christian charity, which helps the poor, the aged and the homeless, earns some 350 million Australian dollars (US$180 million) a year through its annual Red Shield Appeal to the public, and federal government funding, the newspaper reported.

The Australian said the Army’s most significant share holdings are in mining giants BHP Ltd. and Rio Tinto, telecommunications company Telstra and media group News Limited.

It gives away more than 300 million Australian dollars (US$155 million) in social services to poor Australians each year, but reinvests much of its funds for the future, the Army said.

Senior officer Lt. Col. Brian Hood said the Salvation Army “could be viewed as having a fair bit of money,” but stressed: “We don’t exist to horde money, we exist to deliver services.”

“Money is put aside into investments to make sure it is well utilized until it needs to be drawn down,” Hood was quoted as saying.

However, a prominent Army officer, Maj. Brian Watters — who retired from the charity service last year — has expressed concern at the growth of the organization.

“My feeling is I don’t know whether I’m seeing the death throes of the Salvation Army or the rebirth,” Watters told the Australian. “I don’t know whether we will survive the next 100 years — we were never meant to be a large organization.”