Investors soon could have a way to bet on the stock-picking skills of U.S. lawmakers, as a regulatory filing on Thursday has outlined a plan for two new ETFs that would track congressional buys and sells.
The ETFs could have to shut down if a bipartisan push to ban congressional trading of individual stocks is successful.
But such a ban doesn’t look imminent, as one advocate in the Senate, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, told Insider on Thursday that it’s “not going to happen” before November’s midterm elections.
The House still could act on the issue, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying on Wednesday that a bill could be brought to her chamber’s floor this month. However, any legislation would need the Senate’s OK before President Joe Biden could sign it into law.
One of the new ETFs would have the ticker NANC and would seek to achieve long-term capital appreciation by investing primarily in stocks bought by sitting Democratic members of Congress or their spouses, according to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which Bloomberg reported on late Thursday.
That ticker is a reference to Pelosi, according to one outfit involved in the new ETFs, Unusual Whales. The California Democrat ranked as the eighth-biggest trader last year among Congress’s more than 500 members, with an estimated $12 million in buys and no sells, MarketWatch reported in January.
The other ETF would have the ticker KRUZ and would track the equities held by Republican lawmakers or their spouses, the filing said. That ticker is a reference to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, according to Unusual Whales. Cruz appears to have made only two trades in the past three years, according to Capitol Trades data, and he reportedly has considered introducing his own bill that would ban congressional buying and selling of stocks.
The investment adviser for the ETFs is listed as New York City-based Subversive Capital Advisor LLC, and the two funds would be named the Unusual Whales Subversive Democratic Trading ETF and the Unusual Whales Subversive Republican Trading ETF. Each fund usually would hold between 500 and 600 stocks.
Advocates for banning congressional trading say the large volume of buys and sells by U.S. lawmakers have raised questions about conflicts of interest and contributed to low levels of confidence in the government.
Stock trades reported by nearly a fifth of Congress showed possible conflicts, according to a New York Times report on Tuesday that covered buy and sells from the years 2019 to 2021.
The Times report also said a legislative proposal now under development by the House’s Democratic leadership would prohibit lawmakers, their spouses and dependent children from trading stocks, bonds, cryptocurrencies and other assets tied to specific companies, but the report didn’t mention restrictions on senior staff.
MarketWatch’s January report revealed how Congress resembled a Wall Street trading desk in 2021, with lawmakers and their family members making an estimated total of $355 million worth of stock trades as the market SPX, -0.72% DJIA, -0.45% soared during that year.
Some researchers have suggested that an investor wouldn’t want to track lawmakers’ trades if he or she aimed to beat the market. One study in 2020 found that U.S. senators are “as feckless as the rest of us at stock picking,” while another study this year found House members and senators are mediocre stock pickers on average.
Unusual Whales told MarketWatch that Congress has “traded and gained for a long time,” and it’s “time for the market to have a product that encapsulates that.” There’s also “an element of public pressure by further visualizing and following the trades,” meaning an attempt to get lawmakers to stop trading, Unusual Whales said.