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You may now own a piece of Trump Media – and not even know it

New York CNN  —  If you’ve got money in the market, you might own a little piece of Trump Media — without even knowing it. Trump Media & Technology is now part of two broad indexes of US stocks: the Russell 1000 Index of large-cap stocks and the Russell 3000 Index. And several popular passive funds — namely index and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) — automatically buy whatever shares are part of those Russell indexes. Trump Media (DJT), the owner of conservative social media platform Truth Social, announced its addition to the Russell family on Monday. The company, majority-owned by former President Donald Trump, doesn’t make money and generates very little revenue. As a result, countless retail investors will now own a piece of Trump Media. ‘Whether they know it or not’ Passive investing in ETFs and other funds has surged over the past 20 years as a way for investors to cheaply diversify their holdings and avoid the risk of focusing on single stocks. Some large funds track the investment results of the Russell 1000. These include ETFs like the iShares Russell 1000 ETF (IWB), with nearly $38 billion in assets, and the $5 billion Vanguard Russell 1000 ETF (VONE), as well as certain mutual funds that are in 401(k) plans and other retirement accounts. These include the $14 billion iShares Russell 3000 ETF (IWV) and the $2.5 billion Vanguard Russell 3000 ETF (VTHR). “People might be owning some of that company, whether they know it or not — and whether they like it or not,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. That said, Trump Media would only be a small part of funds that track the Russell. It would be dwarfed by the holdings of larger companies including Microsoft, Nvidia and Apple. However, Stovall said the Trump Media situation underscores one of the disadvantages of passive investing: Some funds mimic indexes that automatically add stocks based on rules, not based on a careful evaluation of the business’s fundamental strengths and weaknesses. “You can end up with real dogs that, in my opinion, are not really worthwhile owning. The flotsam gets swept up with the jetsam,” Stovall said. In this case, the Russell 3000 captures the 3,000 largest US stocks. During annual updates, certain stocks are added — not necessarily because of their earnings potential or the quality of their products, but because they are large enough to qualify. “Investors seeking to capture a strategy reflecting broad US equities performance can confidently choose the Russell 3000 knowing there are no subjective inclusion or exclusions of stocks,” according to FTSE Russell’s website. Inclusion in the Russell 3000 automatically qualifies a stock to enter either the small-cap Russell 2000 or the larger Russell 1000. Some other indexes include subjective, more analytical criteria. For instance, S&P Global says it invites companies to join its S&P MidCap 400 index only after reviewing their balance sheets and financial viability. Experts have raised significant concerns about Trump Media, which is valued at nearly $6 billion even though it generated less than $1 million in revenue during each of the past two quarters. Its main product, Truth Social, is still a very tiny player in social media. Trump Media has been frequently compared to a meme stock that trades on momentum and hype, not fundamentals. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump, believes Trump Media is really worth just $40 million. “The Truth Social numbers are so absurdly out of the realm of normal business,” Hoffman told CNN. Aniket Ullal, head of ETF data and analytics at CFRA Research, notes that regulators require all indexed ETFs to publish their portfolio holdings daily. “There is transparency in the holdings for investors who want it,” said Ullal.