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"Almost three-quarters of investors (74 percent) would be more likely to work with an advisor who could give them competitive investment returns from investments that also made a positive impact on society and 65 percent of investors would be more likely to stay with an advisor who could discuss responsible investing with them."
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Commentaries by Ron Robins  E-mail us your feedback

Links may only be valid for a limited time   August 16, 2018

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Report: time to rethink ESG index construction. "Traditional index construction not effective because it makes it difficult for investors to assess source of outperformance."

[COMMENTARY] This interesting article discusses a study which highlights the difficulty in pointing to ESG factors as a standalone factor in ESG fund alpha. The report suggests ESG funds need improved construction to isolate all causes of outperformance.
Report: time to rethink ESG index construction, by Joe McGrath, August 14, 2018, Expert Investor, UK.


Companies with strong ESG scores outperform, study finds. "Portfolios in large and medium-sized groups in developed markets, excluding the US, record best results."

[COMMENTARY] Actually, the US portfolios did well too. Just not as well as those in Europe, most particularly. Incidentally, it's interesting to see how the EU and US governments seem to be diverging on encouraging ESG in funds' management.

The US Department of Labor recently issued a sort of warning about pension funds using ESG analysis, while the EU is going full steam encouraging ESG integration in funds' management! I think the US administration has too much of a rear view mirror when it comes to understanding the present and future economy.
Companies with strong ESG scores outperform, study finds, by Jennifer Thompson, August 12, 2018, FT, UK.


Majority of impact investors satisfied with investment performance: survey. "The majority of impact investors said their investments have met their expectations for both impact (82 per cent) and financial (76 per cent) performance since inception, according to a report by the Global Impact Investment Network."

[COMMENTARY] It's great news that most impact investors are really happy with their investment results. Such data will inspire many more to invest similarly.
Majority of impact investors satisfied with investment performance: survey, August 10, 2018, Benefits Canada, Canada.


ESG adoption gaining among U.S. asset owners – Callan survey. "More than 40% of U.S. asset owners have incorporated environmental, social and governance factors into their investment decisions, up from 37% in 2017 and 22% in 2013, said Callan's annual ESG survey report, released Wednesday."

[COMMENTARY] Of course, when a respondent says they've incorporated' ESG into their investment decisions, it's difficult to know if that's really the case.

For instance, for a fund manager evaluating governance decisions of a company's management, could suggest to them that they're already incorporating ESG into their investment decisions! However, the fact that this survey shows increasing acceptance of ESG on a yearly basis perhaps argues against this simplistic read of the survey results.
ESG adoption gaining among U.S. asset owners – Callan survey, by Meaghan Kilroy, August 8, 2018, Pensions & Investments, USA.


Investors ask 500 companies to come clean on treatment of workers. "More than 100 institutional investors, which together manage $12trn in assets, have sent a survey to 500 companies demanding that they disclose detailed information on how they manage their global workforces."

[COMMENTARY] Finally, this issue is receiving the attention of some of the biggest investors on the planet. It'll be quite interesting to see who responds and what the data says.
Investors ask 500 companies to come clean on treatment of workers, by Katie Burton, August 7, 2018, Ethical Corporation, UK.


Poll shows low adoption of smart beta ESG funds. "Research among 85 clients of Aberdeen Standard Investments and Sustainalytics found that only 24% of the sample group were actively using a dedicated smart beta ESG strategy in their portfolio at present."

[COMMENTARY] At 24%, I don't think the adoption rate is too bad at all. As Doug Morrow at Sustainalytics says, these are relatively early days yet.
Poll shows low adoption of smart beta ESG funds, by Joe McGrath, August 1, 2018, Expert Investor, UK.


Lack of market ‘plumbing’ holds back sustainable investing. "We need standards, benchmarks and derivatives to make this sector take off."

[COMMENTARY] A thoughtful article by the chairman of UBS on how sustainable investing can become fully mainstream. Also, it's terrific to see a leader such as Mr. Weber participating in the process of advancing sustainable investing.
Lack of market ‘plumbing’ holds back sustainable investing, by Axel Weber (chairman of UBS), July 29, 2018, FT, UK.


Market Momentum: Impact Investing & High Net Worth Canadians. "There is a high potential market for impact investing amongst high net worth individuals in Canada. One in three HNWIs responded as a current impact investor, with almost 90% expressing interest of investors surveyed, over 52% are investing or intending to invest for impact over the course of the upcoming year. There are some key characteristics of current and prospective impact investors."

[COMMENTARY] BMO, Scotiabank, and Tides Canada are among the major backers of this study. The study is of particular interest to Canadian advisors with HNWI clients. In general, it shows considerable and growing interest among Canadian HNWIs in impact investing.
Market Momentum: Impact Investing & High Net Worth Canadians, July 2018, MaRS and SVX, Canada.


Using ESG Ratings to Build a Sustainability Investing Strategy. "Sustainability investing continues to grow in popularity, but the lack of standardization in sustainability reporting poses a challenge for investors wishing to maximize the social responsibility, and minimize the social damage, of their investments. The authors, who previously studied sustainability ratings issued by the mass media, now turn their attention on rankings used by the investing community itself.

The findings indicate that they may be a more reliable barometer of a company’s commitment to environmental, social, and governance impact; nevertheless, further research into the long-term link between sustainable practices and value creation is needed."

[COMMENTARY] To some extent, this research counters the impression offered by the ACCF (see below, "Think tank takes ESG rating agencies to task") that since ESG ratings' methodologies are different among the ratings' agencies that they'll offer widely disparate outcomes. This CPA journal article throws more light on that and comes to some interesting, important, conclusions for ESG oriented investors.
Using ESG Ratings to Build a Sustainability Investing Strategy, by Silvia Romero, Agatha E. Jeffers, Beixin (Betsy) Lin, Frank Aquilino,  and Laurence DeGaetano, July 2018, The CPA Journal, USA.


For all the Hype, Almost No U.S. Plans Factor in ESG. "Just 12 percent of U.S. corporate and health care retirement plan representatives said they had incorporated ESG criteria into their manager selection processes. When defined contribution plans were excluded, only 6 percent considered ESG. The survey included 69 plan sponsors overseeing 119 defined benefit and defined contribution plans."

[COMMENTARY] Is it laziness, being uninformed, disinterest or what, that is preventing US corporate health and retirement plans from including ESG criteria? It seems to me a similar situation as with numerous advisors who don't understand -- or even -- want to understand, ESG options. Habits and remuneration arrangements are often hard to change.
For all the Hype, Almost No U.S. Plans Factor in ESG, by Amy Whyte, July 23, 2018, Institutional Investor, USA.


Think tank takes ESG rating agencies to task. "In a report released Thursday, the Washington-based, business-backed think tank argued individual companies 'can carry vastly divergent (ESG) ratings from different (ESG rating) agencies simultaneously, due to differences in methodology, subjective interpretation or an individual agency's agenda.'

...The major ESG ratings agencies analyzed in the report are MSCI, Sustainalytics, RepRisk and ISS...

Concerns raised by the ACCF over the agencies' ESG rating methodologies included variances in scoring systems among the agencies and the agencies' not fully disclosing the indicators they evaluate or the material impact of the indicators."

[COMMENTARY] Just like there's often wide variability in analyst opinions in the interpretation of financial statements, so there should also be variability in ESG opinions. However, setting competitive issues aside, I do agree the rating agencies could be more forthcoming in "disclosing the indicators they evaluate or the material impact of the indicators."
Think tank takes ESG rating agencies to task, by Meaghan Kilroy, July 19, 2018, Pensions & Investments, USA.


3 takeaways on trends in advisor investing. "Advisors this year, for instance, were asked about their use or recommendation of environmental, social and governance funds. Replies indicate that 26 percent of respondent advisors currently use and/or recommend ESG funds, and 20 percent plan to increase their use/recommendation of them over the next 12 months."

[COMMENTARY] Finally, a significant number of US advisors are using and recommending ESG investments to their clients! (Research cited: 2018 Trends in Investing Survey, Journal of Financial Planning and the FPA Research and Practice Institute.)
3 takeaways on trends in advisor investing, by Marlene Satter, July 16, 2018, Benefits Pro, USA.


When will “socially responsible investing” become just “investing”? "It may be hard to imagine, thinking back to the freewheeling pre-crisis days, but one legacy of the crisis could be a permanent shift in the finance industry’s moral compass. Yes, really."

[COMMENTARY] Good perspective on how the investment industry has changed -- and adopted socially responsible and ethical investing -- since the financial crises ten years ago.
When will “socially responsible investing” become just “investing”? By Eshe Nelson, July 9, 2018, Quartz, USA.


Asset management roundup: Survey predicts ESG-related ETF boom. "More than four-fifths of professional investors expect investment into environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) related exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to grow over the next five years, research from State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) has found."

[COMMENTARY] So far, ESG screened ETFs have attracted a tiny amount of assets. However, this could all soon change as Vanguard, Fidelity, and other major players enter and promote this space! Supporting this view are the findings of the SSGA survey.
Asset management roundup: Survey predicts ESG-related ETF boom, by Hugo Greenhalgh, June 29, 2018, IPE, UK.


Divesting sectors. The impact on returns. Evidence that oil divestment may not impact returns. "Grantham and colleagues have looked at the S&P500, over the last 28 years, 60 years, and 90 years; excluding a major sub-component sector each time. Grantham’s overall conclusion it that it didn’t make much difference in return - although some might argue at the max range of 50bps that compounded over 28 years may be significant. Others might suggest that the power of diversifcation and time, also makes this conclusion unsurprising."

[COMMENTARY] This study helps counter the argument that reducing the number of investments inevitably leads to lower returns. Thank you Grantham and colleagues, for shedding some light on what is perhaps the number one argument that ethical investors and advisors hear from 'unbelievers!'
Divesting sectors. The impact on returns. Evidence that oil divestment may not impact returns, June 22, 2018, ThenDoBetter, UK.


Advisers still think ESG strategies underperform. "A study released Monday by Cerulli Associates found that while more than 50% of advisors have either used an ESG product in the past 12 months or will use an ESG product in the next 12 months, 35% of those who don't use ESG investments cite concerns about lowering client performance. The Cerulli survey also affirms InvestmentNews research showing that just 19% of advisers who use ESG cite performance as a reason for doing so."

[COMMENTARY] Clearly with over 50% advisors using or planning to use ESG investment products, ESG is now mainstream! However, it's also clear that many advisors aren't familiar with the research literature that they can use to inform their clients that suggests ESG based investing can frequently offer better returns.
Advisers still think ESG strategies underperform, by John Waggoner, June 25, 2018, InvestmentNews, USA.


Investors Are Right To Consider ESG Risks, Says New Report By Corporate Governance Association. "Investors are right to consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks because they can impact the worth of intangible assets which make up more than 80 percent of company value, said a new report by the Society for Corporate Governance."

[COMMENTARY] Also, the report cites concerns about the accuracy of many ESG rating agencies' reports and that European asset managers are the primary drivers of ESG factors in investment analysis.
Investors Are Right To Consider ESG Risks, Says New Report By Corporate Governance Association, by Ted Knutson, June 22, 2018, Forbes, USA.


Another Way ESG Investing Can Boost Portfolios. "Research, appearing in The Atlantic magazine that the average holding time for stocks fell from eight years in 1960 to eight months in 2016 and that 80% of the CFOs say they would sacrifice economic value of their firm to meet quarterly expectations.

The results are high turnover in investments, which involves trading costs that can reduce gains; more share buybacks by corporations instead of investments in capital equipment or employees; and increased risks in those stocks, according to the report [by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management]."

[COMMENTARY] Merrill concludes companies focusing on long-term results will likely outperform those with a short-term focus. And ESG, by it's nature, has a long-term view. Thus, investors with a long-term ESG perspective could have better returns than those having a short-term non-ESG orientation. Hopefully, market participants will begin to understand this message and the mania surrounding quarterly results will ebb!
Another Way ESG Investing Can Boost Portfolios, by Bernice Napach, June 18, 2018, ThinkAdvisor, USA.


84% of investors apply, or are considering, ESG – Morgan Stanley. "Among the 70% of owners who already are incorporating environmental, social and governance factors into their investment decisions, 60% began doing so in the past four years and 37% within the past two years."

[COMMENTARY] Another survey indicating that ESG analysis is now mainstream. It seems that most investors now realize there can even be some alpha with ESG. I've waited several decades for this era.
84% of investors apply, or are considering, ESG – Morgan Stanley, by Meaghan Kilroy, June 18, 2018, Pensions & Investments, USA.


Do Investors and Advisors Have a Failure to Communicate? "Interestingly, the top sustainable holdings differ by generation. Younger millennials invest in banking and finance (banks helping communities), housing and water preservation, whereas boomers hold clean technology, health care and pharmaceutical sustainable investments."

[COMMENTARY] This survey for Oppenheimer Funds is important reading for all advisors. It details the investment priorities of investors and what advisors think investors want. There are many misalignments.
Do Investors and Advisors Have a Failure to Communicate? By Ginger Szala, June 15, 2018, ThinkAdvisor, USA.


FTSE Russell Study Highlights Investment Opportunities in Green Economy. "Over the last five years, green companies generated higher returns than the broader stock market."

[COMMENTARY] The study suggests the growth of the green economy could see green stocks continuing to increase their capitalization faster than the economy as a whole. President Trump should take note.
FTSE Russell Study Highlights Investment Opportunities in Green Economy, by Leila Mead, June 8, 2018, International Institute for Sustainable Development, USA.


Why a Tobacco Company Made the 2018 100 Best Corporate Citizens List. "We do have a qualitative screen to catch companies that have had reputation concerns or behave as bad actors in the relevant calendar year. This past year we used the UN Global Compact as such a screen. Twelve wonderful companies got red or amber signals, flagging negative issues, and we published that information as well.

But Altria didn’t happen to get a warning flag in 2017—what gives? They weren’t a party to any serious flagged issues in the calendar year of the ranking. If our flag included products that are associated with health concerns, most food, beverage, CPG, entertainment, transportation and product manufacturing companies would be caught." (Underlining added for emphasis).

[COMMENTARY] Most retail investors don't know or understand that almost all ESG-ethical-responsible-sustainable company ratings and rankings don't consider the social, environmental, or health aspects, etc., of a company's products! However, a few indices veer in that direction, usually measuring the percent of company revenues considered 'green' or similar. The FTSE Russell Green Revenues Index Series is one such index.

(Incidentally, investors can learn how to deal with these issues in my DIY Ethical-Sustainable Investing Pays Tutorial.)
Why a Tobacco Company Made the 2018 100 Best Corporate Citizens List, by Jen Boynton, June 13, 2018, TriplePundit, USA.


The 2018 Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada ranking. "Corporate Knights has decided once again, with sponsorship support from the Canadian Industry Partnership for Energy Conservation (CIPEC), to carry forward the annual Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada ranking into its 17th year. CIPEC helps organizations increase profits by improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

[COMMENTARY] Always a terrific ranking. It's admirable that Corporate Knights continues, year after year, with this uniquely valuable endeavour for investors.
The 2018 Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada ranking, June 7, 2018, Corporate Knights, Canada.


(1) How Advisors View Socially Responsible Investing & (2) SRI: Where Are the Clients? "A lot of financial advisors say their clients just aren’t interested... That’s partly the conclusion of the 2018 Wealthmanagement.com survey on SRI investing, where lack of client demand, even more so than a perceived negative impact on portfolio returns, was cited as the primary factor keeping advisors from using these types of investment funds.

Dan Goldie, president of the high-net-worth-focused, $875 million AUM Dan Goldie Financial Services in Palo Alto, Cal., [says], “I have a few, maybe 1 percent of my clients, who are interested in investing that way,' he says. 'I think it’s admirable, but I also think it’s ineffective in having an impact on companies. Individual investors are too small to have any influence on what a company does.'”

[COMMENTARY] These two posts on WealthManagement.com and the survey (see slides) cited in them provide good insight into the psychology of most advisors. It seems that very few advisors ask their clients about personal values in relation to investing. Also, though we know that SRI funds can produce highly competitive returns, advisors themselves seem unaware of that. Again, a negative advisor bias and lack of knowledge about SRI (and possibly ESG-ethical investing) demonstrate itself in this survey.
How Advisors View Socially Responsible Investing and SRI: Where Are the Clients? June 8, 2018, WealthManagement.com, USA.


Green economy now ‘approximately same size as fossil fuel sector.’ "The global green economy now represents a total market share similar to that of the fossil fuel sector. That’s according to FTSE Russell, which says it makes up 6% of global markets and is worth approximately $54 trillion (£40.3tn). The stock indices organisation says the sustainable economy is growing, compared to the shrinking fossil fuel market."

[COMMENTARY] I wonder if President Trump and his administration truly realize how really fast the fossil fuel horse they're backing is aging.
Green economy now ‘approximately same size as fossil fuel sector,’ by Jonny Bairstow, June 4, 2018, Energy Live News, UK.


Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) reports big gains in funds interested in ESG. "81% of Australia’s largest super funds are committed to responsible investment (up from 70% in 2016), and 62% report annually on activity, highlighting how deeply responsible investing has become part of Australian investment markets."

[COMMENTARY] The media release linked to below demonstrates that responsible investing is growing fast in Australasia.
Aussie super funds take up the gauntlet to improve company behaviour, media release, May 30, 2018, Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA), Australia.


Millennials are leading an investment revolution — here's what makes their generation different. "Some 92% of millennials agreed with the statement 'I care more about having a positive impact on society than doing well financially' compared to 52% of nonmillennials."

[COMMENTARY] This survey by Nuveen illustrates the sharp differences between the way millennials and non-millennials think about their lives, work, consumption, and investing. Again, as in so many other surveys, it's noteworthy how millennials are so much more likely to be ESG-based investors.
Millennials are leading an investment revolution — here's what makes their generation different, by Kara Chin, Jacqui Frank and Sara Silverstein, May 29, 2018, Business Insider, USA.


Ethical funds reach record high in the UK. "Investors bought £138m in ethical funds in March 2018 compared to just £32m at the same point last year, according to the most recent data from the Investment Association. Ethical funds still make up a small proportion of the total at 1.3 per cent. But the number is growing, from 1 per cent in 2015."

[COMMENTARY] In most developed economies, ESG-ethical funds are gaining ground. And we can rejoice in that. However, everywhere, they still represent a tiny fraction of the retail fund space. Only when advisors really apply their 'know thy client' rule to also consider the personal investing values of their clients will things change rapidly.
Ethical funds reach record high in the UK, by Kate Beioley, May 23, 2018, FT, UK.


[US government's] GAO Urges Removal Of Roadblocks To ESG Investing In Retirement Plans. "ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing roadblocks in retirement plans should be removed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, urged in a report today. 'Asset managers and state and municipal plans using ESG strategies report enhanced risk management and other benefits,' the report said."

[COMMENTARY] Good to see other arms of the US government are proposing that the recent US Department of Labor's guidance on ESG use in pension funds is not only potentially harmful but even likely injurious to long-term fund returns.
[US government's] GAO Urges Removal Of Roadblocks To ESG Investing In Retirement Plans, by Ted Knutson, May 22, 2018, Forbes, USA.


A New Measure Captures a Company’s “Total Social Investment.” "In its report 'What Counts: The ‘S’ in ESG, New Conclusions,' CECP, with support from Cisco, introduces an aggregated calculation called 'Total Social Investment (TSI).' The calculation is a forward-looking reflection of the innovative ways companies invest in society. TSI offers a high-level and comparable snapshot for use by investors and other stakeholders to determine the value created by the 'S' efforts in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) measures."

[COMMENTARY] An insightful, new perspective on evaluating the 'S' in ESG. Hopefully, many companies and investors will adopt this measure.
A New Measure Captures a Company’s “Total Social Investment," by CECP, May 16, 2018, USA.


In Sight of the Clean Trillion. "The Ceres Clean Trillion highlights the need for an additional $1 trillion per year in clean energy investment to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Now that clean energy has gone mainstream, this 'Clean Trillion' goal is eminently feasible. This report, In Sight of the Clean Trillion, points to significant opportunities for investors to scale up their clean energy investments while simultaneously meeting their risk-return requirements."

[COMMENTARY] Investors should download the full report to get expert guidance on clean energy investment opportunities. Ceres is doing a terrific job!
In Sight of the Clean Trillion, press release, May 10, 2018, Ceres, USA.


Corporate Responsibility Magazine Announces 2018 100 Best Corporate Citizens. "'CR Magazine is proud to present the only ESG ranking list that doesn't rely on self-reporting,' said Dave Armon, publisher of CR Magazine. 'Each year, the 100 Best Corporate Citizens ranking measures the success of the Brands Taking Stands movement by celebrating the most successful, most transparent companies that report on their responsible practices. We congratulate those honored on this year's list for their commitment to corporate responsibility.'"

[COMMENTARY] The top five 2018 winners are Microsoft Corporation, Accenture plc, Owens Corning, Intel Corp., and Hasbro, Inc. See the full list at the link below.
Corporate Responsibility Magazine Announces 2018 100 Best Corporate Citizens, press release, May 7, 2018, USA.


Mercer touts ESG integration, SDGs. "We have seen good progress with asset managers since we started assessing ESG integration at the strategy level. In 2010, less than 9 per cent of investment strategies with an ESG rating were ESG1 or ESG2. At the beginning of 2018, more than 15 per cent of active investment strategies achieved a high rating. This highlights that there is still much room for improvement across the market."

[COMMENTARY] A good overview of the state of ESG integration in financial analysis and the need for it, among asset managers.
Mercer touts ESG integration, SDGs, by Sarika Goel, May 7, 2018, Top 1000 Funds, Australia.


Advisors Stand In Way Of ESG Investing. "When it comes to impact investing, advisors often say their clients do not ask for it. But many clients do not know enough to ask about the possibilities of ESG investing, according to Marlo Stil, managing partner and financial advisor at the Wealth Consulting Group in Nevada...

When clients learn they can invest in a way that promotes their personal goals, '78 percent want to know more,' Stil said during a discussion of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing at the Invest In Women conference, which is being sponsored by Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines and held in Houston."

[COMMENTARY] Regular readers of this column know that I believe the biggest barrier at the retail level to ESG-ethical investing are advisors. I was happy to see two different financial articles in advisor related publications on this subject today, and I thought to post this one. I'm delighted that this discussion is now occurring among advisors.

I could never understand that since the 'know thy client rule' was central to advisors conduct with their clients, that it was rarely, truly, applied. It's as if the client's personal values really didn't matter.
Advisors Stand In Way Of ESG Investing, by Karen Demasters, May 2, 2018, Financial Advisor, USA.


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