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Ethical Investing News/Commentaries: Sept. 2009

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Commentaries by Ron Robins

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As US Chamber Of Commerce Tries To Block Environment Bill, Investor Groups Advocate Nike To Quit Chamber. - [COMMENTARY] "US SRI and environmental fund managers, have written to Nike, the sportswear company, urging it to quit the US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest business federation, after Nike joined other companies in criticising the Chamber’s opposition to measures tackling climate change. In a letter to Mark Parker, president and chief executive officer of Nike, fund managers Green Century Equity Fund and Newground Social Investment, alongside the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, a catholic religious order, turned Nike’s own slogan “Just do it” on the company, to urge it to quit."

As an ethical investor you may want to see if the companies you are invested in are members of the US Chamber of Commerce, and if concerned, contact them to express your views.
SRI investors tell Nike “just do it” and resign from US Chamber of Commerce over climate controversy, by Hugh Wheelan, September 30, 2009, Responsible Investor, UK.

Water Usage Could Inhibit Alternative Energy Projects. - [COMMENTARY] "Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year." I must say that this is something I had not given much serious attention too. However, where water is scarce, some renewable energy projects might not be the answer.
Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water, by Todd Woody, September 29, 2009, The New York Times, USA.

US Fossil Fuel Subsidies Dwarf That Of Renewables. Obama Seeks To Change That. - [COMMENTARY] A new report by the Environmental Law Institute and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars says that US fossil fuels receive $70.2 billion in federal subsidies compared to $12.2 billion for traditional renewables.

Of course, these figures do not even come close to the true costs of carbon, particularly if you figure in those related to global environmental degradation, climate change, and the defense costs for various oil interests in the oil rich areas of the world. A real analysis of ALL subsidies would undoubtedly show that the true full cost of carbon on a given unit of energy basis likely far exceeds that of renewables. In time, society will realize this.
Fossil fuel subsidies dwarf clean energy subsidies; Obama wants to eliminate them, by David Roberts, September 23, 2009, GRIST, USA.

SocialFunds Discusses Recent Mergers In The ESG Research Sector. - [COMMENTARY] This article is a good overview of what is happening in the ESG/SRI-ethical investing research industry. It is worthwhile reading for all ethical investors.
Jantzi—Sustainalytics Merger the Most Recent in the Consolidation of ESG Research Sector, by Robert Kropp, September 23, 2009, SocialFunds, USA.

UNEP Says Global Government Green Stimulus Packages Only Half Of What Is Needed. - [COMMENTARY] "The Asian economies of China and the Republic of Korea are emerging as global leaders in their commitments to invest significant slices of their stimulus packages in environmental, 'green new deal' projects... Yet UNEP and economists are warning that major pitfalls remain in terms of the overall size of the green component of the global stimulus package. This currently falls short of the $750 billion or one per cent of global GDP that is recommended for reducing carbon dependency and seeding the process of transition." Here we have even more reasons why Asia needs to be on the ethical investor's radar.
One Year On - Many Countries Factoring Environmental Investments into Economic Stimulus Packages - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), press release, September 24, 2009, USA.

(UPDATE 1) Environmental Ranking Of America's 500 Largest Corporations--Newsweek. - [COMMENTARY] The top three are HP, Dell, and Johnson & Johnson. This is a good analysis of America's most environmentally conscious major corporations, and useful reading for ethical investors. Partners in the research were KLD Research & Analytics, Inc., Trucost, CorporateRegister.com, and ASAP Media.
2009 Green Rankings - Newsweek.com, September 21, 2009, USA. For a good insight into how the date was determined and compiled, see Joel Makower's commentary at GreenBiz.

China Surpassing US In Green Energy. - [COMMENTARY] "Even as China overtakes the U.S. in the dubious category of 'world’s leading greenhouse gas producer,' it is also well ahead of the U.S. in developing the technologies and policies to solve the problem—and selling those solutions to us at massive profits which could have been ours. On a recent trip, I saw entire Chinese towns powered by farm waste and enough windmills for jousts with ten thousand Don Quixotes." Considering the foregoing and other similar reports, ethical investors might want to consult with appropriate advisors about the opportunities for green energy/tech investment in China.
China is leaving the U.S. in the dust as it surges ahead on clean energy, by Terry Tamminen, September 17, 2009, GRIST, USA.

Norway’s €1.9bn Nestlé Stake Under Scrutiny. - [COMMENTARY] "Norwegian Government Pension Fund’s NOK17bn (€1.9bn) stake in Nestlé has come under scrutiny from labour unions. In a joint letter, the unions have asked the Finance Ministry to assess an alleged 'systemic pattern of human rights abuses' by the Swiss food group. The company is the fund’s second largest equity holding." I have friends in various breast feeding advocacy groups that say Nestlé is a major antagonist to their cause too. So far ethical investors have considered Nestlé as a somewhat benign organization. It will be interesting to follow the outcome of fund's analysis and actions.
Norway’s €1.9bn Nestlé stake under scrutiny, by Daniel Brooksbank, September 21, 2009, Responsible Investor, UK.

Corporate America Embracing Green Initiatives. - [COMMENTARY] "Corporate America's embrace of sustainability has more than doubled in strength in the past three years with 76 percent of the largest U.S. firms reporting efforts and commitments that exceed those required by law, according to a new study from Siemens Building Technologies Inc. and McGraw-Hill Construction." Though energy costs are the main reason given for their interest in green projects, competitive pressures are also a driving reason given by 66% of companies surveyed.
Corporate America's Adoption of Green Practices Doubles, Study Says, September 17, 2009, GreenerBuildings.com, USA.

IPE Says 70% Of Fund Trustees Surveyed Cite ESG Issues As Important. - [COMMENTARY] "Around 70% of the 42 respondents – with a total of €197.6bn invested assets – said it was trustees’ fiduciary duty to include ESG in their decision-making process and during manager selection processes. Only a quarter disagreed with this." It is difficult for me to imagine how ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues would not be considered important in fund and fiduciary management!
ESG equals fiduciary duty, says IPE survey, by Nina Röhrbein, September 18, 2009, IPE, Europe.

Business Week Publishes Names Of Top Global Brands. - [COMMENTARY] "Companies as diverse as McDonald's, Ford, and American Express are revamping their marketing to win back that most valuable of corporate assets." All investors will be interested in this analysis with the data provided by Interbrand.
Best Global Brands 2009, September 28, 2009, Business Week, USA.

Exchanges Push Sustainability. - [COMMENTARY] "The report, which was produced by sustainable investment consultancy Delsus Limited, found exchanges were increasingly active in three main areas promoting sustainability: provision of information tools for sustainable investors such as indices; fostering specialised listing and trading platforms for sustainable investment niches and in less advanced markets, increasing awareness of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues among listed companies. Dan Siddy, founder and director of Delsus and author of the report, said: 'Over the last five years or so, social and environmental risks and opportunities have emerged to become commonplace long-term investment themes in the world’s capital markets.'"

This report provides exceedingly good news for ethical investors, and will only enhance the prospects for investing in ethical stocks and bonds.
Exchanges Push the Sustainability Agenda, by Dan Siddy, September 17, 2009, Responsible Investor, UK.

Consumers Still View Green Products As Inferior. - [COMMENTARY] "NMI [Natural Marketing Institute] knows that consumers, even many LOHAS consumers, don’t want to compromise when buying green products (58% on average). And, while products such as the Prius and Green Works prove that 'good' and 'green' aren't mutually exclusive, only 26% of Americans say 'seeing that a product is environmentally friendly makes me think that it is higher-quality.' More disagree with that statement than agree, validating that consumer sentiment remains against the 'good and green' connection." It is clear that green products still face big headwinds. Nonetheless, green products are generally doing well in most markets. If they were not, the ad and marketing industries would not be swamping us with green messages.
Green products still seen as inferior, September 10, 2009, LOHAS Online, USA.

US Consumers May Buy 600,000 Plug-In Electric Hybrid Autos By 2015, Says Study. - [COMMENTARY] "A new study by Pike Research indicates that demand for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) will skyrocket after the first generations are introduced in 2010, to 600,000 vehicles by 2015." I am still unsure as to the overall net benefit, both environmentally and for society as a whole, of PHEVs. Though gas/petrol consumption will be reduced, the demands on inefficient electrical grids and generation will be substantially increased. If anyone knows of any good studies on this subject or on potential investment prospects, please let me know.
Consumers Demand Electric Vehicles, September 10, 2009, Sustainable Life Media, USA.

Developing Countries' Banks Concerned About Climate Change, Ceres reports. - [COMMENTARY] "Deutsche Investitions-und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH -- found strong evidence that most Asian, Latin American and other emerging market banks are aware of the wide-ranging business impacts from climate change, such as the growing physical risks from increased drought and flooding and the growing investment opportunities associated with renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate adaptation projects. Despite these trends, the report shows that only a small number of banks are financing clean energy programs and fewer still are participating in carbon trading projects." It seems that environmentally and socially conscious banks are still a rarity in the developing world despite the general acknowledgement that the effects of climate change could have on their operations.
First-Ever Survey Shows Emerging Market Banks Growing Interest in Climate Change, press release, September 17, 2009, Reuters, USA.

Buffett & 27 Other Business Leaders Call For End To Short-Termism Business Focus. - [COMMENTARY] “We believe that short-term objectives have eroded faith in corporations continuing to be the foundation of the American free enterprise system, which has been, in turn, the foundation of our economy. Restoring that faith critically requires restoring a long-term focus for boards, managers, and most particularly, shareholders—if not voluntarily, then by appropriate regulation.”

Such changes, if implemented, would denote a much higher consciousness taking shape among these stakeholders and society at large. However, judging by the present inaction of the US Congress and regulatory authorities in bringing the culprits of this financial mess to justice, it could be awhile yet before anything changes. Who is being prosecuted for the 'liar loans,' for the fraud perpetrated in the sale of various derivative instruments, and for the ratings agencies who may have been possibly 'bribed' by their MBS issuing customers to provide them with higher than warranted ratings for their securities?
Buffett and Bogle join call for long-term, responsible investment, by Hugh Wheelan, September 15, 2009, Responsible Investor, UK.

Toyota & Peugeot Top Bank Sarasin's 2009 List Of Sustainable Automakers. GM Comes Last. - [COMMENTARY] "When rating the sustainability performance of car manufacturers, Bank Sarasin concentrates on three key aspects: the CO2 emissions of the current vehicle fleet, the capacity to develop low-emission, leading-edge technologies and – given the increasing outsourcing of key components and the looming battle for leadership in new technologies – the sustainability of supplier relationships." If you are looking for automobile manufacturers' stocks that are good to invest in, you might want to review this report by one of Switzerland's top banks.
Bank Sarasin’s Sustainability ratings 2009 for car manufacturers: Toyota and Peugeot lead the field, September 16, 2009, Bank Sarasin, Switzerland.

UK Social Investment Forum To Hold 2nd National Ethical Investment Week November 8-14. - [COMMENTARY] "Aviva Investors has today joined CCLA, The Co-operative Financial Services and Henderson New Star as a sponsor of the second National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW), to be held 8-14 November. NEIW is a cooperative campaign that brings together financial advisers, charities and trusts, financial organisations, faith groups, NGOS and community groups to ensure that everyone knows that they have green and ethical options for their investments." The UKSIF's second National Ethical Investment Week continues to gain big sponsors demonstrating the growing interest in ethical stocks and bonds in the UK.
National Ethical Investment Week adds Aviva to list of sponsors, September 14, 2009, FT Advisor, UK.

TIAA-CREF to Divest From Company Involved in West Bank Settlements. - [COMMENTARY] "Adalah-NY, an advocacy group pushing for TIAA-CREF to divest stock holdings in Africa-Israel Investments Ltd., a company involved in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, issued a news release overnight stating that TIAA-CREF had in fact already sold the stock in question." The pressure continues to grow on Israeli companies.
Professors Urge TIAA-CREF to Divest From Company Involved in West Bank Settlements, by Emma L. Carew, September  11, 2009,
The Chronicle of Higher Education, USA.

Israeli Companies Worried About Boycott Of Their Products. - [COMMENTARY] "A survey reveals that 21% of Israeli exporters have had to cut their prices as a result of the boycott, after a significant loss of market share, especially in Jordan, the UK and Scandinavia. [Data from Ma an News Agency, 31 March, 2009]... This month the UN will publish the findings of its inquiry into Israel’s possible war crimes in Gaza in 2008-9. These are unlikely to lead to legal proceedings, so there are calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israel to comply with international law." Whether you are for or against Israel on this, as an investor, you might want to pay attention to this issue.
Economic retaliation against Tel Aviv, by Willy Jackson, September 2009, Le Monde diplomatique, France.

Norway's Giant Pension Fund Drops Israeli Defence Company, Angering Israel. - [COMMENTARY] "Norway's finance minister on Thursday announced that the Israeli company Elbit Systems Ltd. had been dropped from the Nordic country's pension fund due to ethical concerns because it is involved in work on the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank." Among the giant western pension funds, Norway's stands out with its ethical investing policy. It is likely that where Norway leads others will follow.

In my ethical investing workshops and tutoring, investors often consider defence contractors among their ethical investment preferences. Clearly, what is ethical to one person is anathema to another. However, I believe that if we all apply our personal values to investing, then, overall, our mutually agreed higher values--honesty, integrity, humanity, and so forth--will serve the purposes of all society in promoting these badly needed values in the investment, finance, and banking industries.
Norway's global pension fund drops Israel's Elbit Systems Ltd. due to ethics concerns, September 3, 2009, Associated Press release in The Washington Examiner, USA.

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Disclaimer: This website does not make investment recommendations. Nothing in this site should be interpreted as a recommendation or solicitation to buy/sell any securities or investments. Investing for the Soul is a source of general information and resources for ethical investing and socially responsible investing (SRI). Investors should consider their actions thoroughly and consult their financial advisers and other professionals, prior to taking any investment action. This website does not necessarily agree with the opinions expressed in articles on its pages or offered on the web pages to which it might be linked. Such opinions are the responsibility of the writers themselves. Furthermore, this site does not offer or provide any warranties, representations, guarantees, implied or otherwise, as to the accuracy, legality, copyright compliance, timeliness or usefulness of the information, materials or services on this, or other sites, to which it is linked. Also, Mr. Ron Robins is not an investment advisor, nor is he licensed with any professional investment related body, and thus is not able to, nor does he make, any investment recommendations.

 

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