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Shareholder Values

"64% of those polled were interested in investing, or
investing more money, in SRI fund options; and 22%
said they were very interested."
    November 2014

"Canadian investors are generally favourable towards SRI. A third (32%) said they are 'very' or 'somewhat' interested. [Another] 55 per cent indicated that they would consider SRI if the return was 'as good or better' than other investments... The majority of investors surveyed view SRIs as 'futuristic' (78%) and 'a win-win for the individual and society' (77%)."
Ipsos Reid/
    Standard Life
(Canada) October 2011

"78 per cent of UK investors are more likely to invest in a company with ethical practices, and 64 per cent are planning to invest in ethical funds in the next few years."
TD Direct Investing
(UK) October 2014




Global Ethical Investing News & Commentary



Commentaries by Ron Robins  E-mail us your feedback

Links may only be valid for a limited time    March 1, 2015

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IMF working paper finds support for Islamic finance -- and resilience in financial panics. "Using data from Pakistan, where Islamic and conventional banks co-exist, this paper compares these banks during a financial panic.
The results show that Islamic bank branches are less prone to deposit withdrawals during financial panics, both unconditionally and after controlling for bank characteristics."

[COMMENTARY] It seems that people may have more trust in banks that follow strict ethical and religious beliefs. Is that surprising? I don't believe so. Look at the exceedingly low levels of trust that Americans and Brits have in their financial institutions. Obviously, the message here for western banks is that they must demonstrate they're serious about ethics, sustainability, and so forth, or eventually lose out to other institutions that live such promises.

It's possible that in the future financial institutions will compete on ethics as much as they presently do on services, financial returns, etc.
IMF working paper finds support for Islamic finance, by Robin Amlôt, February 28, 2015, UAE.

Morgan Stanley Survey Finds Sustainable Investing Poised for Growth. " Over seventy percent of active individual investors (71%) describe themselves as interested in sustainable investing, and nearly two in three (65%) believe sustainable investing will become more prevalent over the next five years, according to a new survey published today by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing."

[COMMENTARY] These are among the highest numbers I've seen on such a survey. They roughly correlate with the percentage of the public concerned about climate change. Notwithstanding the potential negative effects of our unresolved economic problems, such numbers bode well for the future of sustainable-socially responsible-ethical investing -- however you define these terms.
Morgan Stanley Survey Finds Sustainable Investing Poised for Growth, press release, February 27, 2015, Morgan Stanley, USA.

Global RI (responsible investing) assets grew 61% from 2012 to 2014 to reach $ 21.4 trillion. "Assets employing RI strategies have risen from 21.5 percent to 30.2 percent of the professionally management assets across in the regions covered... The majority of the identified global RI assets discussed in the Review— 64% —are in Europe. Together, Europe, the United States and Canada account for 99% of global RI assets identified in the Review."

[COMMENTARY] This is terrific growth! The report finds that negative/exclusionary screening is still the most used aspect of RI, followed by ESG analysis and corporate engagement and shareholder actions. Europe -- as in the adoption of CSR by companies -- still leads!
Global RI assets grew 61% from 2012 to 2014 to reach $ 21.4 trillion, press release, February 24, 2015, Responsible Investment Association, Canada.

Young investors aim to make money responsibly. "'Anyone (who) has strong spiritual or religious beliefs would not want to see their investment support activities that are against those beliefs,' he said. 'I don’t give advice on what they should buy. What I do in a very general way is help them assess their personal values and then apply them to investments.'”

[COMMENTARY] That's a quote from me in an excellent article that also extensively quotes Dustyn Lanz, director of research and communications at the Responsible Investment Association of Canada. This is a good article to introduce the subject of ethical-responsible investing to those beginning to think about the subject, no matter their age."
Young investors aim to make money responsibly, by Ruane Remy, February 21, 2015, The Catholic Register, Canada.

Investors are driving increased adoption of ESG policies, report finds. "Institutional investors are increasingly demanding that private equity firms adopt ESG policies in their investment processes, according to new research conducted by the London Business School’s Coller Institute of Private Equity and supported by Adveq, the private equity investor. The study, based on responses from 42 private equity firms with collective assets under management of more than $640 billion, reveals that ESG is now a core value creation strategy at private equity firms."

[COMMENTARY] To me, what's most interesting about this study's findings relate to ESG moving out of the compliance and risk mitigation area in private equity and into it being seen as a value creation formulae used throughout their management organizations. ESG analysis is being inherently recognized for providing an opportunity to increase returns.
Growing pressure from LPs moves ESG from a compliance function to the heart of the investment process, February 23, 2015, London Business School, UK.

University of California announces progress on sustainable investment strategy. "The University of California today (Feb. 19) announced a series of steps it has taken to combat global climate change by investing in sustainability, including becoming the first university in the world to sign the Montreal Carbon Pledge... The university also recently joined... Ceres and its Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR)... [and] The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)."

[COMMENTARY] The University of California is providing a great example of how educational institutions globally can assist in creating a better, sustainable world. One of it commitments is to "profitably invest at least $1 billion over the next five years in solutions to climate change."
University of California announces progress on sustainable investment strategy, press release, February 19, 2015, University of California, USA.

Hospitality workers name responsible, irresponsible private equity managers. "UNITE HERE, the union of hospitality workers throughout North America, is for the first time releasing its List of Responsible and Irresponsible Private Equity Managers in the Hospitality Industry (below) to help staff and trustees of pension funds and other institutional investors make smart decisions... [leading] the Responsible list is Blackstone Group LP; [leading] the Irresponsible list is Dallas-based Lone Star Funds."

[COMMENTARY] UNITE HERE is perhaps paving the way for other unions to offer their best and worst companies to work for. Actually, I believe such information would be useful for ethical investors, the 'rated' companies, and markets generally. So I hope that other unions come out of their shells and provide similar information!
UNITE HERE: Hospitality workers name responsible, irresponsible private equity managers, press release, February 18, 2015, UNITE HERE, USA.

New White Paper from Breckinridge Capital Advisors Examines the Value of Corporate Bond ESG Analysis. "Breckinridge Capital Advisors, a Boston-based high-grade fixed income manager with over $20 billion under management, has released a new white paper that examines its environmental, social and governance "ESG" analysis efforts on corporate bond investments. Breckinridge's white paper findings include:

1) Integrating ESG into its research process has been additive to its efforts to mitigate and appropriately price risk; 2) ESG analysis exhibits a low positive correlation with credit agency ratings; 3) ESG research is enhanced through engagement calls with corporate borrowers; 4) A company that works to manage its material ESG risks may be a more stable credit and a better investment."

[COMMENTARY] In short, Breckenridge finds ESG analysis is helpful in assessing bond risks and motivating issuers to higher ESG standards. For those managing or investing in fixed income assets, this is a most helpful paper. Download here.
New White Paper from Breckinridge Capital Advisors Examines the Value of Corporate Bond ESG Analysis, press release, February 11, 2015, Breckinridge Capital Advisors, USA.

New global 'ratings agency' ranks the 500 institutions with power to end deforestation by 2020. "The Global Canopy Programme has identified, assessed and ranked 250 companies, with total annual revenues in excess of US $4.5 trillion; 150 investors and lenders; 50 countries and regions; and 50 other influential actors in this space. Together, these 500 control the complex global supply chains of key 'forest risk commodities' such as soya, palm oil, beef, leather, timber, pulp and paper that have an annual trade value of more than US $ 100 billion and are found in over 50% of packaged products in supermarkets.

Assessed against dozens of policy indicators, only seven of the Forest 500 scored the maximum number of points - companies Groupe Danone (France), Kao Corp. (Japan), Nestle S. A. (Switzerland), Procter & Gamble (US) and Reckitt Benckiser Group (UK), Unilever (UK) and banking and financial services giant HSBC (UK)."

[COMMENTARY] Many ethical investors will be interested in these findings. However, some of the 'better' companies cited in this study do have other ESG issues. For instance, Nestle's promotion of baby formula over breast-feeding has angered many, while HSBC legal woes continue with the latest being possible criminal charges for allegedly helping US clients evade taxes.
New global 'ratings agency' ranks the 500 institutions with power to end deforestation by 2020, press release, February 11, 2015, Global Canopy Programme, UK.

Clean tech loses power in energy portfolios. "Last year, global clean-tech funds raised $2.9 billion, compared to $42.4 billion for global energy private equity funds, according to London-based alternative investment research firm Preqin. So far this year, clean-tech funds have raised $400 million vs. $2.9 billion for traditional energy funds."

[COMMENTARY] The thesis is obvious that low fossil fuel prices reduces the attractiveness of clean energy. Also, it seems that in recent years returns clean tech investments haven't matched those related to fossil fuels, according to some studies cited in this article.

Nevertheless, in reports by Ceres and many others, climate change will induce increasing government actions that negatively impact the growth and profitability of fossil fuel investments. Asset write-downs and stranded assets will likely feature prominently in future discussions concerning fossil fuel energy investments.

Furthermore, according to reliable sources such as Arthur Berman, US shale oil reserves and returns on those investments are way overblown.
Clean tech loses power in energy portfolios, by Arleen Jacobius, February 9, 21015, Pension & Investments, USA.

Japanese automotive companies take the lead in new CDP auto league. "This research focuses on the [environmental] regulation in the EU, US and China with the ranked companies, which responded to CDP's questionnaire, accounting for around 83% of the global auto market by sales volume... General Motors and FCA risk significant penalties in both the EU and US potentially equating to US$1.7bn (33% of EBIT) and US$574m (15% of EBIT) respectively. Ford is also at risk of a penalty in the US of US$889m (or 16% of EBIT)."

[COMMENTARY] This is a fascinating analysis of how prepared auto companies are for the regulatory environment in the near future. American companies are generally the least prepared and could suffer financially as a consequence. No doubt many ethical investors will want to consider the CDP analysis in their investing decisions. This is the first of many such reviews of different industries that CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosures Project) is undertaking.
Japanese automotive companies take the lead in new CDP auto league, press release, February 5, 2015, CDP, UK.

RepRisk Releases Report on Most Controversial Companies of 2014. "Six out of the ten most controversial companies of 2014 are located in Asia and three are based in the United States."

[COMMENTARY] Uber, GM and the exclusive Neiman Marcus Group department store chain are #5, 8 and 10 respectively, on the list. Uber's problems included assaults by drivers on passengers; GM had to recall 30 million cars due to defects; and Neiman Marcus had a major data privacy breach plus allegations of child labor among its suppliers. There were other serious ESG issues with each of these and the other companies listed.
RepRisk Releases Report on Most Controversial Companies of 2014, report, February 4, 2015, Switzerland.

Health sector should divest from fossil fuels, medical groups say. "The health sector should get rid of its fossil fuel investments on moral grounds, as it previously did with its tobacco investments, according to a report by a coalition of medical organisations... The members of the British Medical Association have already voted to divest from fossil fuels, the first health organisation in the world to do so."

[COMMENTARY] How soon will fossil fuel companies be held in the same esteem as tobacco companies? Those invested in fossil fuel entities will have to keep a close eye on such developments. Presently, many investors are excited that potential lows have been seen in the oil price and that as the price moves higher there'll be big financial gains in related investments. However, for long-term gains, both ethically and financially, fossil fuel investments remain fraught with danger.
Health sector should divest from fossil fuels, medical groups say, by Damian Carrington, February 4, 2015, The Guardian, UK.

Growing ESG Investment Leading to Transformation of Japanese Companies. "Japanese companies are currently experiencing revolutionary upheaval in the field of CSR activities. This social earthquake comes from major changes in the public expectations of companies. Society is urging companies to make clear statements or disclosures of their efforts to create long-term value and sustainable development... In December 2014, the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Financial Service Agency jointly released a draft of the Corporate Governance Code."

[COMMENTARY] Clearly, the global momentum towards greater CSR/ESG disclosure gathers apace. When individuals go unpunished for misdeeds that result in enormous financial losses and human suffering (for instance, today, S&P getting only fined for their MBS ratings shenanigans that in part nearly brought-down the financial system), businesses have to be more proactive in their CSR/ESG efforts.
Growing ESG Investment Leading to Transformation of Japanese Companies, by Toshihiko Goto, January 28, 2015, Japan for Sustainability, Japan.

Responsible investing: which (UK) fund groups fall short? "The fourth annual ShareAction responsible investment report looks under the bonnet of the country’s 33 biggest fund management companies and ranks asset managers on how they use their investment power to encourage good practice in the companies they invest in, and place emphasis on ethical, social and governance (ESG) issues. The companies invest a combined £13.8 trillion of assets for pension savers, charities, universities and individuals.

While all the companies publicly commit to the ‘FRC UK Stewardship Code’, which aims to ‘enhance the quality of engagement between asset managers and companies to help improve long-term risk-adjusted returns to shareholders’, a number are falling short of these aims in practice."

[COMMENTARY] The ShareAction report provides keen insight into how -- if not backed by penalties -- that much of the UK fund industry will not voluntarily report on ESG matters. The same situation probably applies to the US, Canada, and other jurisdictions as well. However, as below, aside from possible future regulations and penalties, it could be the fund clients eventually forcing the fund managers to disclose such information.
Responsible investing: which fund groups fall short? By Michelle McGagh, February 2, 2015, citywire Money, UK.

Institutional Investors Demand SRI/ESG Mandates. "US asset managers are receiving more requests for socially responsible investing (SRI) and environmental, social, governance (ESG) mandates from institutional clients, according to new research from global analytics firm, Cerulli Associates. More than 50% of asset managers surveyed by Cerulli said they had received institutional client requests for SRI or ESG mandates."

[COMMENTARY] Finally, the word is getting out to asset managers that SRI/ESG mandates might improve returns! This is one main reason for such interest in these mandates. But it's also great to see that clients want this for a myriad other positive reasons as well. These demands will force all companies to be increasingly more proactive on ESG matters. And that's what we all want.
Institutional Investors Demand SRI/ESG Mandates, February 2, 2015, Funds Europe, UK.

Universities score poorly on climate change risk investment. "While climate science has been a prominent concern of many university based researchers, these same venerable education institutions have failed to walk the talk in regard to applying climate change science to climate risk investment of their financial assets. A new global survey of universities has found that the overwhelming majority are financially exposed to the risk of stranded assets and physical impacts of climate change."

[COMMENTARY] The data is unsurprising. The university boards are usually stuffed with conservative business leaders who go by the advice of their fund managers that still don't believe in the idea of fossil fuel divestment and the impacts of climate change.
Universities score poorly on climate change risk investment, by Takver, January 28, 2015, SF Bay Area Indymedia, USA.

Helena Morrissey, Aiming at Britain’s Glass Ceilings, Gets Results. "Ms. Morrissey has directed her steely focus on Britain’s most powerful men. Working behind the scenes, she has persuaded 120 of the country’s top chairmen that they want what she wants: more diverse boards that will produce better company returns.

The approach has produced some remarkable results. Since 2010, the percentage of women on Britain’s top boards has nearly doubled, to 23 percent, while in the United States, the figure has crept up a few percentage points to 17 percent."

[COMMENTARY] There's a powerful case for including more women and minorities on company boards. Many studies show they improve board performance and corporate results. It's for those reasons as well as for equity rights -- and most likely Ms. Morrissey's own impeccable character and credentials -- as to why she's been so successful.
Helena Morrissey, Aiming at Britain’s Glass Ceilings, Gets Results, Jenny Anderson, January 26, 2015, Dealb%k, The New York Times, USA.

The (Corporate) Sustainability Yearbook 2015 by RobecoSAM. "A record number of companies participated in RobecoSAM’s Corporate Sustainability Assessment. Out of more than 3,000 companies that were invited, 830 companies from 42 different countries participated. RobecoSAM views this as a positive development in corporate sustainability. For investors, the Sustainability Yearbook identifies companies that are strongly positioned to create long-term shareholder value."

[COMMENTARY] Another good review of the most sustainably oriented companies globally. European companies take top spot, followed by Asian, then American companies. What's good here are the industry profiles. Ethical investors might want to review them.
The (Corporate) Sustainability Yearbook 2015 by RobecoSAM, January 23, 2015, Switzerland.

American High Income Women and Social Responsibility. "Only 15 percent of high income women do not consider social responsibility in their investment decisions."

[COMMENTARY] It's generally observed that relatively more women than men favour socially responsible-ethical investing. It's good to see that among rich American women the interest in socially responsible-ethical investing is so high.
High Income Women and Social Responsibility, by Kent McDill, January 23, 2015, Millionaire Corner, USA.

Corporate Knights 2015 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations. "The Global 100 index (which is equally weighted) commenced on February 1, 2005. From inception to December 31, 2014, it delivered a total return of 90.76%, compared to 96.98% for its benchmark, the MSCI All Country World Index. This is the first year-end that the Global 100 Index has fallen behind its benchmark, in large part due to the rising U.S. dollar, as 81 per cent of Global 100 constituents trade in non-US denominated currencies, versus approximately 50% for the MSCI ACWI. The Global 100 is calculated by Solactive, the German index provider. It is available on Bloomberg under the ticker <CKG100 Index> and on Reuters under the ticker <.CKG100>."

[COMMENTARY] The top ten rated firms are: Biogen Idec, Allergan, Keppel Land, Kesko, Adidas, BMW, Reckitt Benckiser Group, Centrica, Schneider Electric and Danske Bank. This is always a good review for ethical investors. For full results, click here.
2015 Global 100 results, January 22, 2015, Corporate Knights, Canada.

Canadian Responsible Investments Surpass $1 Trillion says 2014 Trends Report. "Responsible investing (RI) is experiencing rapid growth in Canada, according to the 2014 Canadian Responsible Investment Trends Report. The biennial report, released today by the Responsible Investment Association (RIA) and RBC... suggest that 31 per cent of invested assets under management in Canada involve some aspect of RI."

[COMMENTARY] A quick look at the figures suggests continuing great growth for responsible-ethical investments in Canada. What I'm especially pleased about is that retail responsible-ethical mutual fund assets are growing almost twice as fast as 'conventional' fund assets. This probably indicates a growing percentage of Canadian investors moving into responsible-ethical funds.
Canadian Responsible Investments Surpass $1 Trillion says 2014 Trends Report, press release, January 22, 2015, Responsible Investment Association, Canada.

Canadian MP who Championed Tougher Warnings on Prescription Drugs now wants Tougher Warnings on Cell Phones. "Conservative MP Terence Young will announce today that he has multi-party support from MP's across Canada for his Private Member's Bill requiring warning labels on cell phones and Wi-Fi routers wherever they are sold.

The Oakville MP was successful last year in passing a law requiring clearer warnings on pharmaceuticals. He's now introduced a Bill that will require safety warnings on all microwave emitting wireless devices sold in Canada.

'The World Health Organization places wireless radiation on the same cancer warning-list as DDT, lead and car exhaust,' said Young. 'Canadians have a right to know this.'

[COMMENTARY] Some 50 to 70 years ago concerns began to emerge about the detrimental health effects of smoking. I believe we're at the beginning stages of understanding the negative health effects of excessive electro-magnetic and wireless radiation. As concern grows, this could negatively impact huge swaths of the tech industry. Ethical investors might want to avail themselves of the latest findings with respect to this issue so that they aren't sideswiped by market developments and possible portfolio losses.
Canadian MP who Championed Tougher Warnings on Prescription Drugs now wants Tougher Warnings on Cell Phones, press release, January 19, 2015, Canada.

Ethical Questions of Investing in Pot. "Public pension funds and university endowments are increasingly shying away from putting their money in so-called sin industries and focusing on more “socially responsible” investments, but it’s unclear where marijuana falls on this spectrum. Is marijuana closer to the health care industry, given its benefits for certain ailments, or should it be lumped into the same category as cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, guns and, in some quarters, fossil fuels and sugary soda?"

[COMMENTARY] This is one of those issues that ethical investors are beginning to vigorously debate. From my side, I believe every investor should make up their own mind on this issue. For ethical investors I've long advocated that to truly reflect their personal values it might be more appropriate to invest, where possible, in individual stocks than mutual funds/ETS -- if such products don't really reflect one's values. However, for those managing other peoples' assets such as pension funds -- it's a big dilemma and one that I believe will never be really resolved.
Ethical Questions of Investing in Pot, by Andrew Ross Sorkin, January 12, 2015, DealB%k, The New York Times, USA.

Denmark Sets New Wind Power World Record. "Denmark has long been one of the world’s leaders in wind power. The country of 5.6 million has set a goal of generating 50 percent of its power from clean energy sources by 2020 and aims to be entirely fossil fuel-free by 2050. Those goals, especially the one for 2020, are well achievable: Denmark has announced it scored 39.1 percent of its energy from wind in 2014."

[COMMENTARY] For all those naysayers that it's not possible to have most of our energy from renewable sources, Denmark's experience demolishes that argument! Now, with solar and wind financially competitive with fossil fuel energy in many markets, that argument is even more spurious. The future for renewable energy shines bright. However, as in any developing industry, ethical investors know to be aware as there'll be many more companies failing than succeeding. But the ones that do succeed will likely show exemplary profits.
Denmark Sets New Wind Power World Record, by
Leon Kaye, January 9, 2015, TriplePundit, USA.

Wealthy (UK) under-40s are more likely to make social investments, Charities Aid Foundation says. "CAF surveyed more than a thousand people with average wealth of £7.5m and found that four-fifths of those under 40 were socially conscious investors, compared with 63 per cent of over-40s."

[COMMENTARY] This is continuing good news for ethical investors. It suggests that the younger generations of wealthy will increasingly favour ethical investing. One important difference between the younger and older generation that might be at play here, is that the younger generations’ greater concern for the environment and climate change. After all, they are the ones that are going to have deal with it.
Wealthy under-40s are more likely to make social investments, Charities Aid Foundation says, by Sam Burne James, January 9, 2015, Third Sector, UK.

Clean Energy Investment Jumps 16%, Shaking Off Oil’s Drop. "New funds for wind, solar, biofuels and other low-carbon energy technologies gained 16 percent to $310 billion last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It was the first growth since 2011, erasing the impact of lower solar-panel prices and falling subsides in the U.S. and Europe that hurt the industry in previous years."

[COMMENTARY] Much of the gain is attributable to a 32% rise of renewables' spending in China and huge offshore wind developments. Lower oil prices might have a detrimental effect on transportation related growth but it is unlikely to dampen the continuing growth for renewables in electrical generation where they are increasingly cost-competitive.
Clean Energy Investment Jumps 16%, Shaking Off Oil’s Drop, by Louise Downing, January 9, 2015, Bloomberg, UK.

75% of [South Western UK] savers keen to see their cash invested more ethically. "More than three quarters (78%) of savers and investors in the South West [of UK] would like to see their money invested in environmental and social sectors. According to research from the ethical bank Triodos Bank figures show that 14% of those planning to invest over the next year are likely to choose the social investment sector; an increase on last year’s figure of 11%."

[COMMENTARY] In the UK, the Triodos Bank is pioneering a new kind of socially and environmentally sensitive banking aimed at ethical investors. When reading this article you should be aware that in the UK there's a huge backlash against the enormous bonuses that many bank bosses are paying themselves, especially as many of these bank were rescued by UK taxpayers. A spin-off from this is that people are increasingly interested in ethical banking and investing.
75% of savers keen to see their cash invested more ethically, by Olivier Vergnault, January 9, 2015, Western Morning News, UK.

Four in five Americans favor companies with green behaviours. "Tiller Green Survey conducted nationwide has revealed that 78 percent or nearly four in five American consumers believe that it is important to 'purchase products from a socially or environmentally responsible company.' In fact, 43 percent of the respondents said that they have declined to buy a product over the last 12 months out of concern for the impact that the product or its packaging might have on the environment."

[COMMENTARY] This is encouraging news for ethical investors. So often people say one thing and do another. The latter point about 43% of people declining to buy something in the past year that they thought might harm the environment is terrific.
Four in five Americans favor companies with green behaviours, by Vikas Vij, January 2, 2015, Justmeans, USA.

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