Ethical Investing News/Commentaries
Commentaries by Ron
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ESG ‘best signal′ for future risk in
equities. "But ESG appears to isolate
non-fundamental attributes that have real earnings
impact: these attributes have been a better signal
of future earnings volatility than any other measure
we have found... US financials that did not survive
the global financial crisis saw disproportionate
ranks for diversity, shareholder rights and
Finally, what is common sense --that poor ESG factors
can have a negative influence on corporate financial
performance -- has been found to be true in this
Bank of America Merrill Lynch study.
ESG ‘best signal′ for future risk in equities,
by Jessica Tasman-Jones, June 29, 2017, Fund
European Commission takes further steps
to enhance business transparency on social and
environmental matters. "These
guidelines will help companies to disclose relevant
non-financial information in a consistent and more
comparable manner. The aim is to boost corporate
transparency and performance, as well as encourage
companies to embrace a more sustainable approach."
Europe again leads in the implementation of ESG.
These new guidelines reinforce and expand upon the
earlier ones dating back to 2014.
European Commission takes further steps to enhance
business transparency on social and environmental
matters, press release, June 26, 2017, European
Canadian companies among the most carbon
intensive in the developed world.
"Genus Capital Management today released ’The Carbon
Emissions Report: The Effect of Carbon Emissions on
Investment Returns,’ which concluded that an
investment portfolio’s carbon intensity negatively
impacted returns by 9.2 per cent over the past seven
years, after adjusting for other variables and risk
High intensity emitters tend to be penalized
by the market because their businesses are neither
efficient nor forward facing. Divesting from fossil
fuels is one way to minimize the carbon intensity of
a portfolio. By conducting this research, we’re
pleased to see that the results support the case for
divestment and sustainable investing."
I’ve seen several studies of this nature. As ESG
criteria are implemented by money managers, this type
of outcome is to be
Canadian companies among the most carbon intensive
in the developed world, press release, June 28,
2017, Genus Fossil Free funds, Canada.
More Companies Reporting on ESG.
"Around 82% of S and P 500 companies published
corporate sustainability reports in 2016, according
to the Governance and Accountability Institute, up
from 20% in 2011 and 72% in 2013."
These are great numbers and demonstrate how
companies are responding to investor demands for
increased ESG reporting. For companies, there’s the
additional benefit of measuring themselves on ESG
variables, many of which are material to their
operations and can help improve their financials.
More Companies Reporting on ESG, by Leila Mead,
June 27, 2017, International Institute for
Sustainable Development (IISD), USA.
Institutional Investors More Likely to
Invest in Companies with Business-Driven ESG
Disclosures, According to New White Paper.
"Ninety-eight percent of institutional investors
say a company with strong environmental, social and
governance (ESG) initiatives makes for a more
attractive investment, according to the newly
released white paper, Is Your ESG Report Getting
Noticed?, developed by Burson-Marsteller, a
strategic communications and global public relations
firm, and research firm PSB."
Wow. Such studies and surveys are coming thick and
fast. They demonstrate how ESG has become popular in
finance today. It’s been a long time coming.
Institutional Investors More Likely to Invest in
Companies with Business-Driven ESG Disclosures,
According to New White Paper, press release,
June 26, 2017, Burson-Marsteller, USA.
Can Good Corporate Citizenship Be
Measured? "A new study that tries to
quantify and correlate stock performance with E.S.G.
factors is generating a lot of chatter among the
investor class. The study, developed by a team of
quantitative strategists led by Savita Subramanian
at Bank of America′s Merrill Lynch Global Research
unit, appears to be the most expansive, looking at
several hundred companies over a decade starting in
Interesting analysis. Largely supportive that a
focus on ESG may provide improved returns. However,
I’d appreciate it if the study mostly discussed in
this article were published in a recognized
financial journal with proper peer review. For me,
the ’gold standard’ in ESG - financial performance
ESG and Financial Performance: Aggregated Evidence
from More than 2000 Empirical Studies.
Admittedly, it only looks at ESG and corporate
financial performance, whereas, Subramanian’s et al
study above relates ESG to stock performance.
For another view on ESG and
investment performance, see,
From the Stockholder to the Stakeholder: How
Sustainability Can Drive Financial Outperformance,
by Arabesque Asset Management and Oxford University.
Can Good Corporate Citizenship Be Measured? By
Andrew Ross Sorkin, June 26, 2017, The New York
95% of European pension funds ignore
climate change impact: Mercer. "With
NASA stating that April 2017 was the second hottest
since records began in 1880 (with 2016 the hottest),
Mercer′s recent report has found that only 5% of
1,241 European pensions schemes have considered the
investment risk posed by climate change. As a result
the consultancy has called for ’more urgency from
the industry’ to address the issue. The 2017 report
– Mercer′s 15th edition – gathers information from
1,241 institutional investors across 13 countries,
reflecting total assets of around €1.1 trillion."
These findings are surprising given the relatively
high level of purported integration of ESG by
European money managers. It would be interesting to
hear from Mercer and the compilers of other relevant
studies as to why there is this apparent
95% of European pension funds ignore climate change
impact: Mercer, by Gary Robinson, June 26, 2017,
International Investment, UK.
Individuals and institutions split on
benefits of ESG investing: survey.
"Individuals believe the environmental, social, and
ethical records of the companies they invest in are
important, said Natixis, while professionals at
institutions and within ’the investment community’
were more sceptical about the efficacy of these
strategies, for example having concerns about
The findings of this Natixis Global Asset
Management survey highlight -- in part -- why the
financial industry has taken so long to respond to
client ESG interests. Despite the arguments made in
this article, I suggest that investment
professionals not only disregarded their clients
interests but have taken an extraordinarily long
time to understand what ESG is and its potential
alpha. Another issue is that most investment
professionals have become short-term oriented,
whereas, ESG investing is more about performance
over the long-term.
Individuals and institutions split on benefits of
ESG investing: survey, by Susanna Rust, June 15,
2017, IPE, UK.
Millennials Think About Charity Entirely
Differently -- they invest in companies making a
positive impact and "social entrepreneurism."
"A study by Bank of America-owned U.S. Trust
showed the youngest of the three generations isn’t
as interested in writing a check for a good cause —
millennials would rather contribute in other ways,
which could affect how an advisor manages their
wealth. Only 36 percent of millennials defined
’giving’ as making a charitable financial donation,
versus 61 percent of Gen X participants and 83
percent of Boomers."
This is good news for advisors and the financial
markets. It assists the overall orientation towards
ESG and is positive for improved ethical behavior
in all financial market participants.
Millennials Think About Charity Entirely
Differently, June 14, 2017, WealthManagement,
Americans Question Motives Behind CSR.
"According to the latest annual Harris Poll
Reputation Quotient study, which tracks the
perception of the 100 most visible companies in the
U.S. by asking consumers to rank their reputations
across a half-dozen key attributes, 45 percent said
they believe companies embark on CSR initiatives
because they believe it′s a role they should play as
leaders in their communities.
Conversely, a similar amount — 40 percent —
said they believe companies develop CSR initiatives
only to bolster their public image and establish
social value for stakeholders."
I believe it’s a great thing that companies embark
on CSR activities. However, I wonder if the term CSR
has outlived itself? I find ESG a much better
differentiator between companies as I believe it
delivers a better corporate focus (organizationally
and financially) and possibly reduced ’greenwashing’
Americans Question Motives Behind CSR, by Jon
Gingerich, June 12, 2017, O’Dwyer’s, USA.
16th annual Best 50 Corporate Citizens in
Canada report. "This year′s Best 50
Corporate Citizens in Canada ranking is a reflection
of this new disclosure climate. Corporate Knights
had maintained 12 key performance indicators for a
number of years due, in part, to how widely
disclosed these data points were on an industry-wide
scale. Additional metrics were not adopted because
of the limited value provided by assessing companies
on a metric that isn′t available for the majority of
companies in the research universe.
With sustainability disclosure practices
improving (albeit slowly), Corporate Knights was
able to add two new metrics to the ranking
methodology this year: the supplier score and the
clean air productivity score."
The Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada is always a
good read and helpful to ethical investors.
16th annual Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada
report, June 6, 2017, Corporate Knights, Canada.
Wegmans, Publix Super Markets, Amazon,
Tesla And USAA Draw Top Social Responsibility Scores
In Harris Poll. "Other companies
receiving ’excellent’ corporate social
responsibility ratings are Lowe′s, UPS and L.L.
Bean. Monsanto, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs
garnered ’critical’ corporate social responsibility
marks in the Harris Poll study, which asked more
than 23,000 consumers to rate the 100 most visible
companies in the U.S. on social responsibility
attributes such as: supports good causes,
environmental responsibility and community
Some of the names at the top of this list are
surprising. Wells Fargo has been engaged in some
unethical customer practices, while Monsanto is
criticized by a number of health
Wegmans, Publix Super Markets, Amazon, Tesla And
USAA Draw Top Social Responsibility Scores In Harris
Poll, press release, June 7, 2017, The Harris
Do SRI Funds Have a Future in [US] 401(k)
Plans? "SRI funds are slow to crack the
$6.7 trillion 401(K) market, even though investor
demand is strong."
This story covers the results of a survey with 600
US financial advisors. The numbers of advisors
claiming to be engaged with SRI funds makes me
question how the advisors might’ve interpreted that
and other questions. If the advisors are right, then
a large percentage of their client base should
already be in SRI products. However, I doubt that is
the case. Though, it’s great to see these numbers!
Do SRI Funds Have a Future in [US] 401(k) Plans?
By Mark Miller, June 2, 2017, Wealth Management,
Sustainable Investment Market Report 2017
– Sustainable investment market in Germany, Austria
and Switzerland makes significant gains yet again.
"The strongest growth in sustainable investments
was recorded in Switzerland (+39%), followed by
Austria (+24%) and Germany (+15%). ’Each year, we
see increasing numbers of investors opting for
sustainability in the management of their assets,’
says Volker Weber, Chair of the Board of Directors
at FNG, commenting on the latest market figures.
’Institutional investors, in particular, are
increasingly being won over, while we know from
asset managers that more and more of them see
factoring in non-financial criteria as a normal part
of their fiduciary duties.’"
These are huge one-year growth figures. Quite likely
a few very large funds were particularly
responsible. Sustainable investing is now mainstream
Sustainable Investment Market Report 2017 –
Sustainable investment market in Germany, Austria
and Switzerland makes significant gains yet again,
press release, June 1, 2017, Eurosif, Europe.
Institutional Investors to Boost ESG
Investments. "Nearly 80% of asset
managers and asset owners incorporate environmental,
social and governance (ESG) factors into their
decision-making, according to a survey from BNP
Paribas Securities Services. The report, titled
’Great Expectations: ESG – What′s next for asset
owners and managers,’ found that among the asset
owners incorporating ESG, 46% plan to invest at
least half of their assets into funds that
incorporate ESG by 2019."
This survey indicates tremendous growth for ESG
based institutional investing strategies in the next
few years. It’s certainly a positive for all ethical
Institutional Investors to Boost ESG Investments,
by Michael Katz, June 1, 2017, Chief Investment
Now, this is controversial: FAU
Study Says Corporate Social Responsibility Does Not
Prove to Be a Profitable Investment for Most
Companies. "Companies that try to ’do
good’ are likely to find that Corporate Social
Responsibility (CSR) is bad for their bottom lines,
according to a new study from Florida Atlantic
University’s College of Business. ’We found that
emphasizing Corporate Social Responsibility is not
good for shareholders,’ said David Javakhadze,
Ph.D., assistant professor of finance, who
investigated the relationship between CSR and
efficiency with which firms allocate their capital
resources. ’If you’re an investor you should think
twice before you invest in those firms that
Since numerous studies including those from elite
universities such as Harvard and Oxford have shown
that companies excelling in ESG (CSR?) perform as
well or better financially and in stock returns,
this new study is an outlier. Nonetheless, it’s
worth reviewing and critiquing.
FAU Study Says Corporate Social Responsibility Does
Not Prove to Be a Profitable Investment for Most
Companies, press release, June 1, 2017, Florida
Atlantic University College of Business, USA.
Canadian investors are interested in
responsible investments, and they want gender pay
equity and more women in corporate leadership.
"The report, sponsored by OceanRock Investments
Inc., found that while 77% of investors are
interested in RI, a staggering 73% know very little
or nothing about it. These results highlight the ’RI
awareness gap’ – a significant gap between investor
interest vs knowledge about RI.
’A strong majority of investors told us that
they are more likely to choose responsible
investments if their advisor suggests suitable
options or if their financial institution, credit
union or online brokerage informed them about
responsible investments,’ said Deb Abbey, CEO of the
At the beginning of Canada’s 2017 RIA Conference in
Vancouver, the RIA announces some incredible survey
findings: Canadian investors want responsible
2017 RIA Investor Opinion Survey, press release,
June 1, 2017, RIA, Canada.
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