August 2014 Newsletter

August 2014 Newsletter

News & Commentaries by Ron Robins


U.S., int′l equities show greatest ESG growth potential. “Most asset managers believe that investors′ heightened focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies is a long-term ’secular’ trend, according to a new report. Cerulli Associates discloses this finding in its August 2014 edition of ’The Cerulli Edge: U.S. Monthly Product Trends.’ Asset managers surveyed by Cerulli have observed a moderate (65 percent) or significant (13 percent) increase in demand among clients and prospects for the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) Initiative.”

[COMMENTARY] The latter comment is most interesting as it displays significant and growing interest in matters pertaining to ESG among investors. This suggests companies excelling in ESG might outperform peers with regard to stock prices. And as readers here know, much research supports this view.
U.S., int′l equities show greatest ESG growth potential, by Warren S. Hersch, August 28, 2014, LifeHealthPro, USA.

Is Sin Always a Sin? The Interaction Effect of Social Norms and Financial Incentives on Market Participants′ Behavior, Research Study. “Our results show that social norms and financial incentives have a powerful interaction effect in determining the behavior of market participants, suggesting that social norms can be crossed when motive and opportunity exist.”

[COMMENTARY] What the findings of these researchers suggest is that given sufficient financial incentives, even ethical investors could succumb to investing in companies producing products/services opposed to their personal values. This is an interesting new area of research. It might also explain a lot about investor motivation–where they always say they want to invest ethically–yet only rarely invest in ethical investment products.
Is Sin Always a Sin? The Interaction Effect of Social Norms and Financial Incentives on Market Participants′ Behavior, by Yanju Liu, Singapore Management University – School of Accountancy; Hai Lu, University of Toronto – Rotman School of Management; and Kevin J. Veenstra, McMaster University – DeGroote School of Business. Accounting, Organizations and Society, Volume 39, Issue 4, 2014, Canada/Singapore.

Trends in corporate social responsibility 2014, by Grant Thornton.“Businesses report an increase in drivers to move towards more environmentally and socially sustainable business practices. Cost management is the main driver globally, followed by customer demand and because it′s the ‘right thing to do′. How a business is perceived to be operating is also important in many countries, especially China.”

[COMMENTARY] The report is useful reading for ethical investors. It provides a glimpse as to how executives currently see the utility of CSR in their own firms. You need to register–which is free–to get the report.
Trends in corporate social responsibility 2014, August 22, 2014, Grant Thornton, UK.

Conflict minerals reports are filed, but what do they say? “The supply chain complexities will make it very difficult for most companies to ever definitively determine the conflict mineral status of their products. For those that eventually do, it may take years of due diligence efforts before they can credibly reach such determination.”

[COMMENTARY] The US SEC requirement that companies file Conflict Mineral Reports for tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold is proving to be a bit of a sham at the moment. According to this article, it seems companies aren’t taking this reporting too seriously at the moment. Part of it is that companies have two years to come-up with answers. Another part is that suppliers are frequently uncooperative. We’ll have to see each year what progress is being made. Ethical investors will need a lot of patience with this. At least this subject is coming into the open and with investors and consumers becoming more vocal on this subject, companies will have to eventually take notice.
Conflict minerals reports are filed, but what do they say? By Allie Rutherford and Steve Starbuck, August 19, 2014, GreenBiz, USA.

Generation Y’s savings shortage may hit green investment. “Scepticism about the financial industry means 18-34 year olds are keeping savings as cash, reducing pot for much-needed green infrastructure funding.”

[COMMENTARY] As this article states, it’s important that generation y understands and makes green investing a priority or the future of the planet becomes increasingly hazardous. Investment returns would suffer as well. (Subscription required, free for first 4 weeks.)
Generation Y’s savings shortage may hit green investment, August 22, 2014, Business Green, UK.

Female clients’ unique approach to investing. “As they do with most things, men and women think about investing differently. Heather Locus, principal at Balasa Dinverno Foltz, points to a meeting she had with a brother and sister to highlight those differences. Both had inherited funds, and while the brother said, ’Give me what’s going to do the very best,’ the sister sought out socially responsible investments for a good portion of the money.”

[COMMENTARY] In every survey I’ve seen concerning SR-ethical investing, women are more favourably inclined towards it. This is something that investment advisors seeking to maximize their ’book’ might want to emphasize in the marketing of their services. They should also note that, “According to the Center for Talent Innovation, women control $11.2 trillion, or 39%, of the investible assets in the U.S.” (Subscription required—which is free.)
Female clients’ unique approach to investing, by Liz Skinner, August 17, 2014, Investment News, USA.

Pension beneficiaries prepared to sacrifice returns in favour of responsible investing. “Forty percent of pension participants are willing to forfeit part of their retirement income if the fund′s investment strategy matches their view on responsible investment, a survey has suggested.”

[COMMENTARY] The researchers at TIAS Business School of Tilburg University, Netherlands, also found that those with higher education and incomes, as well as women, were more likely to be comfortable with lower returns if investments met with their views on responsible investment. Of course, this whole premise–that one has to sacrifice returns for ethics–is wrong to begin with! It just shows how much education is needed, not only in the Netherlands but everywhere, that investing ethically can actually benefit returns!
Pension beneficiaries prepared to sacrifice returns in favour of responsible investing, by Olaf Boschman, August 14, 2014, IPE, UK.

Head-To-Head Comparison Of Top Global Household Products Companies On Environmental, Social And Governance Metrics. “This blog provides environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance metrics for four global household products: Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL), Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB), Unilever (NYSE:UL) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). My contribution is to provide readers with current analytics that go beyond financial metrics, to evaluate how well these companies perform on comparable environmental, social and governance … or ESG … metrics, also known as sustainability metrics.”

[COMMENTARY] Besides providing great ESG analysis of these companies, this blog post shows readers how some professionals conduct such research.
Head-To-Head Comparison Of Top Global Household Products Companies On Environmental, Social And Governance Metrics, by Katherine Schrank, August 13, 2014, Seeking Alpha, USA.

GEMS study uncovers leaders, laggards in environmental management. “Along with my data provider, IW Financial, I [Peter Soyka] have just released a newly updated and expanded study, ’2014 GEMS Benchmarking Analysis of U.S. Corporate Environmental Practices.’ It identifies the U.S. firms with the strongest reported environmental policies and infrastructure and finds that — notwithstanding noteworthy improvements during the past several years — many publicly traded companies have limited discernible capability with which to manage complex environmental and sustainability issues.”

[COMMENTARY] The study evaluates all the companies in the Russell 3000 stock index. Overall, companies are getting better at disclosing their environmental practices. Also, it seems that the bigger the company, the better it’s reporting. This is a useful article for ethical investors to read.
GEMS study uncovers leaders, laggards in environmental management, by Peter A. Soyka, August 7, 2014, GreenBiz, USA.

The socially responsible corporation? It′s a myth argues researcher. “Question of whether corporations could be socially responsible when you looked at all the components of the value chain or the individuals underlying this … the workers, the investors, and the managers. Whether you could have a socially responsible corporation when, in fact, the natural tendencies of the individuals in the corporation were, in the value chain of the corporation, were themselves not going to be prepared to sacrifice for their conscience, in some sense.”

[COMMENTARY] Timothy Devinney, leadership chair in international business at Leeds University, UK, found that consumers, investors, and corporate employees will not always act socially responsibly or ethically and that there really isn’t an ’ethical consumer.’

I believe what Professor Devinney is really describing has been observed many times in recent years: that individuals are only partly ethical and happy to cheat if it suits them. And it goes all the way back to their years at school. For instance, in a 2011 post,Free Markets Need Higher Consciousness of Participants, I wrote that, “Cheating by students has grown alarmingly in US schools, colleges and universities in recent decades. The highly respected US Educational Testing Service says that ’while about 20 per cent of college students admitted to cheating in high school during the 1940s, today between 75 and 98 per cent of college students surveyed each year report having cheated in high school.’” Cheating and poor ethics are everywhere!

Hence, we need a new, higher consciousness in society before true CSR is possible. Nonetheless, I believe gains are being made in this direction and am thus hopeful for the future for CSR. (Unfortunately, the article linked to below might not be available to all readers.)
Transcript: The socially responsible corporation? It′s a myth, Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Canada, interviews Timothy Devinney [leadership chair in international business at] Leeds University, UK, August 5, 2014, The Globe & Mail, Canada.

Why sustainability leaders don′t impress Wall Street.“Investors don′t have the data they need, or understand how sustainability connects to creating shareholder value. And companies don′t know how to tell a story that′s relevant to Wall Street. What we have here is a multi-trillion-dollar failure to communicate.”

[COMMENTARY] This is a great article focusing on the soon to be published work of Sheila Bonini and Steven Swartz at McKinsey & Company. Their research highlights ways in which mainstream Wall Street and investors can connect on corporate sustainability and how it relates to shareholder value.
Why sustainability leaders don′t impress Wall Street, by Joel Makower, August 4, 2014, GreenBiz, USA.

McKinsey: company leaders rallying behind sustainability. “Some 43% said their companies are seeking to align their sustainability with their overall goals, mission or value, compared to the 30% that said this in 2011. McKinsey links this trend to business leaders themselves placing more importance on sustainability, the number of CEOs that described it as their top priority was double that seen two years ago.”

[COMMENTARY] Survey results like this from a firm such as McKinsey are credible. Also, indirectly, these results support ethical investing. As more companies take sustainability to heart they perform better on ESG issues, subsequently improving their attractiveness to ethical investors.
McKinsey: company leaders rallying behind sustainability, by Charlotte Malone, August 2, 2014, Blue & Green Tomorrow, UK.

The carbon taxes we’re already paying. “The world’s 3,000 biggest companies, according to a U.N. Environment Program report, cause $2.15 trillion in annual environmental costs, most of which are not accounted for in their profit/loss statements.”

[COMMENTARY] This is a good article describing the carbon ’taxes’ that we’re already paying and asks who should pay them!
The carbon taxes we’re already paying, by Mark Shapiro, July 29, 2014, Justmeans, USA.

Featured New Book

Invest, Feel Good, Make a Difference: Breaking the Myths about Sustainable and Responsible Investing, by Richard Essex, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.
“Richard Essex has been an Independent Financial Adviser for over 20 years. In particular he has considerable expertise in the area of socially responsible and sustainable investing, and sits on the steering committee of the Ethical Investment Association. Richard is passionate about protecting the environment we live in, and has been involved in many projects, including setting up a recycling scheme for businesses in his local area. His main passion is to encourage people to invest in a healthier environment.”—Book description.

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