June 2016 Newsletter

June 2016 Newsletter

News & Commentaries by Ron Robins


Has ESG morphed to become just a box-ticking exercise? “The recent moves to assess environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance within fund portfolios are attempting to answer an important question: how do you tell if your asset manager is taking ESG seriously? Difficulties in accurately measuring such an output should not be underestimated.”

[COMMENTARY]This article reminds me of a related discussion. Some recent surveys of the use of ESG metrics in investment analysis has shown that though it’s now widely used, many analysts believe it doesn’t lead to increased alpha. I’ve commented how this can be so when the preponderance of studies shows that corporate excellence in ESG usually leads to financial and stock outperformance.

Well my theory is this. It is poorly applied by such analysts. Perhaps they resent the extra work and that it’s often non-mathematical in nature so it’s ’foreign’ to these mostly pure number crunchers. What do you think?
Has ESG morphed to become just a box-ticking exercise? by Marianne Harper Gow, June 27, 2016, Investment Week, UK.

CEOs Urged to Talk ESG, Though Wall Street Wants EPS. “CEOs need to ramp up communications about environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues even when Wall Street is more concerned with short-term financial performance like earnings per share (EPS), according to a new report from the Conference Board.”

[COMMENTARY]The Conference Board believes that CEOs need to be much more proactive in talking about their sustainability issues as it is now one of the top five concerns of CEOs, says the Conference Board. As we know, most analysts are primarily concerned with short-term, quarterly financial reporting, so sustainability activities which are mostly long-term in nature, aren’t often brought-up.
CEOs Urged to Talk ESG, Though Wall Street Wants EPS, by Dave Armon, 3BL Media CMO, June 22, 2016, USA.

Canada’s RIA Guide to Responsible Investment. Not only great for Canadian investors, but insights into RI for investors anywhere.
Canada’s RIA Guide to Responsible Investment, June 2016, RIA Canada.

The (UK) Guide to Sustainable Investment.This is a good guide for UK ethical investors produced by a very reputable organization.
The (UK) Guide to Sustainable Investment May 2016, Blue & Green Tomorrow, UK.

Allianz: investor attitudes towards ESG. “45% of respondents incorporate environmental, social and governance factors into their investment decision-making. Ethics was cited as the top reason for ESG integration (38%), followed by corporate policy at 31% and minimizing reputation and litigation risk at 19%.

At the same time, however, only 43% of respondents believe ESG implementation has improved investment performance and only 26% believe it will lead to higher risk-adjusted returns.”

[COMMENTARY]I find the latter statistic that only 26% of respondents believe ESG implementation into the investment process will lead to higher risk adjusted returns strange. So why do most respondent do it if they don’t believe it’ll improve performance? Is the way they think about ESG and how they go about integrating it a factor? Their belief also runs counter to most ESG research showing it generally positive for improving returns — risk adjusted or otherwise.
Allianz: Equity markets, risk-adjusted returns top investor concerns, by Meaghan Kilroy, June 21, 2016, Pensions & Investments, USA.

World Federation of Exchanges releases second annual sustainability survey. “More than 90% of responding exchanges have an ESG, or sustainability, programme in place, primarily focused on education initiatives for issuers and/or investors, but also including products such as ’green bonds’;

Nearly 100% of respondents believe they should monitor the long-term sustainability of their listed companies, and actively participate in developing better ESG reporting metrics;

Growing number of respondents (over 50% compared with 30% in 2014) are including ESG disclosures as part of their own reporting framework.”

[COMMENTARY]If anyone still needs convincing of the value of corporate ESG reporting they need look no further than what global stock exchanges are requiring from their listed companies! ESG reporting has made it.
World Federation of Exchanges releases second annual sustainability survey, press release, June 14, 2016, World Federation of Exchanges, UK.

FTSE Russell launches green revenue benchmark. “According to a press statement, the FTSE Russell Green Revenues Index Series … based on the low carbon economy (LCE) data model … measures the green revenues of 13,400 public companies, which represent 98.5% of total global market capitalisation…

FTSE Russell touts its framework as comprehensive, one which allows analysts and investors to gauge the environmental impact of the goods and services from which companies derive revenue.”

[COMMENTARY]Potentially history making in the field of corporate ESG measures, this is the first index to actually determine the real environmental value of the goods and services of a company. Now, for instance, this will ensure tobacco and fossil fuel companies who often rate highly on various ESG indices, will unlikely be so rated in this new FTSE Russell index!
FTSE Russell launches green revenue benchmark, June 13, 2016, Asia Asset Management, Hong Kong, China.

Green Bonds: A Surging Market for Socially Responsible Investing.“The green bond market could double in size this year, boosted by issuance from China and U.S. corporations like Apple.”

[COMMENTARY]At last ethical investors will see a great increase in green bond offerings that they might incorporate into their portfolios. However, my continuing concern is still the lack of standardization of what describes a green bond. Until those standards are in place, the ’greenness’ of a bond will always be suspect.
Green Bonds: A Surging Market for Socially Responsible Investing, by Bernice Napach, June 13, 2016, Think Advisor, USA.

New Study from Calvert Investments Highlights the Alpha-Generating Potential and Value of Integrated ESG Analysis. “Calvert Investment Management, Inc., a leading responsible investment manager, has partnered with Professor George Serafeim of the Harvard Business School to publish “The Financial and Societal Benefits of ESG Integration: Focus on Materiality.” This study, which is the second paper in the Calvert-Serafeim series, explores how systematic analysis of material environmental, social and governance (ESG) data may be able to help portfolio returns without adding additional risk.”

[COMMENTARY]This is a great new study demonstrating the potential alpha when incorporating ESG into investment analysis.
New Study from Calvert Investments Highlights the Alpha-Generating Potential and Value of Integrated ESG Analysis, press release, June 13, 2016, Calvert Investments/George Serafeim, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, USA.

Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada. “Following Vancity on the list is WestJet, a leader in the airline industry on resource productivity and taxes paid. Third place went to the Co-operators group, the insurance provider and perennial contender that finished first in 2011. It performed particularly well on its pension and tax scores, and maintained one of the lowest CEO to average worker pay ratios among the Best 50.”

[COMMENTARY]The producers of this review also create Newsweek’s green corporate rankings. They are very good at what they do, so this annual review is worth reviewing by investors.
Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada, June 2016, Corporate Knights, Canada.

TIAA Exec: ESG Investing A Big Draw With Millennials. “Millennial investors are far more familiar with responsible investing than others. Some 90 percent say they want their investments to make a positive impact on society compared to 74 percent of boomers and Gen Xers.”

Furthermore, “61 percent of investors say their advisors did not bring up responsible investing in the past 12 months, 46 percent of advisors say they have never offered responsible investing products to their clients, 35 percent think their clients aren′t interested in responsible investing and 36 percent of advisors don′t know how to accurately evaluate responsible investments.”

[COMMENTARY]The data in this article tell me that not only are the millennials wise with regard to responsible investing, but the number of advisors discussing and offering RI-ethical investing products has risen greatly over the years. Years ago the vast majority of advisors hadn’t even heard of ethical investing — let alone selling associated products!
TIAA Exec: ESG Investing A Big Draw With Millennials, by Juliette Fairley, June 8, 2016, Financial Advisor, USA.

The 2016 SustainAbility Leaders. “Unilever continues to be regarded as the global corporate leader on sustainability. It has further increased its leadership margin and was named as a leader by 43% of polled experts. Patagonia, Interface, IKEA and Tesla are also among the top-rated leaders.”

[COMMENTARY]NGOs are also seen as leaders with governments coming in last. The survey is extensive and informative on how and what companies and industries are leading in sustainability.
The 2016 SustainAbility Leaders, June 7, 2016, SustainAbility/GlobeScan.

2016 Newsweek Green (Corporate) Rankings. “The Newsweek Green Rankings are one of the world′s most recognized assessments of corporate environmental performance. Based on research from Corporate Knights and HIP (Human Impact + Profit) Investor Inc., the 2016 iteration of the project features eight key performance indicators that are used to assess and measure the environmental performance of the world′s largest publicly traded companies.”

[COMMENTARY]This is another really good annual ranking. The top three global companies are Shire PLC, Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC, and BT Group PLC.
2016 Newsweek Green Rankings. June 2016, Newsweek/Corporate Knights/HIP (Human Impact + Profit) Investor Inc., USA.

Is Competition Between Sustainability Reporting Standards Healthy?“This question has acquired even more relevance with the announcement of the Exposure Draft of the GRI Standards to ’compete’ with the existing standards of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, SASB, and the Integrated Reporting Framework of the International Integrated Reporting Council, IIRC.”

[COMMENTARY]For investors, I believe it’s important there be only one recognized standard. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be bewildered in attempting to understand the nuances and complexities of each ’standard’ and still largely unable to genuinely compare reports from companies using different standards.
Is Competition Between Sustainability Reporting Standards Healthy? By Antonio Vives, June 2, 2016, TriplePundit, USA.

Costs Of Fossil Fuel Divestment … Billions Of Dollars For Endowment Funds. “That transaction and management costs related to divestment … what he refers to as ’frictional costs’ … have the potential to rob endowment funds of as much as 12 percent of their total value over a 20-year timeframe. This includes the onetime immediate transactions costs an endowment must endure, as well as ongoing annual management fees to stay in line with the changing definition of “fossil free.”

[COMMENTARY]Fascinating research. I’m sure the fossil fuel industry loves it! It absolutely needs to be replicated by others to see if they find similar divestment costs.
Costs Of Fossil Fuel Divestment … Billions Of Dollars For Endowment Funds, June 1, 2016, ValueWalk, USA.

Investors and Their Financial Advisors Need More Education, More Communication about Responsible Investments — TIAA Global Asset Management Survey. “Over three quarters (77 percent) of affluent US investors say that they want their assets to have a positive impact on society. Many may see investing as an extension of their focus on social issues, with 86 percent of respondents tending to recycle every day, 71 percent preferring reusable bags, and 61 percent shopping for brands that adhere to sustainable business practices.

Yet with interest in social impact growing, and the availability of more responsible investment options than ever before, greater than one in three investment advisors (36 percent) concede that they are not able to adequately evaluate performance of responsible investments, and two in five affluent investors (40 percent) report they are unsure if they currently own responsible investments within their portfolios.”

[COMMENTARY]It’s good to have the numbers but there’s nothing really new here. All of us engaged in ethical investing have understood for many years the reality described by this survey. Thank you, TIAA for providing the numbers though.
Investors and Their Financial Advisors Need More Education, More Communication about Responsible Investments — TIAA Global Asset Management Survey, press release, May 31, 2016, TIAA Global Asset Management, USA.

New Book Focus

The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America′s Prosperity, Security and Sustainability in the 21st Century, by Mark Mykleby, Patrick Doherty and Joel Makower, St. Martin′s Press 2016
“The New Grand Strategy offers… a grand purpose of creating a sustainable future for Americans and the peoples of all nations. The goal may be grand, but the analysis is clear, simple, and accessible.”―Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of New America; former Dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Author of Unfinished Business.

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