July 2016 Newsletter

July 2016 Newsletter

News & Commentaries by Ron Robins


In Pleas to SEC, Businesses Slam Sustainability Disclosures.“In a letter sent to the agency on July 20, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness harshly criticized the push for ESG disclosures, arguing that requiring more of this information from companies would exceed the materiality standards for disclosure set by federal securities laws.

’The objective of many calling for new public company ESG disclosures is primarily to obtain some social impact or achieve a political goal,’ the chamber wrote. ’These goals, if met, would in many cases contribute to an environment that makes it more difficult for businesses to innovate, compete and grow…’

The former [U.S.] Treasury chiefs said that climate change is a material risk under the Securities and Exchange Act, but that most companies disclose information about this risk ’poorly, if at all.’”

[COMMENTARY]Companies need to be truthful about climate and environmental risks to their businesses and show how they’re mitigating them if they are to earn the trust of investors. Otherwise, it’ll likely backfire on them as investor interest in their stocks declines together with their stock prices.
In Pleas to SEC, Businesses Slam Sustainability Disclosures, by Rebekah Mintzer, July 25, 2016, Corporate Counsel, USA.

Alternatives managers split on the benefits of ESG, finds Unigestion. “The survey suggests ESG is growing in importance for hedge funds with 53 per cent of managers saying they currently have ‘no interest′ compared with 60 per cent who 12 months ago said they were ‘reluctant′ to consider ESG as part of their strategies. In addition, some 30 per cent of hedge fund managers surveyed are now actively incorporating ESG into their strategies.”

[COMMENTARY]Here is more evidence of the mainstreaming of ESG in the financial community.
Alternatives managers split on the benefits of ESG, finds Unigestion, July 25, 2016, Hedgeweek, USA.

Japan pension fund to try socially responsible stock picking. “Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund will make room in its huge portfolio for domestic companies picked for their environmental, social and governance merits, a move that could lend momentum here to this kind of investing… The GPIF ranks as one of the biggest investors in Japanese equities, with a portfolio worth around 30 trillion yen [appr. US$283 billion).”

[COMMENTARY]More great news for ethical investors with continuing large funds entering the ESG investment space.
Japan pension fund to try socially responsible stock picking, July 22, 2016, Nikkei Asian Review, Japan.

2016 Sustainable Stock Exchange report released. “Euronext Amsterdam tops ranking of 45 global exchanges measured on overall sustainability disclosure…

The study,Measuring sustainability Disclosure: Ranking the World′s Stock Exchanges 2016, finds that of 4469 large companies analysed, only 47 per cent disclosed GHGs, arguably the most closely tracked sustainability indicator. Furthermore, over the 2010-2014 period, the number of large companies that disclosed GHGs nudged up just 12 points from 33 per cent to 47 per cent despite a number of high-profile policy initiatives aimed at sustainability disclosure in the last few years.”

[COMMENTARY]Congratulations to Aviva Plc and Corporate Knights for producing this report. It’s needed to determine the extent of corporate sustainability reporting by the world’s stock exchanges and to see who among them stands out.
2016 Sustainable Stock Exchange report released, July 19, 2016, Aviva Plc and Corporate Knights, UK/Canada.

Foundations Slowly Come Around to Responsible Investing. “A new study released jointly by the Council on Foundations and Commonfund Institute found that a third of U.S. private, public and community foundations have implemented or are actively considering mission-related investing practices in managing their endowed assets… However, impediments to adoption remain. Concern over returns was the single most commonly reported barrier, with 23% of foundations considering it a significant one and 48% a moderate one.”

[COMMENTARY]It seems many foundations are still under the impression that they might have to sacrifice returns for mission-related investments. It’s clear they need to familiarize themselves with what current research says: that returns from responsible investment portfolios are comparable to or often better than more ’conventional’ ones.
Foundations Slowly Come Around to Responsible Investing, by Michael S. Fischer, July 18, 2016, ThinkAdvisor, USA.

ESG Ratings: Four Myths And A Truth. “Recent criticisms of ESG ratings reflect an outdated and inaccurate notion of the ingredients and value of an ESG rating… Today, applying analytical tools and modeling techniques to wider datasets beyond corporate disclosure has significantly improved the rigour, consistency, and relevance of ESG information to the investment process. “

[COMMENTARY]MSCI’s Linda-Eling Lee has written a good article on the state of ESG rating systems today. Recommended reading for all investors.
ESG Ratings: Four Myths And A Truth, by Linda-Eling Lee, July 13, 2016, Benefits and Pensions Monitor, Canada.

The Fastest-Growing Cause for Shareholders Is Sustainability.“In fact, the largest number of shareholder resolutions filed by investors — the method through which activists work — now concern social and environmental issues. This is a recent phenomenon, according to my research; the number of these resolutions has increased dramatically over the past five years. Political spending, climate change, diversity, and human rights are now some of the most frequent resolutions that investors file.”

[COMMENTARY]George Serafeim (of Harvard) has written an insightful article about ESG shareholder resolutions. Worth reading by all ethical investors.
The Fastest-Growing Cause for Shareholders Is Sustainability, by George Serafeim, Jakurski Family Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business, July 12, 2016, Harvard Business Review, USA.

Does SRI Deliver? “According to a WealthManagement.com survey of 780 advisors across all business channels, while only 35 percent of advisors said they were ’very familiar’ with SRI funds, 66 percent said they have offered one to clients, mostly due to client requests. Nearly six in 10 advisors expect it to become a bigger part of their practice in the next five years.”

[COMMENTARY]Finally, most advisors are getting the message that they need to be much more understanding of their clients’ personal values and utilize that knowledge in assisting them in selecting appropriate SR-ethical securities and funds. Another important article for advisors to read.
Does SRI Deliver? By Diana Britton, July 5, 2016, WealthManagement Magazine, USA.

Unintended Biases in ESG Index Funds. “ESG index strategies can be effective tools for values-based investing, but they may introduce some additional bets that investors may not intend to make.”

[COMMENTARY]Morningstar have written a great article examining the biases in the holdings of various ESG index funds. (Incidentally, the same issues are present in ESG ETF funds too.) Investors holding these funds should definitely read this article.
Unintended Biases in ESG Index Funds, by Alex Bryan, July 6, 2016, Morningstar, USA.

US SIF Foundation Releases Report On Impact Of Sustainable Investment. “Sustainable, responsible and impact investors have influenced the investment industry, companies, governments and other actors to address environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges in four major areas, according to The Impact of Sustainable and Responsible Investment, a report released today by the US SIF Foundation.”

[COMMENTARY]This is a good compilation of the many successes of sustainable, responsible investing over the past 25 years in the US.
US SIF Foundation Releases Report On Impact Of Sustainable Investment, press release, June 29, 2016, US SIF, USA.

The US Civic 50: Civic-minded companies show that community engagement is linked to corporate success. “America′s largest corporations are increasingly turning good intentions into sound business practices. That′s the promising bottom-line from an analysis of the 2016 Civic 50, the annual Points of Light initiative that recognizes and honors the 50 most community-minded companies in America. In the continuing shift to go beyond checkbook philanthropy, this year′s Civic 50 honorees affirm the trend that companies are supporting community engagement through policies, core business functions, and incentives that indicate sustainable long-term commitment to addressing community challenges.”

[COMMENTARY]For SR-ethical investors concerned about US companies getting more engaged in civic and community affairs, this is an interesting list to peruse. It’s also worthwhile to understand the methodology of how they arrive at this list. As always, despite the appearance of objectivity, there’s always considerable subjectivity to determine what gets measured — and how it’s measured. Nonetheless, it’s good that companies strive to be on this list as in doing so they become better corporate citizens and enhance the morale of their employees.
The US Civic 50, press release, June 28, 2016, Points of Light, True Impact, and VeraWorks, USA.

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