May 2017 Newsletter

May 2017 Newsletter

News & Commentaries by Ron Robins


Key ESG Trends. “From a geographic perspective, the GSIA data showed that European and Canadian assets were more diversified across different implementation strategies: in addition to negative screening, there were a higher proportion of assets using norms-based screening, corporate engagement, and integration approaches. Within the United States, the primary forms of implementation were integration, negative screening, and corporate engagement.”

[COMMENTARY] This post has some fascinating charts on ESG investing globally. However, one figure that stands out — and I believe questionable — is the proportion of sustainable assets vs total managed assets in Europe at 58.896%. There is an explanatory note but to me, it seems to obfuscate the issue.
Key ESG Trends, by Blake Pontius, May 23, 2017, William Blair Blog, USA.

UK Ethical investing sector held back by lack of awareness, says new survey. “More than half of the UK population want their wealth to have a positive impact on society but are unsure where to turn to for help, highlighting a knowledge deficit in the area of ethical investing.

The survey, conducted by positive savings platform Ethex, shows lack of knowledge, understanding and confidence in what is on offer is holding many investors back from investing in ethical products.

50 percent of those asked did not feel they know enough about positive investment and savings, although 45 percent were willing to learn more. In addition, 39 percent did not know whether to expect a stronger or weaker financial return from positive investments when compared to traditional ones and 55 percent did not think they were wealthy enough to make positive investments.”

[COMMENTARY] Most investors in the developed world have for over two decades wanted to be invested in ethical, socially responsible, and sustainable companies. It’s always been the vested interests in the mainstream financial industry that never got the message — until quite recently.

It’s peculiar how an industry priding itself in its marketing and customer relations has been so out-of-touch with its clients — and for such a long time. I’ve always asked, whatever happened to the ’know thy client’ rule.
Ethical investing sector held back by lack of awareness, says new survey, by Miranda Wadham, May 25, 2017, The Investment Observer, UK.

27% of asset managers doubt future of ethical investing as costs rise, survey, BNP Paribas Securities Services. “A further 28% of asset managers admitted they were concerned they didn′t have the ability to meet the demand for ESG investments from clients currently, and worried they wouldn′t in the future. The research report, titled ‘Great Expectations: ESG … What′s next for asset owners and managers′, also found more than half (55%) of those surveyed felt the lack of robust data on ESG investments was the biggest barrier to its adoption in strategies.

[COMMENTARY] What should’ve been the headline is that 55% of those surveyed felt the lack of robust ESG data as the biggest barrier to fully implementing ESG criteria.
Asset managers doubt future of ethical investing as costs rise, by Louise Hill, May 24, 2017, Portfolio Advisor, USA.

New Report Reveals 86% of Americans Expect Companies to Take Action on Social, Environmental Issues. “Most interestingly, the study considers consumer behavior in light of today′s political climate and shows that 67 percent of Americans believe progress on social and environmental issues will slow in the absence of government regulation — and their confidence in organizations to drive change is low. As a result, 43 percent of consumers believe individuals present the greatest potential to solve social and environmental issues, followed by nonprofits (18 percent), government (17 percent) and business (13 percent).”

[COMMENTARY] President Trump needs to tread carefully on social and environmental regulations, or he risks a considerable public and political backlash. This survey by Cone Communications illustrates that the majority of Americans want their government active in social and environmental change.
New Report Reveals 86% of Americans Expect Companies to Take Action on Social, Environmental Issues, by Libby MacCarthy, May 18, 2017, Sustainable Brands, USA.

UK Savers clueless about what their banks do with their money. “Triodos: The sustainable and ethical bank surveyed 2,003 people who have some savings. The research reveals that the transition to a low-carbon economy is the top priority for savers wanting to make a positive difference. Nearly half (47 per cent) said they would like their money to be used to help develop renewable energy, while four out of ten (41 per cent) wanted to support energy efficiency.

Savers also identified social housing (41 per cent), community/society groups (28 per cent), human rights and labour rights (28 per cent), urban regeneration (24 per cent) and sustainable business (23) as areas they would like their money to be invested in… “

[COMMENTARY] Of course the savers were talking about their bank deposits here and how they should be used. At the ethical UK bank, Triodos, they actually publish the details of who they make loans too.
UK Savers clueless about what their banks do with their money, by Marina Gerner, May 12, 2017, Money Observer, UK.

Advisor Interest In SRI Nearly Doubles Since Last Year, Survey Says. “Forty percent of advisors now report that socially responsible investing is important to them and their clients, compared to only 21 percent who said that in 2016.”

[COMMENTARY] This is wonderful news. Soon SRI-ethical investing will be quite normal for advisors and investors alike. Perhaps a day might come when nearly all investing is SRI-ethical-ESG compliant!
Advisor Interest In SRI Nearly Doubles Since Last Year, Survey Says, by Karen Demasters, May 11, 2017, FA Magazine, USA.

Fostering Long-Termism in Investing. “Khan, Serafeim, and Yoon (KSY)9: found that portfolios made up of companies with high KLD10 sustainability scores weighted by SASB11 materiality scores outperformed portfolios of companies with low KLD sustainability scores weighted by SASB materiality scores by average annual return gaps ranging from 3.1%/yr. to 8.9%/yr. over 20+year observation periods, depending on the degree of portfolio concentration.12 They observed their results were notably different from the mixed results of previous ESG studies that did not include the materiality dimension.”

[COMMENTARY] I’ve used the above quote as a leader to encourage all my readers to read this extraordinarily insightful piece that strongly argues for long-term, participatory, sustainable, and focused investing!
Fostering Long-Termism in Investing, by Keith Ambachtsheer, May 9, 2017, Benefits & Pensions Monitor, Canada.

6 benefits to companies that issue green bonds. “Last year, almost twice as many green bonds as expected were issued, and in the first quarter of 2017, issuance stood at $21.76 billion, up nearly 42 percent from the same period last year. What’s more, a new report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated that the green bond market could increase to $4.7 trillion to $5.6 trillion in outstanding bonds by 2035, with annual issuances of $620 billion to $720 billion.”

[COMMENTARY] With investors appetite for green bonds rising sharply and outstripping demand, green bond yields often command relatively lower yields. As lower yields frequently mean reduced interest costs to companies it increases the attractiveness for companies to issue them vis a vis regular bonds. It’s a win for companies and a win for ethical investors.
6 benefits to companies that issue green bonds, by Rochelle J. March, May 5, 2017, GreenBiz, USA.

10 reasons Wealth Managers are following investor demand to ESG. “But investors are even more attuned to ESG than advisors are, which makes ESG savvy a competitive advantage in today′s managed money world.”

[COMMENTARY] The reasons given for advisors to engage in ESG issues with their clients are many had the key ones are covered in this post. Furthermore, surveys and studies back the reasons discussed.
10 reasons Wealth Managers are following investor demand to ESG, by TruValue Labs. May 2, 2017, USA.

Finally … A Meaningful Deciphering of what “ESG Integration” Really Means. “The problem, however, is that ’integrating ESG’ has become a meaningless mantra. Firms were using ’integrating ESG’ to mean everything from mandatory consideration of the most sophisticated analysis to superficial greenwashing….

Sustainalytics, an independent ESG research firm, [has] developed a typology of how organizations use ESG. Do they use centralized staff or distribute ESG analysis responsibilities to the portfolio teams? Is ESG considered on a portfolio-company-by-portfolio-company basis, or more thematically, for instance looking at potential investments in the water sector? Is ESG research mandated to be considered, or just made available to the investment teams? Do the organizations modify external research or use it as is?”

[COMMENTARY] The Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRC) commissioned Sustainalytics for this research and Sustainalytics has now shone a light on how ESG criteria are used by asset owners and managers. The results are fascinating and important for all responsible-ethical investors to understand.
Finally … A Meaningful Deciphering of what “ESG Integration” Really Means, by Jon Lukomnik, May 1, 2017, HUFFPOST.

Featured Book

Sustainable Investing: Revolutions in theory and practice, by Cary Krosinsky and Sophie Purdom, Routledge 2016.
“As we make the vital sustainability and low carbon transition, we are finally moving from persuading to doing, from testing to investing. This book gives a great guide to the reasons change is needed, the methods, tools and ideas to make that change, plus all the latest thinking that goes along with that.”—Dave Gorman, Director of Social Responsibility and Sustainability, Responsible Investment lead, University of Edinburgh, UK.

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