January 2018 Newsletter

January 2018 Newsletter

News & Commentaries by Ron Robins


Just out, Corporate Knight’s 2018 Global 100. “Companies from 22 different countries made the 2018 list, with the U.S., France and U.K. leading the pack. European companies dominated the rankings, accounting for 69 per cent of listed companies, while North America and Asia accounted for 22 and 12 per cent respectively.”

[COMMENTARY] This is a ranking I always look forward to. And European companies continue to lead in a considerable fashion. Register to download the full report.
Corporate Knight’s 2018 Global 100, January 2018, Corporate Knights, Canada.

Sustainable Fund Assets Under Management Achieved Limited Gains in 2017 But Poised to Increase Traction. “During a year when a number of high profile environmental, social and governance (ESG) related events unfolded, sustainable fund assets under management in the US, including mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and exchange-traded notes (ETNs) achieved limited gains. Estimated net inflows, including new 2017 fund launches, were $2.9 billion or 1.5%.”

[COMMENTARY] It’s an old story. Despite retail investors saying they’re making ESG investments, the numbers continue to show only modest growth in these assets. According to many surveys, there seems to be much better ESG take-up in pension, endowment, and other institutional funds.
Sustainable Fund Assets Under Management Achieved Limited Gains in 2017 But Poised to Increase Traction, press release, January 22, 2018, Sustainable Research and Analysis, USA.

Chinese index ranking companies by social value commitment aims to help ethical investors. “China Alliance of Social Value Investment says its Social Value 99 index outperformed traditional benchmark stock indices in a simulation.”

[COMMENTARY] It demonstrates that ESG investing is gaining ground in China. Actual index information can be found here. Hopefully, an English version of the page will be up at some point.
Chinese index ranking companies by social value commitment aims to help ethical investors, by Karen Yeung, January 19, 2018, South China Morning Post, China.

Millennial Investors Want Perks and ESG Investing. “The latest Spectrem Group report, ’Millennial and Generation X Investors,’ suggests these two generations are significantly more attuned to socially responsible investing than their older counterparts.

In fact, survey results show more than half of Millennial investors (52%) see the social responsibility of their investments as an important selection criteria, compared with less than 30% of WWII-era investors and 42% of Gen X investors.

The study also reveals that almost a third of Millennial investors (29%) expect their financial adviser to reward them with gifts or other favors in exchange for their recurring business.”

[COMMENTARY] It’s fascinating the degree to which millennial investors want perks from their advisors! The rest of the survey’s findings continue to reinforce the fact that millennials are much more interested in ESG investing than other generations.
Millennial Investors Want Perks and ESG Investing, by John Manganaro, January 18, 2018, Plan Advisor, USA.

Larger Plans Continue to Outpace Smaller Plans in Incorporating ESG Factors. “While the top-line percentage was unchanged, plans with more than $20 billion in assets increased incorporation of ESG factors by 136% from 2013 to 2017, according to the findings. The authors note that these plans now have the highest rate of incorporation at 78%, compared to only 30% for the smallest funds. ESG adoption across all plan sizes has increased 68% since the firm′s first such survey in 2013.”

[COMMENTARY] I wonder if one reason larger plans outpace smaller plans in utilizing ESG criteria has to do with staffing and resources of the plan managers?
Larger Plans Continue to Outpace Smaller Plans in Incorporating ESG Factors, by Ted Godbout, NAPA, USA.

State of Green Business Report 2018, by GreenBiz/Trucost. “The report looks at 10 key trends and dozens of metrics assessing how, and how much, companies are moving the needle on the world′s most pressing environmental challenges. The report is produced in partnership with Trucost, part of S&P Global, a world leader in helping companies, investors, governments, academics and thought leaders to understand the economic consequences of natural capital dependency.”

[COMMENTARY] The report is well worth reading for any ethical investor.
State of Green Business Report 2018, January 2018, GreenBiz/Trucost, USA.

Demystifying negative screens: the full implications of ESG exclusions. “In this paper we explore the role of screening, the activities typically targeted, the different ways that exclusions are defined, and their effects on investment strategies. Our aim is to help both those investors with exclusion policies already in place and those considering them to understand the options available and the full implications of their choices.”

[COMMENTARY] Shroders quantifies the effects of various negative investment screens in a variety of investment strategies such as growth, value, and income. It’s a pioneering work in this area and something that anyone interested in ESG screening might want to read.
Demystifying negative screens: the full implications of ESG exclusions, January 10, 2018, Sustainable Investment Team, Shroders, UK.

MSCI links ESG with stronger asset growth. “For calendar 2016 the managers that scored the highest under MSCI’s responsible investment assessment recorded an average compound annual growth rate of 3.7% in institutional assets under management, vs. a 1.8% decline for those with the lowest scores. Over the two years, the CAGR is 2.6% for the leaders vs. 1.6% for the lowest scorers; and for the three-year period, those with higher responsible investment scores saw 3.6% growth in AUM, vs. 0.3% growth.”

[COMMENTARY] This is the first study of its kind that I’m aware of. The results could give an impetus to fund managers presently minimally or unengaged with ESG to take it more seriously.
MSCI links ESG with stronger asset growth, by Sophie Baker, January 8, 2018, Pensions & Investments, USA.

Sexual Harassment Screens Making It Into ETF ESG World. “Impact Shares, is launching the first ETF focused on women empowerment that will screen for sexual harassment. The fund will contain around 200 to 300 stocks and will track the Equileap North American Women’s Empowerment Index. The index applies 19 screening criteria, which cover gender balance in leadership and workforce, equal pay, flexible work options, safety at work and freedom from violence, abuse and sexual harassment.”

[COMMENTARY] I suspect this will not be the only fund to advance the cause. We’ll probably hear from many ESG oriented funds and managers that they’ll similarly screen for sexual harassment issues in their stock analysis.
Sexual Harassment Screens Making It Into ETF ESG World, by Marie Beerens, January 5, 2018, Investor’s Business Daily/Nasdaq, USA.

Why managers need to wake up to ESG threat. “’It will get to a point where, if a fund group doesn′t have fully-implemented ESG integration, and had it in place for sometime, we won′t be able to use them anymore,’ she [Teresa Platan, who specialises in selecting emerging markets and Japan equity funds for Aktia, a Finnish bank] says. ’The shift has been so fast in the past year with the clients suddenly asking so much about ESG. It′s difficult to say exactly how long before we′re there. Maybe only in a year or two.’”

[COMMENTARY] The article’s headline seems to imply a backlash against ESG integration. However, as the quote implies, it’s really cautioning those investment industry players not already on the ESG train to get on-board now or lose business!
Why managers need to wake up to ESG threat, by Dylan Emery, January 5, 2018, Portfolio Advisor, UK.

Featured Book

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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