March 2016

Controlled Companies Underperform, Boards Less Diverse New Study Finds. “The study finds that controlled companies generally underperformed non-controlled firms over all periods reviewed in terms of total shareholder returns, revenue growth, and return on equity.”

[COMMENTARY] Controlled firms refer to companies controlled by a major stockholder. The study suggests that diversity of boards and ownership provides better governance and lower CEO pay, among many other findings.
Controlled Companies Underperform, Boards Less Diverse New Study Finds, press release, March 29, 2016, Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCi)/Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS), USA.

Rolex, Disney, Google Top World′s Largest Survey of Corporate Reputations. “The RepTrak® System measures the general public′s perception of the world′s top companies on the seven key rational dimensions of reputation: products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership and performance.”

[COMMENTARY] Many ethical investors might query some of the top names on this list. However, it’s all about perception and perception influences markets — and stock prices. This is always a noteworthy list to peruse.
Rolex, Disney, Google Top World′s Largest Survey of Corporate Reputations, Catalyst Investors, March 22, 2016, USA.

90% of (global) retail investors have trust in financial services: Survey. “Investors expect higher levels of transparency than ever before, holding their investment managers to the highest ethical standards, and are laser-focused on returns, according to a recent study from CFA Institute, the global association of investment management professionals.”

[COMMENTARY] As it’s the CFA Institute who compiled the survey it is useful reading for all in the investment industry. Compared to other surveys of trust in the investment/financial industry, this one paints a relatively rosy picture. (For CFA’s actual report, click here.)
90% of retail investors have trust in financial services: Survey, March 29, 2016, Moneycontrol, India.

New investors’ site analyses UK funds for their SRI styles and policies. “We fill a gap in the market by helping (mainly) financial advisers to understand and meet their clients′ green and ethical investment goals more easily. The recently revamped sriServices Fund EcoMarket database tool is a comprehensive, ‘whole of market′ database.”

[COMMENTARY] Though the site founders focus on its applicability for advisors, I can see many individual UK ethical investors using the site.
New investors’ site analyses UK funds for their SRI styles and policies, March 2016, Fund EcoMarket, UK.

The study of socially responsible investing. “’It seemed like institutional investors don′t necessarily care about a company having a good rating on an environmental or social parameter. But, they do care if the company has a poor rating.’ [Quoting Associate Professor Abhishek Varma, Illinois State University].”

[COMMENTARY] This study looks interesting, but I have few details on it so far. The article cited is worth reading by ethical investors as it might provide additional information they might consider in their stock and portfolio selection process.
The study of socially responsible investing, by Molly Hartrup, March 24, 2016, Illinois State University News, USA.

G&A Institute & Trust Across America Partner to Examine Trustworthiness for S&P 500® Companies Not Reporting on Sustainability. “Results Show Higher Trust for Firms Reporting on Their Sustainability Journeys.”

[COMMENTARY] The results of this survey are unsurprising to me. In fact, I’m surprised that the data didn’t show an even larger difference of trust between those companies reporting on sustainability compared to those that didn’t. Nonetheless, it still makes a good case for non-reporting companies to report on sustainability and I congratulate the survey sponsors for conducting the study and making the data public.
G&A Institute & Trust Across America Partner to Examine Trustworthiness for S&P 500® Companies Not Reporting on Sustainability, press release, March 24, 2016, Governance & Accountability Institute, USA.

Global Islamic Wealth Management Industry Faces Trust Deficit. ” A global survey on the Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) of the Global Islamic Wealth Management Industry conducted by Edbiz Consulting, a London-based think tank, revealed that the global Islamic wealth management industry is facing a trust deficit that is hampering the growth of the industry.

’48% of the respondents said they have never used any Islamic wealth management products and services, citing lack of understanding, lack of trust and preference to manage own wealth as reasons for not subscribing,’ said Dr Sofiza Azmi, Group CEO of HD-Edbiz Group of Companies.

’This finding resonates with interviews conducted with more than 50 leading industry practitioners and experts. About 18% of them said that convincing Muslim HNWIs to invest in Sharia-compliant way is very difficult. There is certainly a trust deficit when it comes to managing wealth in a Shariah-compliant way,’ she added.

[COMMENTARY] While trust is an issue for Islamic wealth managers — and we  know is not a major issue for the socially responsible-ethical investment industry — may offer opportunities for SR-ethical investment managers to manage funds for Muslim HNWI clients?
Global Islamic Wealth Management Industry Faces Trust Deficit, press release, March 24, 2016, Zawya, Malaysia.

Top Index Funds Showing Significant Interest In ESG. “Top index funds are showing significant interest in environmental, social and governance issues, said Bob McCormick, chief policy officer for Glass Lewis, the large proxy advisory services… He added a reason index funds have a greater incentive to consider ESG issues than other investors is because they can′t sell their shares short term so they have to focus on long-term environmental and governance matters that could impact the value of their holdings.”

[COMMENTARY] An interesting perspective is suggested here that as index funds generally have a longer-term time horizon than most other funds, they could be more amenable to engaging with companies on ESG issues.
Top Index Funds Showing Significant Interest In ESG, by Ted Knutson, March 21, 2016, Financial Advisor, USA.

Morningstar Sustainability Ratings Now Available to Individual Investors Globally. “The new Morningstar Sustainability Rating™ for funds is now available on its North American and European websites as well as in Morningstar® Advisor WorkstationSM, the company’s web-based practice management platform for advisors.”

[COMMENTARY] So it has come to pass! It will be fascinating to watch the reaction of individual investors to this option. Will they gravitate to higher rated sustainable funds?
Morningstar Sustainability Ratings Now Available to Individual Investors Globally, press release, March 17, 2016, The Netherlands.

Sustainable Funds Are Walking the Walk. “The results are impressive, if not surprising, and clearly support the notion that ESG funds are investing in companies with strong sustainability performance to a much greater degree than funds in the overall universe.

Nearly half of the ESG funds–45%–received the highest Sustainability Rating. That compares with only 10% of funds in the overall universe (the ratings are normally distributed within each Morningstar Category, with 10% receiving the highest–and lowest–ratings). And 80% of intentional ESG funds have ratings of High or Above Average, compared with only a third of the overall universe.”

[COMMENTARY] This is a relief for most ethical fund managers! As mentioned before, it could give these fund managers a new advantage as investors noting the differences in ESG fund scores possibly begin switching to funds with higher ESG scores.
Sustainable Funds Are Walking the Walk, by Jon Hale, March 17, 2016, Morningstar, USA.

Is Your Mutual Fund a Climate Change Denier or Climate Champion? “Among 42 mutual fund companies whose voting we analyzed, nine companies, including the world′s largest mutual fund company Vanguard, failed to support a single climate-related shareholder resolution in 2015. The other eight are American Funds, American Century, Blackrock, Fidelity, ING (Voya), Lord Abbett, Pioneer and Putnam.”

[COMMENTARY] The data that Rob Berridge and Jackie Cook present is not surprising, though somewhat disappointing that some of the world’s largest mutual fund companies are so disengaged in the climate issue. However, with the growing interest among investors in ESG and that Morningstar and MSCI have fund rankings according to ESG criteria it’s likely that such fund companies will need to change their perspective — or risk losing clients and assets.
Is Your Mutual Fund a Climate Change Denier or Climate Champion? By Rob Berridge and Jackie Cook, March 15, 2016, EcoWatch, USA.

Eighty One Percent (81%) of the S&P 500 Index Companies Published Corporate Sustainability Reports in 2015. “G&A Institute charted the rapid and significant uptake in corporate sustainability reporting among the 500 companies — over the years, sustainability reporting rose from just 20% of the companies reporting in 2011 to 81% in 2015.”

[COMMENTARY] It’s obvious that companies have gotten the message that CSR strategies can pay dividends. Not only has CSR become the norm, but ESG analysis in stock selection and portfolio construction is fast becoming the norm too. We have come a long way since I started advocating for ethical investing over forty years ago!
Eighty One Percent (81%) of the S&P 500 Index Companies Published Corporate Sustainability Reports in 2015, press release, March 15, 2016, Governance & Accountability Institute, USA.

What Motivates Companies to Do Good—Altruism, or Guilt? “The researchers′ analysis suggested that most CSR programs are implemented as a matter of good management practice, or to atone for past bad behavior. The researchers found that for many companies, investing in CSR because they think it′s the right thing to do or a good move for the business overall pays off by improving the overall financial performance of the company.

When looking at market-based measures of performance, firms that made decisions to incorporate these programs into their business strategies saw a boost. That gives some credence to the theory that firms can in fact ’do well by doing good.’”

[COMMENTARY] Well, chalk this one up as another plus for CSR! This study — by researchers at respectable universities reviewing the CSR activities of 4,500 companies over 19 years — has credibility. (See it here.)
What Motivates Companies to Do Good—Altruism, or Guilt? By Gillian B. White, March 14, 2016, The Atlantic, USA.

Does CSR create shareholder wealth? “In our recent study, we attempt to answer this question that has troubled managers and scholars for the better part of the last four decades. And what we observe after rigorously analyzing data from a large sample of 1725 firms in the United States for the years 2000-2009, is that the answer is a characteristically academic one – ’it depends!’”

[COMMENTARY] Their findings are worth a read by all ethical investors. They truly make some fascinating observations, particularly the role of marketing departments in promoting key corporate efforts to certain key stakeholders.

However, I wonder if their findings would’ve been any different if they looked at the years 2010 to 2014 inclusive (five full years)? The outperformance of companies leading with ESG in that period has been generally noteworthy. Also, consider that the largest review ever compiled — on 2200 individual ESG studies — found a significant positive impact of ESG on corporate financial performance.
Does CSR create shareholder wealth? By Saurabh Mishra, McGill University, Canada, and Sachin Modi, Iowa State University, USA, March 7, 2016, LSE Review, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.

Ethisphere Announces the 2016 World′s Most Ethical Companies®. “The World′s Most Ethical Companies program honors companies that excel in three areas – promoting ethical business standards and practices internally, enabling managers and employees to make good choices, and shaping future industry standards by introducing tomorrow′s best practices today. Honorees have historically out-performed others financially, demonstrating the connection between good ethical practices and performance that′s valued in the marketplace.

In 2016, 131 honorees were named spanning 21 countries and five continents and representing over 45 industries. In its 10th year, the list includes 14 ten-time honorees and 13 first-time honorees.

[COMMENTARY] This is a good list with a great pedigree. However, I do wonder why the vast majority of companies honoured are American! It could be that not many companies outside the USA bother completing Ethisphere’s Ethics Quotient questionnaire. If they don’t complete it they don’t appear considered for the honoree title.
World′s Most Ethical Companies® Honorees, press release, March 7, 2016, USA.

Introducing MSCI ESG Fund Metrics. “We leverage our ESG Ratings coverage of more than 6,000 companies (11,000 total issuers including subsidiaries) and more than 350,000 equity and fixed income securities globally to create ESG scores and metrics for approximately 21,000 multi-asset class Mutual Funds and ETFs globally.”

[COMMENTARY] It seems that MSCI is determined to create competition to the new Morningstar/Sustainalytics company/fund ratings’ system. This is great news for investors and fund managers. They’ll be able to compare funds’ ESG performance using these two different approaches.
Introducing MSCI ESG Fund Metrics, March 2016, MSCI, UK.

Bond Market Asking `What Is Green?’ Curbs Climate-Friendly Debt. “Companies are second guessing whether to participate in green-bond markets as scrutiny by environmental groups raises the bar on what constitutes a climate-friendly security.

After quadrupling in size from 2012 to 2014, lifted by investors tracking environmental performance in addition to yield, the green bond market is expected to slow for a second consecutive year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Growth moderated to 28 percent last year and in 2016 may nudge ahead just 4 percent, to $50 billion, the London-based researcher said.”

[COMMENTARY] I’m not sure if this is happening, but perhaps groups like Friends of the Earth, Banktrack, and other environmental groups should work with the Climate Bonds Initiative and Green Bond Principles to decide acceptable environmental criteria for green bonds. So far, it seems this hasn’t happened. Until it does, the green bond market is restrained in attaining its potential. Perhaps there could be different grades of green bonds depending on their ’greenness?’
Bond Market Asking `What Is Green?’ Curbs Climate-Friendly Debt, by Anna Hirtenstein, March 5, 2016, Bloomberg, UK.

Third of ethical funds fail Morningstar′s top sustainability rating. “Any fund with more than 50 per cent of its assets covered by a company-level ESG score from Sustainalytics will be rated, with the portfolio score then giving an asset-weighted average of the ratings. Deductions will be made to this score for companies involved in ’controversial incidents’.

The fund′s Morningstar portfolio sustainability score is then ranked relative to at least 10 peers, with the funds evenly distributed across the rating – from one globe, or low, to five, or high.

[COMMENTARY] I’m not too surprised by the headline. It’s also important to understand Morningstar’s criteria for their ESG ratings.
Third of ethical funds fail Morningstar′s top sustainability rating, by Laura Suter, March 1, 2016, Fund Strategy, UK.

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