December 15, 2016
For those of you who want concrete examples about how looking at ESG factors can help add value to a portfolio, you should read "INVESTORS SHARPEN FOCUS ON SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL RISKS TO STOCKS" in the New York Times. The article starts with a couple of examples how a pair of stocks were ranked high by traditional analysts, but low by ESG analysts and eventually the stocks performed poorly based on unethical decisions by it's leaders. The article goes on to show some examples on how ESG analysts look at companies and some of their successes and concerns on why ESG might not be for everyone.
December 8, 2016
I can't tell you how many conversations I've had over the last month about what a Trump presidency means to one's investment portfolio. While no one can predict the future, Wall Street has generally been optimistic about the next four years. But, some of the investments that have lagged have been those that are trying to green our future. Clean Yield had an interesting story today about some of the things that might happen to the environment moving forward. "THE NEXT FOUR YEARS: FIGHTING FOR A LIVABLE CLIMATE" is both optimistic and shows some real potential problems moving forward. I have found it a great starting point for many conversations.
December 6, 2016
The Financial Times has a good article with the basics of Gender Lens Investors, entitled "THE BUSINESS OF WOMEN." The article starts with all the forces behind the upsurge in popularity of this type of investing. It then goes on to explain the similarity it has to SRI and the growth in opportunities to invest in women with some specific examples. We have several clients who we position parts of their portfolio in women led businesses and can look to see how it would work in your portfolio.
December 2, 2016
US News recently published online, "HOW TO CREATE A SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE INVESTMENT PORTFOLIO" The subtitle is "Aligning personal values with investment portfolios can be a challenge." This short article gives someone who wants to create this alignment a starting point to try to figure out where to start. Of course this is a process we walk our clients through all the time, as the process never ends.
December 1, 2016
The title of this month's GREEN MONEY JOURNAL IS 2017 Outlook: The World in Transition. Several interesting articles on Sustainable Agriculture and Millennials, Sustainable Investing in ones community, and big data's use in impact investing. None of the articles are too long, and I think all show certain insights to where we might be heading as an industry and a planet.
November 14, 2016
The most respected SRI/ESG report that I know of was released today with the US SIF Foundations 2016 Biennial REPORT ON US SUSTAINABLE, RESPONSIBLE AND IMPACT INVESTMENT TRENDS. For those of you who've been reading my blog for a while know that this 135 page report discusses everything that is going right (and wrong) in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing. Some highlights:
- Sustainable, responsible and impact (SRI) investing assets have expanded to $8.72 trillion in the United States, up 33% from $6.57 trillion in 2014.
- Much of this growth is driven by asset managers, who now consider environmental, social or corporate governance (ESG) criteria across $8.10 trillion in assets, up 69 percent from $4.8 trillion in 2014.
- The top two issues considered both by these money managers and by their institutional investor clients is conflict risk and climate change.
- From 2014 through the first half of 2016, 176 institutional investors and 49 investment managers controlling $2.56 trillion in assets filed or co-filed shareholder resolutions on ESG issues
November 1, 2016
I was just referred to a US News article entitled "DOES SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE INVESTING ACTUALLY WORK?". It discusses some of why people use SRI and asks if it works. I think it is a great article talking about some of the plusses and minuses (although a bit shallow in some aspects.) For those of you who don't want to read it, the conclusion is: "So is SRI perfect? No. But it's making a difference."
October 24, 2016
Interesting NEWS TODAY FROM THE CFA INSTITUTE. For those who don't know, they are the group that gives out the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Designation that is held by a great percentage of individuals who run mutual funds and other institutional investments. They announced that they are going to "update its 2017 curriculum to include more focus on corporate ethics, risk management and environmental, social, and governance issues after feedback from its investment management practitioners," AKA ESG issues. This is further proof that investing with impact in mind is becoming a more prevalent in investment analyses and that more options are going to become available to those who are interested in taking advantage of the value it can give.
October 15, 2016
BARRON's just released a list of "200 mutual funds and ETFs rated above-average or high on Sustainability, Responsibility, Impact and ESG by Morningstar/Sustainalytics, and with strong financial returns over the past year." Barron's concludes "Sustainable practices predispose companies to outperforms." Barron's does note that that many of the 200 funds have holdings in companies that may not fit a more "purist" SRI negative screen, and typically follow a more "pragmatist" ESG tilt or weighting. In addition, several include fossil fuel firms with intensive production and consumption. Also to note, the published financial ranking did not include risk, volatility, or Sharpe ratios to assess risk adjusted returns, nor include any expense ratios or fees (though fees are discussed in the text articles). As per my comments below about lists like this, they don't mean their the perfect investments for you to buy but are a good starting point while doing research.
October 5, 2016
Just read through a couple of articles on the SEC's new investigation into ExxonMobil. While there are a lot of subtle points, the basis is that the SEC is concerned about how ExxonMobil has valued its assets (mostly oil reserves) with the drop in oil prices and many countries having pending regulations to address climate change. Why I find this important is that the SEC is trying to protect investors against corporations that might either deny climate change is happening or isn't accounting for it properly based on most scientific models and economic projections.
October 1, 2016
The theme for this month's GREEN MONEY JOURNAL is Aligning for Impact: ESG, SRI and CSR. Always full of interesting and useful articles, my favorite this month is on South Africa. It goes through how divestment in the 80's led to reinvestment when apartheid ended to today when South Africa is the largest impact investment market on the African continent.
September 20, 2016
Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson contributed an Op-Ed to today's NEW YORK TIMES. His concern was the trillion's of dollars it will take to save our planet from the worst effects of Climate Change. ($90 Trillion according to the UN). His answer was using private financing based on a well coordinated effort of governments, their leaders and their tax codes. While I doubt the leaders of the world will do exactly what he suggests, I do see a lot of growth in green and impact investing that have direct impact on the world we live in. I expect it to grow steadily for the next couple of decades with many opportunities for investors to build assets while helping the planet.
August 12, 2016
As I've talked about here in many other posts, it's not only about which companies/investments you own, but what you do with the ownership. One of the most important things an owner can do is to vote on a myriad of issues that come up during proxy season. While I admit, to the layperson (or even to the seasoned professional) a lot of these votes seem like nonsense and have no real meaning in the shape of the company. But often these items are placed on the ballot in order to make real change in the company and in the world. BARRON'S just published an article on the Vanguard Group, whose combined funds are larger than the national net worth of India or Brazil. They are famous for the low-cost approach to investing. But, according to the article, the group has failed to support a single sustainability resolution of the 200 that have been filed in companies that they own.
While there is no argument that Vanguard has helped its clients save a fortune in fees they pay to fund companies, it has also acted in a way that many of its clients morally imposed. While many socially responsible investors I know own stocks in companies they might not believe in, most wouldn't want to vote against their conscience when given the opportunity (or at least every time).
July 28, 2016
Shareholder activism has traditionally focused on trying to remove what was seen as poor management by the board. I just read a new HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDY that the biggest cause for shareholder proposals is now ESG issues. The times, they are a changing.
July 21, 2016
GREEN BUSINESS JOURNAL just released their July/August newsletter. This one entitled "The Future of Energy: Unleashing the Power of Innovation, Sustainability and Stewardship." I always find their articles interesting and topical.
July 20, 2016
KNOWLEDGE@WHARTON stays busy uploading articles and videos regarding hot business topics. Today they released a video (and transcript) on "A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO IMPACT INVESTING". It's a good start if you're interested in the topic. Take this in mind though, there are very few opportunities to get involved directly in this for retail investors. While there are lot of deals being done, many of for institutions and high-net worth individuals. Let us know if you have questions on how Impact Investing might fit your needs.
July 1, 2016
The United State Social Investment Forum (US-SIF) just released their report, "THE IMPACT OF SUSTAINABLE AND RESPONSIBLE INVESTING." The first report came out in 2013 and this updates much of the information. If you are looking as to why you should use socially responsible investing or want to know some of the actual differences SRI/ESG makes in the world, this report is a great read.
June 28, 2016
The SEC just released the final rule of section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act. This rule requires all public companies to disclose the payments they make to governments for mineral, oil and gas extraction rights. The US-SIF wrote "US SIF and investors representing trillions of dollars in assets under management believe that the disclosures benefit all investors by yielding material information, which in turn helps to maintain fair, orderly and efficient markets and to facilitate capital formation. As a result of the rule, investors will be able to compare the payments that resource companies make to governments around the world, and analyze whether these payments or operations pose regulatory, tax, reputational, political and social risks"
June 8, 2016
The SEC Investor Advisory Committee just approved their COMMENT LETTER to the SEC on its Concept Release regarding its disclosure effectiveness review. The document talks about ways to make investments more transparent, especially to the general public. Most of the letter discusses how to make the disclosures more accessible and easier to read. As far as SRI goes, the most interesting part comes on page 7, where they state: "It is clear that a significant, and growing number, of investors utilize sustainability and other public policy disclosures to better understand a company’s long-term risk profile.18 The Committee believes that environmental, social and governance issues should be subject to the same materiality standards as other sources of risk and return under the Commission’s rules." It will probably be years before the SEC acts on this, but it's good to see their committees moving in this direction.
June 3, 2016
NEWSWEEK JUST RELEASED THEIR LIST OF TOP GREEN BUSINESSES. The project consists of two separate rankings. The U.S. 500 ranks the 500 largest publicly-traded companies in the United States by market capitalization, while the Global 500 looks at the largest publicly-traded companies globally by market capitalization on overall environmental performance. I recommend going through the various pages as there are many interactive charts and graphs. As I mention each year, this alone is not a reason to buy (or not buy) any specific company, but can be part of an overall investment strategy.
June 1, 2016
This month's GREEN MONEY JOURNAL is on Investing in Sustainable Agriculture. While this is not a hot area that we see with most of our clients, we have several who are very passionate about GMO's and buying stock in companies that have the long-term best interest of the planet in mind. Articles include Organic Economics in a World of Industrial Agriculture, Sustainability Through the Kitchen Window of a Coffee Farmer and one on land speculation and farming. Always well written by guest writers.
May 20, 2016
Just reviewed the MIT Sloane 2016 SUSTAINABILITY & INNOVATION GLOBAL EXECUTIVE STUDY AND RESEARCH PROJECT that looked at investors and corporate executives and their attitude towards Sustainability. While I think the whole report is fascinating, it can be boiled down to "Seventy-five percent of senior executives in investment firms agree that a company’s good sustainability performance is materially important when making investment decisions. However, only 60% of managers in publicly traded companies believe that good sustainability performance is materially important to investors’ investment decisions." Much of the rest of the article is pretty obvious to those of us who do this every day, but the numbers show where the disconnect really lies.
May 9, 2016
This month's GREEN MONEY JOURNAL is a video journal (takes me a little more time to find the time to watch a video than to read an article). The theme is Corporate Social Responsibility. My favorite, if you can find 20 minutes, is the video on Biomimicry. As per the caption to the video: "BIOMIMICRY produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, premiered at SXSW Eco 2015 to a standing ovation. Biologist/designer, Janine Benyus shares Nature’s solutions for some of humanity’s most pressing problems, from reducing carbon emissions to water conservation."
April 25, 2016
What is a socially responsible company? That question is always on the top of my mind and those of us in the SRI/ESG space. No two definitions are exactly the same and each money manager uses their definition in different ways. The Wall Street Journal just ran an interesting piece entitled "SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE COMPANIES ARE HARD TO PIN DOWN." As per one quote in the article "“In one year, a large industrial company was recognized as a top 10 ESG performer by one data provider and a bottom 10 ESG performer by another.” Our goal is to work with our clients to help them define what is important to them and build a portfolio that matches their concerns. There is no right or wrong answer in the industry, but each client has answers that are right and wrong for them.
April 21, 2016
Today was the annual SANTA MONICA SUSTAINABLE QUALITY AWARDS luncheon. Still beaming after winning the grand prize last year, we were proud to be there at lunch to listen to this year's winners and learn what they're doing so we can continue to make our practice better.
April 1, 2016
Another month has begun and another fascinating issue by GREENMONEY EJOURNAL. This month is on Women & Investing. It talks about how women invest differently than men and also the benefits of investing in companies that empower women.
March 20, 2016
Sometimes it can make sense in an SRI/ESG world to buy stocks in companies that do bad things. The main reasons are to be able to vote in proxy fights for causes you care about but also to be able as an owner to talk to corporations and make suggestions for change. (I've discussed these issues a lot below). When it comes to proxy voting, it is often harder to figure out if the managers you choose are voting the way you would walk to vote. EcoWatch just published an article "IS YOUR MUTUAL FUND A CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER OR CLIMATE CHAMPION?" It lists which fund companies vote for climate change resolutions and which do not and why one might care.
March 15, 2016
It was just reported that 81% of all S&P 500 Companies published a sustainability or corporate responsibility report in 2015. To put that in prospective 5 years ago the number was under 20%. While of course there is a lot of greenwashing and the reports aren't always easy to compare, it's a step in the right direction just by the fact that companies know they are going to put out a report and that their teams will be held accountable to a certain level in these areas.
March 4, 2016
As I like to do in the beginning of each month is let people know about the current issue of the GREEN MONEY JOURNAL. To put it in their words, the "March 2016 issue [is] on Slow Money where we bring our discussion back down to the earth, grounded in the soil where we grow our food and sustain our planet and its many living systems. As we spend our money on a myriad of food products, our dollars can help redirect farming towards a more sustainable and healthier world. You'll read about how people are investing in sustainable agriculture to achieve healthy returns. This issue will help you understand why stewardship of our land and water using sustainable agriculture should not only be part of your shopping and diet, but also a healthy portion of your financial portfolio. "
March 1, 2016
Warren Buffet's annual letter to shareholder is a must-read for many in the investment profession. Daniel Nielson of Great Lake Advisors put together an excellent piece talking about all the sustainable initiatives that correspond to the ESG/SRI industry in the newsletter. Most of my posts are short, but I thought the article was so intriguing I'd copy and share the whole thing:
Berkshire Hathaway Energy (“BHE”) is a similar story. That company has invested $16 billion in renewables and now owns 7% of the country’s wind generation and 6% of its solar generation. Indeed, the 4,423 megawatts of wind generation owned and operated by our regulated utilities is six times the generation of the runner-up utility.
We’re not done. Last year, BHE made major commitments to the future development of renewables in support of the Paris Climate Change Conference. Our fulfilling those promises will make great sense, both for the environment and for Berkshire’s economics.
Though the pie to be shared by the next generation will be far larger than today’s, how it will be divided will remain fiercely contentious. Just as is now the case, there will be struggles for the increased output of goods and services between those people in their productive years and retirees, between the healthy and the infirm, between the inheritors and the Horatio Algers, between investors and workers and, in particular, between those with talents that are valued highly by the marketplace and the equally decent hard-working Americans who lack the skills the market prizes. Clashes of that sort have forever been with us – and will forever continue. Congress will be the battlefield; money and votes will be the weapons. Lobbying will remain a growth industry.
Productivity Improvement and Outsourcing
A long-employed worker faces a different equation. When innovation and the market system interact to produce efficiencies, many workers may be rendered unnecessary, their talents obsolete. Some can find decent employment elsewhere; for others, that is not an option.
When low-cost competition drove shoe production to Asia, our once-prosperous Dexter operation folded, putting 1,600 employees in a small Maine town out of work. Many were past the point in life at which they could learn another trade. We lost our entire investment, which we could afford, but many workers lost a livelihood they could not replace. The same scenario unfolded in slow-motion at our original New England textile operation, which struggled for 20 years before expiring. Many older workers at our New Bedford plant, as a poignant example, spoke Portuguese and knew little, if any, English. They had no Plan B.
The answer in such disruptions is not the restraining or outlawing of actions that increase productivity. Americans would not be living nearly as well as we do if we had mandated that 11 million people should forever be employed in farming.
The solution, rather, is a variety of safety nets aimed at providing a decent life for those who are willing to work but find their specific talents judged of small value because of market forces. (I personally favor a reformed and expanded Earned Income Tax Credit that would try to make sure America works for those willing to work.) The price of achieving ever-increasing prosperity for the great majority of Americans should not be penury for the unfortunate.
Shareholder Resolution on Climate Change
It’s understandable that the sponsor of the proxy proposal believes Berkshire is especially threatened by climate change because we are a huge insurer, covering all sorts of risks. The sponsor may worry that property losses will skyrocket because of weather changes. And such worries might, in fact, be warranted if we wrote ten- or twenty-year policies at fixed prices. But insurance policies are customarily written for one year and repriced annually to reflect changing exposures. Increased possibilities of loss translate promptly into increased premiums.
Up to now, climate change has not produced more frequent nor more costly hurricanes nor other weather related events covered by insurance. As a consequence, U.S. super-cat rates have fallen steadily in recent years, which is why we have backed away from that business. If super-cats become costlier and more frequent, the likely – though far from certain – effect on Berkshire’s insurance business would be to make it larger and more profitable.
As a citizen, you may understandably find climate change keeping you up nights. As a homeowner in a low-lying area, you may wish to consider moving. But when you are thinking only as a shareholder of a major insurer, climate change should not be on your list of worries.
Investment Risk, Disclosure, and Timing
We, like all public companies, are required by the SEC to annually catalog “risk factors” in our 10-K. I can’t remember, however, an instance when reading a 10-K’s “risk” section has helped me in evaluating a business. That’s not because the identified risks aren’t real. The truly important risks, however, are usually well known. Beyond that, a 10-K’s catalog of risks is seldom of aid in assessing: (1) the probability of the threatening event actually occurring; (2) the range of costs if it does occur; and (3) the timing of the possible loss. A threat that will only surface 50 years from now may be a problem for society, but it is not a financial problem for today’s investor.
February 12, 2016
We have several clients who prefer to own companies with women in leadership roles. Much of that has to do with their belief in supporting companies that have this philosophy and the belief that it will long-term drive more companies to do the same. While I've seen studies like this before, just read an article in the NY Times entitled "WOMEN IN COMPANY LEADERSHIP TIED TO STRONGER PROFITS, STUDY SAYS." This is by far the biggest research study I've seen though. To quote the article "Having women in the highest corporate offices is correlated with increased profitability, according to a new study of nearly 22,000 publicly traded companies in 91 countries."
February 8, 2016
While it is a bit old I was just given the link to a Wharton/Penn (my alma mater) VIDEO with one of their professors and a leader at Calvert Funds. It's about 20 minutes and talks about where they think the past, present and future of ESG is going. For those who don't know, Calvert was one of the leading ESG (back then SRI) fund companies and continue to use innovative ways to use the financial markets to create a better world. It's a great way to see what is available and what to look for on the horizon.
February 4, 2016
Much like my entry from 3 days ago, there is another set of articles that intersect some of the areas that we specialize in. I consider the Green Money monthly e-Journal mandatory reading. February's theme is "MILLENNIALS, MONEY AND MEANING". They have several articles on the different ways that the current coming-of-age generation sees and relates to money, finances, investing and giving back. For those of you with kids (or grandkids) in this generation I think this is a must-read series. For those of you who are millenials, I think it's a good look on how you compare to others of your generation.
February 3, 2016
It is proxy season again... the time each year when thousands of companies ask their shareholders to vote on issues that most feel they are under informed to vote on (which may be true). I used to ignore them and led most clients to the same conclusion until I realized how much positive change can happen through the corporate resolution process. Each year the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) comes out with their voting guide on issues that they feel effect ESG investors. The 2016 GUIDE gives their opinion on 257 resolutions they feel are important to a more responsive corporate environment.
February 1, 2016
This month's issue of Financial Advisor Magazine had an article that really gets down to a lot of the things we do entitled "AN SRI INVESTMENT COLLABORATION ACROSS GENERATIONS AND GENDERS." While the article I think is really meant for those in the industry, it gets to the heart of our value added advice - not only SRI, but also multi-generational and philanthropic planning. While we don't go out of our way to specialize in working with women, I think a lot of the reason we have more women client than men is that we do a good job helping clients with the issues described in this piece.
January 22, 2016
One of the best way for ESG managers to look at how a company is doing is to look at their sustainability report. A few years ago it was rare to find such a report, but with common standards in place, it is becoming more and more common and the reports are easier to compare to one another. While I still see a lot of greenwashing, it is getting easier to differentiate the companies that are truly trying to make a difference. I was just referred to an Australian article entitled "DOES SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING MAKE A DIFFERENCE?" There are some good insights on how the reporting not only helps investors look at which companies they want to invest in, but going through the exercises of making the reports forces companies to think about these issues and what can be done better for the next report.
January 16, 2016
We have many clients who know they want to be conscientious about where they put their money, but aren't really sure how to narrow down what is important to them. They want to be "Socially Responsible" but aren't sure the steps they should take. The New York Times had an article this week entitled "FOLLOW YOUR CONSCIENCE WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SHIRT". It talks about some of the different ways investment companies look at the SRI/ESG world and different option on how to let your conscience help pick your investments while still getting a competitive return.
January 15, 2016
Trillium Asset Management is one of the oldest SRI managers in the United States. Each Quarter their Newsletter, INVESTING FOR A BETTER WORLD talks about various issues they're dealing with on behalf of their clients (and in some ways the world). Their winter issue has several articles on their ongoing engagement with corporate boards to bring about change as shareholders. Their cover article this quarter is on food waste. While I've seen many articles on what local organizations are doing to curb waste and feed those who are hungry, I found this article particularly interesting on how they are working with large corporate America to make changes from the top.
January 7, 2016
Happy New Year! Lots of articles in the sustainable/SRI news about this being a year of increased energy in Socially Responsible Investing. (But of course, there on those headlines ever year.) Another great month for the GREEN MONEY EJOURNAL. January is all about Community Impact Investing. It's a relatively new area that most people don't understand well. (And for those who understand it, it isn't appropriate for most average investors. But, the articles are very informative and a great first step to seeing if it's right for you.