Global Investing

Waking up to sustainability karma

By Dasha Afanasieva

Management consultants often urge their clients to view setbacks or difficulties as opportunities. The cost of reducing environmental impacts are often cited as one such “opportunity”.

But a global study from consultancy BCG and MIT Sloan Management Review has shown that companies are increasingly putting this advice into practice and succeeding in getting the returns.

The study is based on a survey of 2,600 executives and managers from companies around the world and found that the number of companies achieving a profit from introducing changes aimed at making their business more sustainable rose 23 percent last year, to 37 percent of the total.

Nearly half of the companies have changed their business models to try to make the most of sustainability opportunities—a 20 percent jump over last year.

Nor is a preoccupation with sustainability the reserve of the developed world.

Companies in emerging markets change their business models as a result of sustainability at a far higher rate than those based in North America, the study found.

How socially responsible is your investing?

Is your investment ethically sound and socially responsible?

A new survey by consulting firm Mercer finds that only 9% of more than 5,000 investment strategies achieve the highest environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings.

Socially responsible investing (SRI) involves buying shares in companies that manage ESG risks. For example, firms that make clean technologies are favoured, while businesses which pollute the environment, are complicit in human rights abuses or nuclear arms production are shunned. All this sounds good, but the performance of such investments has been somewhat mixed — meaning being good doesn’t always mean doing well. But the SRI industry is hoping that greater involvement of funds, especially long-term ones such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds — may generate flows into the sector and lead to better performance.

Of the 5,175 strategies assigned ESG ratings, 57% are in listed equities, 20% fixed income and the remaining 23% across real estate, private equity, hedge funds and others.

State funds and environmental investing

An Australian local government superannuation fund has become the latest state-owned fund to invest in environmental funds.

Local Government Super (LGS), which manages around A$6 billion in assets for 100,000 local government employees in New South Wales,  has invested A$50 million ($45.96 million) into a portfolio which invests in small cap environmental technology stocks, run by London-based Impax Asset Management.

The portfolio will follow an investment strategy followed by one of Impax’s fund, which returned 47.71 percent in the last five years, versus 20.10 percent for the benchmark MSCI World Index.

Sustainable investing in emerging markets?

jumpEmerging markets may not be the obvious destination for your ethical investment. Rapidly expanding economies are consuming a lot of energy, pumping CO2 in return. Many of these markets suffer from legal and political problems that keep investors on their guard.  BRIC legal systems have room for development.  Their financial disclosure is still patchy. 

However, BNP Paribas sees opportunities as it believes fast growth in these markets and increased inflows would create the need for a socially sustainable environment for investment.

“Our analysis has unearthed a number of particularly promising sustainable investment strategies in emerging markets. In each of these cases we see a real economic need linked to maintaining high growth rates, but also evidence that policymakers are recognising this need and are putting in place the necessary policy measures to facilitate this development,” the French bank said in its latest Sustainable and Responsible Investment (SRI) newsletter.

from Funds Hub:

Got those zombie company covenant lite blues

Zombies 2One of the big drivers of the debt balloon that imploded so spectacularly was the trend for covenant "lite", which has allowed zombie companies to stumble on long past the point at which it would have been useful for creditors to intervene. This has sharpened the appetite for stronger corporate governance around covenants and persuaded investors that they need to take more of an active interest in what companies are actually doing with their money.

Enter the engaged bond investor - for a long time the domain of equity investors with a social conscience, socially responsible investing (SRI) is now being applied to bond portfolios by asset managers Aviva Investors and F&C.

Paul Abberley, CEO of Aviva Investors UK, told Reuters that Aviva is adding a specialist bond fund manager in its SRI group, with scope to increase the headcount depending on how client interest develops. "Historically SRI has been viewed as an equity activity but we think there is a strong case for fixed income to be considered as well," he said. Initially any offering would be mandate based, he said, with a fund launch dependent on client interest.

from Summit Notebook:

Being socially responsible investor in the Gulf

Socially responsible investing, which takes into account social, environmental and governance risks, is arguably still in its infancy in the Gulf, where the enormous wealth created by hydrocarbons sometimes flows into extravagant projects like an indoor ski resort.

But Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, managing director of Abraaj Capital -- the Middle East's biggest private equity firm -- sees SRI as enlightened self interest and the firm puts its own money where its mouth is.

Fred Sicre, executive director of Abraaj, told us the firm -- which signs up to United Nations Principles for Responsible Investing (UNPRI) -- has a 5+5+5 plan, where it encourages employees to donate 5% of bonuses to a charitable pool, 5 days for community/charitable work and the firm itself gives 5% of net revenues to a charity. Sicre himself taught at the first class yesterday on entrepreneureship.

from MacroScope:

SWFs and ethical investing: serving multitude of objectives

Sovereign wealth funds, eager to be accepted in the West, are increasingly interested in showing the world that they care about environment and governance by investing in socially responsible firms.

It all sounds good, but the biggest shortfall of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is that it lacks convincing performance details. Therefore, SRI or ethical investing for SWFs is not just about returns: It allows them to combine a multitude of objectives, such as portfolio diversification, enhancing transparency, meeting social goals and gaining acceptance even among critics who suspect they operate politically.

SRI, already a $2.71 trillion industry in the US, involves buying shares in companies that manage environmental, social and governance risks. For example, firms which make clean technologies are in, while businesses that pollute the environment, abuse human rights or produce nuclear arms are out.

The best of both worlds?

Combined Shariah and ethical/SRI products could be the way forwards for Islamic finance investing, according to Dr Humayon Dar, CEO at BMB Islamic, the Shariah consultancy at BMG Group.

Speaking at the Reuters Islamic Finance Summit today, Dar highlighted the development of an upcoming F&C fund that will meet both ethical and Shariah investing criteria, and can be sold to both Muslims and non-Muslims. “I see this as the way forward in markets such as Malaysia, where a significant proportion of the population is non-Muslim,” he said, adding that once such products have established a track record, it should appeal to a broader audience, and encourage other launches.

Marrying the Western and Islamic traditions of investing could help Shariah surmount a number of hurdles that have so far limited its appeal. A recent Oliver Wyman survey found that only half of the 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide would opt for Islamic finance if given a competitive alternative to conventional products. Dar said he had conducted his own survey which found that no more than 25 percent of UK Muslims was interested in Islamic banking and finance. “The vast majority prefer competitive quotes from non-Shariah providers,” he said – this is particularly the case in the mortgage sector.