Opportunity Zones: Aligning Public and Private Capital - Visual Capitalist
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Opportunity Zones: Aligning Public and Private Capital

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Opportunity Zones: Aligning Public and Private Capital

At the end of 2017, a potential $6.1 trillion in unrealized capital gains was available for reinvestment.

Throughout the U.S., unrealized capital gains have significant tax implications with enormous potential. Unrealized capital gains occur when the value of an asset has gone up on paper, but has not yet been sold for a profit. Taxes are triggered once the asset has been sold.

Investors can offset or defer these taxes in a few ways, including one new strategy: investing in opportunity zones.

Today’s infographic from Bedford Funds explains what opportunity zone funds are, their core benefits, and their potential impact across the country.

What is an Opportunity Zone?

Opportunity zones are U.S. Census tracts whose citizens experience economic distress.

Originating in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, they offer the potential to connect long-term capital with low-income communities across the country to drive return and impact.

How are opportunity zones chosen? The initial base is low-income census tracts, which have:

  • Poverty rates of at least 20%; or
  • Median family incomes lower than 80% of the surrounding area

The state’s governor or chief executive then nominates up to 25% of these areas as opportunity zones. Nationwide, a total of 8,700 opportunity zones exist, and 7.9 million of the areas’ residents live in poverty.

Overall, 35 million people live in these opportunity zones. There are a number of disparities between opportunity zones and notional averages across key variables:

 Poverty RateMedian Family IncomeEducation*
Opportunity Zones27.1%$47,31618.1%
National Average14.1%$73,96531.5%

*Adult with Bachelor’s degree or higher

It’s evident these cities could benefit from increased investment.

What is an Opportunity Zone Fund?

An opportunity zone fund (OZF) is an investment vehicle that provides tax benefits for private capital to help revitalize economically distressed communities. Both operating businesses and real estate are eligible for investment.

Many investor types may take advantage of opportunity zone funds:

  • Corporations– Also includes partnerships
  • Accredited investors– Defined as high net worth individuals, brokers, and trusts
  • Nonresident foreign investors– Only on capital gains earned in the U.S.
  • Retail investors– Through funds that have lower minimums, though options are more limited

In addition to their wide eligibility, OZFs have a number of potential benefits.

Benefits

Tax breaks on capital gains can be organized into three tiers:

  • Initial Tax Deferral– Once the previously-earned capital gains are channeled into a qualifying OZF, federal tax is deferred until December 31, 2026 or the date the investment is sold— whichever comes sooner
  • Step-Up In Basis10% of the original capital gains will be excluded from federal taxes if an investment is held for five years
  • Capital Gains Tax Exclusion– Federal tax on capital gains earned within the OZF is 100% eliminated if an investment is held for 10 years

All things being equal, OZFs realize after-tax outcomes that are over 40% higher than a standard portfolio investment. For example, the potential after-tax value of a $100 investment after a 10-year holding period would be as follows.

 Initial InvestmentNet after-tax value
OZF$100$175.30
Standard portfolio investment$76.20 ($100- 23.8% capital gains tax)$132.36

*Note: assumes long-term federal capital gains tax rate of 23.8%, no state income tax, and annual appreciation of 7% for both the OZF and alternative investment.

While it takes a few years to realize these tax benefits, OZFs have long-term horizons to encourage sustained investment with a lasting impact. The result is the potential for sustainable and equitable wealth creation.

Future Impact

Although real estate investments have captured significant attention, recent regulation has clarified that operating businesses are also eligible OZF investments.

By investing in businesses, OZFs can have a direct impact on economic growth and job creation.

Ultimately, OZFs have the potential to catalyze collective impact through their scalable operating company and real estate investments. Working directly with community leaders, OZFs can help drive long-term rejuvenation from within, versus gentrification from outside forces.

Opportunity zone funds are projected to raise $44 billion in capital designed specifically to invest in this future growth.

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Investor Education

Fact Check: The Truth Behind Five ESG Myths

ESG investing continues to break fund inflow records. In this infographic, we unpack five common ESG myths.

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ESG Myths

Fact Check: The Truth Behind 5 ESG Myths

In 2021, investors continue to embrace environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments at record levels.

In the first quarter of 2021, global ESG fund inflows outpaced the last four consecutive quarters, reaching $2 trillion. But while ESG gains rapid momentum, the CFA Institute shows that 33% of professional investors surveyed feel they have insufficient knowledge for considering ESG issues.

To help investors understand this growing trend, this infographic from MSCI helps provide a fact check on five common ESG myths.

1. “ESG Comes at the Expense of Investment Performance”

Fact Check: Not necessarily

Worldwide, ESG-focused companies have not only seen higher returns, but stronger earnings growth and dividends.

Returns by ESG RatingsEarnings Growth*Active Return**Dividends and Buybacks
Top tier2.89%1.31%0.28%
Middle tier1.35%0.12%-0.02%
Bottom tier-9.22%-1.25%-0.05%

Source: MSCI ESG Research LLC (Dec, 2020)
*Contribution of earnings growth and dividends/buybacks to active return
**Active return is the additional gain or loss compared to it respective benchmark

In fact, a separate study from the CFA Institute shows that 35% of investment professionals invest in ESG to improve their financial returns.

2. “Investors Talk About ESG But Don’t Invest In It”

Fact Check: False

Global ESG assets under management (AUM) in ETFs have grown from $6 billion in 2015 to $150 billion in 2020. In just five years, ESG AUM have accelerated 25 times.

Today, money managers are focusing on the following top five issues:

Top ESG IssuesAssets AffectedGrowth in Assets Affected (2018-2020)
Climate change / carbon emissions $4.18T39%
Anti-corruption$2.44T10%
Board issues$2.39T66%
Sustainable natural resources / agriculture$2.38T81%
Executive pay$2.22T122%

Source: US SIF Foundation (Nov, 2020)

Meanwhile, over 1,500 shareholder resolutions focused on ESG-related matters were filed between 2018-2020. Not only are investors turning to ESG assets, but they are placing higher demands on corporate responsibility.

3. “ESG Investment Strategies Eliminate Entire Sectors”

Fact Check: Not necessarily

First, not all ESG investment approaches are exclusionary.

For instance, in North America roughly 51% of ESG ETFs used an ESG integration approach as of Dec. 31, 2020. In an ESG integration approach, ESG risks and opportunities are analyzed with the goal to support long-term returns.

By comparison, values and screens approaches, which accounted for over 22% of ESG ETFs in North America may screen out specific business activities, such as alcohol or tobacco, or sectors such as oil & gas.

Percentage of ESG TypeIntegrationValues & ScreensThematicImpact
North America50.9%22.5%20.7%5.9%
Asia57.8%34.6%3.8%3.8%
Europe30.8%60.6%8.6%0.0%
Australia28.6%71.4%0.0%0.0%

Source: Refinitiv/Lipper and MSCI ESG Research LLC as of Dec 31, 2020 (MSCI Feb, 2021)

Second, companies are assessed on a sector-specific basis where ESG leaders and laggards are identified within each sector in comparison to peers. In other words, ESG doesn’t mean eliminating exposure to entire sectors. Instead, investors can choose from a range of companies based on their ESG ratings quality.

4. “ESG Investing Is Only For Millennials”

Fact Check: False

Although ESG is popular among millennials, ESG investing is being driven by the entire investor population. In 2019, one study finds that 85% of the general population expressed interest in ESG investing.

Interest in Sustainable InvestingGeneral PopulationMillennials
201985%95%
201571%84%

Source: US SIF Foundation (Nov, 2020)

Sustainable investing goes far beyond millennials—ESG disclosures are quickly becoming requirements for key industry participants, such as institutional investors and listed companies.

5. “ESG Investing is Here to Stay”

Fact Check: True

Climbing 28% in 2020 alone, over 3,000 signatories have committed to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment. As of the first quarter of 2021, 313 global organizations and 33 asset owners have been newly added.

Growth of UN PRINumber of Signatories*AUM Represented
20203,038$103.4T
20192,370$86.3T

Source: UN PRI
*As of Mar, 2020

Central to ESG’s growth is the availability of ESG investments. ESG investing has become more widely accessible—which wasn’t always the case. Over the last decade, the global number of ESG ETFs has grown from 46 to 497.

Why the Facts Matter

As ESG investments continue to play an even greater role in investor portfolios, it’s important to focus on data rather than prevailing ESG myths that are not backed by fact.

Given the recent momentum in investment returns and ESG adoption, data-driven evidence empowers investors to build more sustainable portfolios that better align with their investment objectives.

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Investor Education

ESG Investing: Finding Your Motivation

New research around ESG investing highlights that there are three common motivators for investors to invest in ESG assets.

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ESG Investing: Finding Your Motivation

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors are a set of criteria that can be used to rate companies alongside traditional financial metrics.

Awareness around this practice has risen substantially in recent years, but how can investors determine if it’s a good fit for their portfolio?

To answer this question, MSCI has identified three common motivations for using ESG in one’s portfolio, which have been outlined in the graphic above.

The Three Motivators

According to this research, the three primary motivations for ESG investing are defined as ESG integration, incorporating personal values, and making a positive impact.

These goals are not mutually exclusive, though, and an investor may relate to more than just one.

#1: ESG Integration

This motivation refers to investors who believe that using ESG can improve their portfolio’s long-term results. One way this can be achieved is by investing in companies that have the strongest environmental, social, and governance practices within their industry.

These companies are referred to as “ESG leaders”, while companies at the opposite end of the scale are known as “ESG laggards”. From a social perspective, an ESG leader could be a firm that promotes diversity and inclusion, while an ESG laggard could be a company with a history of labor strikes.

To show how ESG integration may lead to better long-term results, we’ve compared the performance of the MSCI ACWI ESG Leaders Index with its standard counterpart, the MSCI ACWI Index, which represents the full opportunity set of large- and mid-cap stocks across developed and emerging markets.

ESG integration

The MSCI ACWI ESG Leaders Index targets companies that have the highest ESG rated performance in each sector of its standard counterpart. The result is an index with a smaller number of underlying companies (1,170 versus 2,982), and a relative outperformance of 7.9% over 156 months.

#2: Incorporating Personal Values

ESG investing is also a powerful tool for investors who wish to align their financial decisions with their personal values. This can be achieved through the use of negative screens, which identify and exclude companies that have exposure to specific ESG issues.

To see how this works, we’ve illustrated the differences between the MSCI World ESG Screened Index and its standard counterpart, the MSCI World Index.

ESG screening

The MSCI World ESG Screened Index excludes companies that are associated with controversial weapons, tobacco, fossil fuels, and those that are not in compliance with the UN Global Compact. The UN Global Compact is a corporate sustainability initiative that focuses on issues such as human rights and corruption.

#3: Making a Positive Impact

The third motivation for using ESG is the desire to make a positive impact through one’s investments. Also known as impact investing, this practice enables investors to merge financial gains with environmental or social progress.

Investors have a variety of tools to help them in this regard, such as the MSCI Women’s Leadership Index, which tracks companies that exhibit a commitment towards gender diversity. Green bonds, bonds that are issued to raise money for environmental projects, are another option for investors looking to drive positive change.

ESG Investing For All

With various angles to approach it from, ESG investing is likely to appeal to a majority of investors. In fact, a 2019 survey found that 84% of U.S. investors want the ability to tailor their investments to their values. Likewise, 86% of them believe that companies with strong ESG practices may be more profitable.

Results like these underscore the high demand that U.S. investors have for ESG investing—between 2018 and 2020, ESG-related assets grew 42% to reach $17 trillion, and now represent 33% of total U.S. assets under management.

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