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RiskGrade: A More Intuitive Way to Calculate Investment Risk

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The following content is sponsored by MSCI.

A More Intuitive Way to Calculate Investment Risk

What crucial factors come into play when choosing investments?

At a high level, there’s two sides to the equation: return and risk. While potential profit is important, the volatility or risk of those profits also plays a critical role. In this graphic from MSCI we introduce the RiskGrade™ metric, a more intuitive way of calculating investment risk.

What is RiskGrade™?

One way of measuring investment risk is through volatility. Low risk investments have a smaller range of price movements relative to their historical average, meaning they have less volatility. On the flip side, high risk investments have a larger range of price movements. This means their returns—both gains and losses—can differ substantially from the historical average.

Traditionally, this volatility is measured through standard deviation. However, standard deviation can be difficult for investors to interpret as it has no intuitive reference point. Enter RiskGrade: a score-based measure of volatility that uses a transparent methodology.

  1. Volatility is calculated by measuring the change in investment price over time.
  2. A scaling factor is applied to standardize scores.

In the second step, 100 is equivalent to a 20% standard deviation, which is the average long-term volatility of global equities. Cash would have a RiskGrade of 0, whereas a technology IPO may have a RiskGrade that exceeds 1,000. It should be noted that RiskGrade only captures risk from a market price perspective, and does not consider inflation risk.

Investment Risk Over the Last Decade

To get a better idea of how this works, let’s take a look at the RiskGrade™ of select investments over the period from 2011-2020.

InvestmentRiskGrade
U.S. Corporate Fixed Income25
60/40 Blended Portfolio47
Global Equities71
U.S. Equities71
U.S. REITs84
Emerging Market Equities89
Small Cap Equities93
Long-term Average of Global Equities100
Apple Stock140
GameStop Stock259

Note: RiskGrades are based on gross total returns from December 31 2010 to December 31 2020. See the graphic for the specific indexes used.

U.S. corporate fixed income was the least risky of the group. A 60% global equity / 40% U.S. fixed income portfolio was a third less risky than a 100% global equity portfolio.

Meanwhile, U.S. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) were less risky than emerging market equities and small cap equities.

Of the above examples, GameStop stock had the highest investment risk, with a RiskGrade more than 2.5 times higher than the long-term average for global equities.

Of course, RiskGrades are not static and change over time depending on market conditions. GameStop, which saw heightened volatility as individual investors created a short squeeze, is a strong example of the fluidity of RiskGrades. Based on 5-year intervals, the stock had a RiskGrade of 212 from 2006-2010, and a RiskGrade of 749 from 2016-March 31, 2021—a jump of over 250%.

Monitoring Investment Risk

Investors may want to consider both risk and return when selecting their investments. In comparison to traditional risk metrics, RiskGrade provides a more intuitive way for investors to gauge their risk across individual investments, asset classes, and portfolios.

With clear apples-to-apples comparisons, more investors may be able to easily understand investment risk and adjust their portfolios to suit their personal risk tolerance and goals.

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An Introduction to MSCI ESG Indexes

With an extensive suite of ESG indexes on offer, MSCI aims to support investors as they build a more personalized and resilient portfolio.

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An Introduction to MSCI ESG Indexes

There are various portfolio objectives within the realm of sustainable investing.

For example, some investors may want to build a portfolio that reflects their personal values. Others may see environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria as a tool for improving long-term returns, or as a way to create positive impact. A combination of all three of these motivations is also possible.

To support investors as they embark on their sustainable journey, our sponsor, MSCI, offers over 1,500 purpose-built ESG indexes. In this infographic, we’ll take a holistic view at what these indexes are designed to achieve.

An Extensive Suite of ESG & Climate Indexes

Below, we’ll summarize the four overarching objectives that MSCI’s ESG & climate indexes are designed to support.

Objective 1: Integrate a broad set of ESG issues

Investors with this objective believe that incorporating ESG criteria can improve their long-term risk-adjusted returns.

The MSCI ESG Leaders indexes are designed to support these investors by targeting companies that have the highest ESG-rated performance from each sector of the parent index.

For those who do not wish to deviate from the parent index, the MSCI ESG Universal indexes may be better suited. This family of indexes will adjust weights according to ESG performance to maintain the broadest possible universe.

Objective 2: Generate social or environmental benefits

A common challenge that impact investors face is measuring their non-financial results.

Consider an asset owner who wishes to support gender diversity through their portfolios. In order to gauge their success, they would need to regularly filter the entire investment universe for updates regarding corporate diversity and related initiatives.

In this scenario, linking their portfolios to an MSCI Women’s Leadership Index would negate much of this groundwork. Relative to a parent index, these indexes aim to include companies which lead their respective countries in terms of female representation.

Objective 3: Exclude controversial activities

Many institutional investors have mandates that require them to avoid certain sectors or industries. For example, approximately $14.6 trillion in institutional capital is in the process of divesting from fossil fuels.

To support these efforts, MSCI offers indexes that either:

  • Exclude individual sectors such as fossil fuels, tobacco, or weapons;
  • Exclude companies from a combination of these sectors; or
  • Exclude companies that are not compatible with certain religious values.

Objective 4: Identify climate risks and opportunities

Climate change poses a number of wide-reaching risks and opportunities for investors, making it difficult to tailor a portfolio accordingly.

With MSCI’s climate indexes, asset owners gain the tools they need to build a more resilient portfolio. The MSCI Climate Change indexes, for example, reduce exposure to stranded assets, increase exposure to solution providers, and target a minimum 30% reduction in emissions.

An Index for Every Objective

Regardless of your motivation for pursuing sustainable investment, the need for an appropriate benchmark is something that everyone shares.

With an extensive suite of ESG indexes designed specifically for sustainability and climate change, MSCI aims to support asset owners as they build a more unique and personalized portfolio.

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Tracked: The U.S. Utilities ESG Report Card

This graphic acts as an ESG report card that tracks the ESG metrics reported by different utilities in the U.S.—what gets left out?

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NPUC Utilities ESG Report Card Share

Tracked: The U.S. Utilities ESG Report Card

As emissions reductions and sustainable practices become more important for electrical utilities, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting is coming under increased scrutiny.

Once seen as optional by most companies, ESG reports and sustainability plans have become commonplace in the power industry. In addition to reporting what’s needed by regulatory state laws, many utilities utilize reporting frameworks like the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) ESG Initiative or the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards.

But inconsistent regulations, mixed definitions, and perceived importance levels have led some utilities to report significantly more environmental metrics than others.

How do U.S. utilities’ ESG reports stack up? This infographic from the National Public Utilities Council tracks the ESG metrics reported by 50 different U.S. based investor-owned utilities (IOUs).

What’s Consistent Across ESG Reports

To complete the assessment of U.S. utilities, ESG reports, sustainability plans, and company websites were examined. A metric was considered tracked if it had concrete numbers provided, so vague wording or non-detailed projections weren’t included.

Of the 50 IOU parent companies analyzed, 46 have headquarters in the U.S. while four are foreign-owned, but all are regulated by the states in which they operate.

For a few of the most agreed-upon and regulated measures, U.S. utilities tracked them almost across the board. These included direct scope 1 emissions from generated electricity, the utility’s current fuel mix, and water and waste treatment.

Another commonly reported metric was scope 2 emissions, which include electricity emissions purchased by the utility companies for company consumption. However, a majority of the reporting utilities labeled all purchased electricity emissions as scope 2, even though purchased electricity for downstream consumers are traditionally considered scope 3 or value-chain emissions:

  • Scope 1: Direct (owned) emissions.
  • Scope 2: Indirect electricity emissions from internal electricity consumption. Includes purchased power for internal company usage (heat, electrical).
  • Scope 3: Indirect value-chain emissions, including purchased goods/services (including electricity for non-internal use), business travel, and waste.

ESG Inconsistencies, Confusion, and Unimportance

Even putting aside mixed definitions and labeling, there were many inconsistencies and question marks arising from utility ESG reports.

For example, some utilities reported scope 3 emissions as business travel only, without including other value chain emissions. Others included future energy mixes that weren’t separated by fuel and instead grouped into “renewable” and “non-renewable.”

The biggest discrepancies, however, were between what each utility is required to report, as well as what they choose to. That means that metrics like internal energy consumption didn’t need to be reported by the vast majority.

Likewise, some companies didn’t need to report waste generation or emissions because of “minimal hazardous waste generation” that fell under a certain threshold. Other metrics like internal vehicle electrification were only checked if the company decided to make a detailed commitment and unveil its plans.

As pressure for the electricity sector to decarbonize continues to increase at the federal level, however, many of these inconsistencies are roadblocks to clear and direct measurements and reduction strategies.

National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource for all things decarbonization in the utilities industry. Learn more.

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