Sustainable Investing: Debunking 5 Common Myths
It began as a niche desire. Originally, sustainable investing was confined to a subset of investors who wanted their investments to match their values. In recent years, the strategy has grown dramatically: sustainable assets totaled $12 trillion in 2018.
This represents a 38% increase over 2016, with many investors now considering environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors alongside traditional financial analysis.
Despite the strategy’s growth, lingering misconceptions remain. In today’s infographic from New York Life Investments, we address the five key myths of sustainable investing and shine a light on the realities.
|Sustainable strategies underperform conventional strategies||Sustainable strategies historically match or outperform conventional strategies|
In 2015, academics analyzed more than 2,000 studies—and found that in roughly 90% of the studies, companies with strong ESG profiles had equal or better financial performance than their non-ESG counterparts.
A recent ranking of the 100 most sustainable corporations found similar results. Between February 2005 and August 2018, the Global 100 Index made a net investment return of 127.35%, compared to 118.27% for the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI).
The Global 100 companies show that doing what is good for the world can also be good for financial performance.
—Toby Heaps, CEO of Corporate Knights
|Sustainable investing only involves screening out “sin” stocks||Positive approaches that integrate sustainability factors are gaining traction|
In modern investing, exclusionary or “screens-based” approaches do play a large role—and tend to avoid stocks or bonds of companies in the following “sin” categories:
However, investment managers are increasingly taking an inclusive approach to sustainability, integrating ESG factors throughout the investment process. ESG integration strategies now total $17.5 trillion in global assets, a 69% increase over the past two years.
|Sustainable investing is a passing fad||Sustainable investing has been around for decades and continues to grow
Over the past decade, sustainable strategies have shown both strong AUM growth and positive asset flows. ESG funds attracted record net flows of nearly $5.5 billion in 2018 despite unfavorable market conditions, and continue to demonstrate strong growth in 2019.
Not only that, the number of sustainable offerings has increased as well. In 2018, Morningstar recognized 351 sustainable funds—a 50% increase over the prior year.
|Interest in sustainable investing is mostly confined to millennials and women||There is widespread interest in sustainable strategies, with institutional investors leading the way|
Millennials are more likely to factor in sustainability concerns than previous generations. However, institutional investors have adopted sustainable investments more than any other group—accounting for nearly 75% of the managed assets that follow an ESG approach.
In addition, over half of surveyed consumers are “values-driven”, having taken one or more of the following actions with sustainability in mind:
- Boycotted a brand
- Sold shares of a company
- Changed the types of products they used
Women and men are almost equally likely to be motivated by sustainable values, and half of “values-driven” consumers are open to ESG investing.
5. Asset Classes
|Sustainable investing only works for equities||Sustainable strategies are offered across asset classes|
This myth has a basis in history, but other asset classes are increasingly incorporating ESG analysis. For instance, 36% of today’s sustainable investments are in fixed income.
While the number of sustainable equity investments remained unchanged from 2017-2018, fixed-income and alternative assets showed remarkable growth over the same period.
Tapping into the Potential of Sustainable Investing
It’s clear that sustainable investing is not just a buzzword. Instead, this strategy is integral to many portfolios.
By staying informed, advisors and individual investors can take advantage of this growing strategy—and improve both their impact and return potential.
Visualizing The World’s Largest Sovereign Wealth Funds
To date, only two countries have sovereign wealth funds worth over $1 trillion. Learn more about them in this infographic.
Visualized: The World’s Largest Sovereign Wealth Funds
Did you know that some of the world’s largest investment funds are owned by national governments?
Known as sovereign wealth funds (SWF), these vehicles are often established with seed money that is generated by government-owned industries. If managed responsibly and given a long enough timeframe, an SWF can accumulate an enormous amount of assets.
In this infographic, we’ve detailed the world’s 10 largest SWFs, along with the largest mutual fund and ETF for context.
The Big Picture
Data collected from SWFI in October 2021 ranks Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (also known as the Norwegian Oil Fund) as the world’s largest SWF.
The world’s 10 largest sovereign wealth funds (with fund size benchmarks) are listed below:
|Country||Fund Name||Fund Type||Assets Under Management (AUM)|
|🇳🇴 Norway||Government Pension Fund Global||SWF||$1.3 trillion|
|🇺🇸 U.S.||Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund||Mutual fund||$1.3 trillion|
|🇨🇳 China||China Investment Corporation||SWF||$1.2 trillion|
|🇰🇼 Kuwait||Kuwait Investment Authority||SWF||$693 billion|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||Abu Dhabi Investment Authority||SWF||$649 billion|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||Hong Kong Monetary Authority Investment Portfolio||SWF||$581 billion|
|🇸🇬 Singapore||Government of Singapore Investment Corporation||SWF||$545 billion|
|🇸🇬 Singapore||Temasek||SWF||$484 billion|
|🇨🇳 China||National Council for Social Security Fund||SWF||$447 billion|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia||SWF||$430 billion|
|🇺🇸 U.S.||State Street SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust||ETF||$391 billion|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||Investment Corporation of Dubai||SWF||$302 billion|
SWF AUM gathered on 10/08/2021. VTSAX and SPY AUM as of 09/30/2021.
So far, just two SWFs have surpassed the $1 trillion milestone. To put this in perspective, consider that the world’s largest mutual fund, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX), is a similar size, investing in U.S. large-, mid-, and small-cap equities.
The Trillion Dollar Club
The world’s two largest sovereign wealth funds have a combined $2.5 trillion in assets. Here’s a closer look at their underlying portfolios.
1. Government Pension Fund Global – $1.3 Trillion (Norway)
Norway’s SWF was established after the country discovered oil in the North Sea. The fund invests the revenue coming from this sector to safeguard the future of the national economy. Here’s a breakdown of its investments.
|Asset Class||% of Total Assets||Country Diversification||Number of Securities|
|Public Equities||72.8%||69 countries||9,123 companies|
|Fixed income||24.7%||45 countries||1,245 bonds|
|Real estate||2.5%||14 countries||867 properties|
As of 12/31/2020
Real estate may be a small part of the portfolio, but it’s an important component for diversification (real estate is less correlated to the stock market) and generating income. Here are some U.S. office towers that the fund has an ownership stake in.
|601 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY||45.0%|
|475 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY||49.9%|
|33 Arch Street, Boston, MA||49.9%|
|100 First Street, San Francisco, CA||44.0%|
As of 12/31/2020
Overall, the fund has investments in 462 properties in the U.S. for a total value of $14.9 billion.
2. China Investment Corporation (CIC) – $1.2 Trillion (China)
The CIC is the largest of several Chinese SWFs, and was established to diversify the country’s foreign exchange holdings.
Compared to the Norwegian fund, the CIC invests in a greater variety of alternatives. This includes real estate, of course, but also private equity, private credit, and hedge funds.
|Asset Class||% of Total Assets|
As of 12/31/2020
A primary focus of the CIC has been to increase its exposure to American infrastructure and manufacturing. By the end of 2020, 57% of the fund was invested in the United States.
“According to our estimate, the United States needs at least $8 trillion in infrastructure investments. There’s not sufficient capital from the U.S. government or private sector. It has to rely on foreign investments.”
– Ding Xuedong, Chairman, China Investment Corporation
This has drawn suspicion from U.S. regulators given the geopolitical tensions between the two countries. For further reading on the topic, consider this 2017 paper by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Preparing for a Future Without Oil
Many of the countries associated with these SWFs are known for their robust fossil fuel industries. This includes Middle Eastern nations like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Oil has been an incredible source of wealth for these countries, but it’s unlikely to last forever. Some analysts believe that we could even see peak oil demand before 2030—though this doesn’t mean that oil will stop being an important resource.
Regardless, oil-producing countries are looking to hedge their reliance on fossil fuels. Their SWFs play an important role by taking oil revenue and investing it to generate returns and/or bolster other sectors of the economy.
An example of this is Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which supports the country’s Vision 2030 framework by investing in clean energy and other promising sectors.
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.
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 Ratings||Earnings Growth*||Active Return**||Dividends and Buybacks|
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 Issues||Assets Affected||Growth in Assets Affected (2018-2020)|
|Climate change / carbon emissions||$4.18T||39%|
|Sustainable natural resources / agriculture||$2.38T||81%|
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 Type||Integration||Values & Screens||Thematic||Impact|
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 Investing||General Population||Millennials|
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 PRI||Number of Signatories*||AUM Represented|
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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