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.
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.
ESG Investing: Finding Your Motivation
New research around ESG investing highlights that there are three common motivators for investors to invest in ESG assets.
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.
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.
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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