ESG Investing: Can You Have Your Cake and Eat It Too?

Can you may have your cake and eat it too?

The ongoing debate about environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing typically seems like a rehash of that age-old rhetorical query.

Proponents of ESG information consider it might assist traders higher perceive the dangers and alternatives corporations face and should even provide alpha technology potential. Then again, skeptics suppose ESG standards restrict the universe of accessible shares and that such restrictions are sure to negatively influence returns.

To return to our metaphor, having the ESG cake means producing sturdy funding efficiency, whereas consuming it too implies doing good from an ESG perspective.

So which is it? Can traders have all of it?

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To reply this, we analyzed Refinitiv’s ESG database, which covers greater than 7,000 public corporations throughout the globe. Refinitiv generates ESG scores for every agency primarily based on 178 information factors. Corporations are ranked on a 100-point scale relative to their friends, with a composite ESG rating in addition to separate class scores for atmosphere, social, and governance, individually. The upper the rating, the higher the ESG rating.

We divided the historic ESG rankings of all S&P 500 companies into 4 classes: These with scores of 76 or above are labeled “Glorious”; between 51 and 75 are “Good”; between 26 and 50 are “Truthful”; and 25 and beneath are “Poor.”

S&P 500 Holdings by ESG Rating Class

SP 500 Holdings by ESG Score Category

The development is evident: S&P 500 corporations have improved their ESG metrics over time — in all probability as a result of they acknowledge the growing significance of such scores and have taken steps to spice up them.

ESG Scores and Efficiency

So do corporations with excessive ESG rankings outperform their lower-ranked counterparts?

For perception on this, we created a Excessive ESG Portfolio composed of S&P 500 corporations that rating above the median and a Low ESG Portfolio made up of companies that price beneath it.

We constructed these portfolios on a month-to-month foundation, from January 2008 to December 2018, utilizing the ESG rating of the businesses. We then measured every portfolio’s returns over the following month, repeating the method for 132 months. We discovered that the Excessive ESG Portfolio outperformed the Low ESG Portfolio by 16 foundation factors (bps) per 12 months.

Efficiency of S&P 500 Excessive and Low ESG Portfolios

Annualized Return
(Geometric Imply)
Excessive ESG Portfolio 7.34%
Low ESG Portfolio 7.18%

The geometric imply return of the Excessive ESG Portfolio exceeds that of the Low ESG Portfolio though the previous’s arithmetic common return is decrease.

Efficiency and Volatility of S&P 500 Excessive and Low ESG Portfolios

Arithmetic Imply Return Volatility (Annualized Normal Deviation) Geometric Imply Return
Excessive ESG
8.23% 14.91% 7.34%
Low ESG Portfolio 8.32% 16.38% 7.18%

This counterintuitive consequence could be attributed to the distinction in volatility. The Excessive ESG Portfolio had a lot much less, so its returns compounded higher than these of the Low ESG Portfolio.

Over the long term, the cumulative efficiency of the 2 ESG portfolios is kind of related. We explore these and related results in much more granular detail in a longer companion piece.

Excessive ESG Scores vs. Low ESG Scores: Cumulative Progress of $1

High ESG Scores vs Low ESG Scores Cumulative Growth of 1

Do Excessive ESG Rating Equal Increased High quality?

Does the decrease volatility of the Excessive ESG Portfolio point out larger high quality?

There’s certainly a constructive correlation. We regarded on the monthly payoffs of the Quality factor relative to our two portfolios and located a 0.41 correlation between the issue and the worth added by the Excessive ESG Portfolio in comparison with the Low ESG Portfolio. Additional testing of the Quality factor suggests an association of high ESG scores with higher quality.

Anecdotally, the Excessive ESG Portfolio provides worth extra usually throughout inventory market declines. The correlation between inventory market returns and the worth added by the Excessive ESG Portfolio over the Low ESG Portfolio is –0.27. That is statistically vital, with a t-statistic of three.16. The phenomenon was most pronounced throughout the international monetary disaster (GFC) in 2008 and the sharp restoration of 2009.

S&P 500 Corporations: Efficiency throughout the International Monetary Disaster

2008 Return 2009 Return Cumulative Return
Excessive ESG Portfolio –35.63% 24.78% –19.68%
Low ESG Portfolio –42.15% 34.18% –22.37%

Addressing Some Frequent Considerations about ESG Investing

However what about ESG screens? By decreasing the variety of investable companies, do they act as a drag on efficiency?

The Excessive ESG Portfolio’s investable universe was 26% smaller as measured by market capitalization because of the above-the-median ESG rating requirement. That’s a big discount. But the Excessive ESG Portfolio nonetheless carried out nicely.

So, at a sensible degree, the idea that shrinking the choice of potential shares primarily based on ESG standards will result in decrease returns shouldn’t be supported by the historic information.

Furthermore, energetic traders can incorporate ESG info in a holistic method moderately than mechanically screening companies out. This could render the priority a moot level for many traders.

Ad tile for ESG and Responsible Institutional Investing Around the World: A Critical Review


As ESG investing grows extra standard, traders are proper to query whether or not it may be completed with out sacrificing returns. Our evaluation reveals that it might.

  • ESG investing, even in a rudimentary, mechanical kind, has generated returns which might be extremely aggressive relative to the benchmark.
  • Corporations with excessive ESG scores show decrease volatility and presumably larger high quality.

Moreover, primarily based on our expertise managing inventory portfolios for greater than 20 years, we consider energetic traders can use ESG information to higher gauge firm high quality and apply that info, together with different related information, to make improved funding selections.

The ESG debate shouldn’t be a alternative between having your cake and consuming it too. Quite, ESG information is the icing on the cake: When ready and introduced nicely, it enhances each the having and the consuming.

For extra on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing from Gautam Dhingra, PhD, CFA, and Christopher J. Olson, CFA, don’t miss “ESG Investing: A Constraint or An Opportunity?”

In case you favored this submit, don’t neglect to subscribe to the Enterprising Investor.

All posts are the opinion of the creator. As such, they shouldn’t be construed as funding recommendation, nor do the opinions expressed essentially mirror the views of CFA Institute or the creator’s employer.

Picture credit score: ©Getty Photographs/ Tichakorn Khoopatiphatnukoon/EyeEm

Gautam Dhingra, PhD, CFA

Gautam Dhingra, PhD, CFA, is the founder and CEO of Excessive Pointe Capital Administration, LLC. He developed the agency’s pioneering funding method primarily based on the idea of Franchise High quality, and underneath his management, Excessive Pointe has constructed an enviable funding efficiency file. Dhingra served on the college member at Northwestern College’s Kellogg Faculty of Administration for 2 years. On this function, he designed and taught The Enterprise of Investing course within the faculty’s MBA curriculum. His analysis pursuits embody ESG investing and valuation of intangible property. He holds a PhD in finance, with specialization in investments and econometrics, from the College of Florida’s Warrington Faculty of Enterprise. At Warrington, he taught two programs in securities evaluation and derivatives.

Christopher J. Olson, CFA

Christopher J. Olson, CFA, is a principal and portfolio supervisor at Excessive Pointe Capital Administration. Previous to Excessive Pointe, he was a portfolio supervisor at Columbia Wanger Asset Administration in Chicago for 15 years the place he managed each fairness and balanced mutual funds. He started his funding administration profession at Yasuda Kasai Brinson in Tokyo in 1991, and later joined the guardian firm, Brinson Companions, to assist begin the agency’s rising markets funding technique. He has lived and labored in Sweden, Japan, and Taiwan. He’s proficient in Mandarin Chinese language and has studied 5 different international languages. Olson obtained an MBA from the Wharton Faculty of Enterprise with distinction and an MA in worldwide research from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, each on the College of Pennsylvania. He graduated from Middlebury Faculty with a BA in political science, summa cum laude. He earned his CFA constitution in 1998 and is a member of CFA Chicago. His civic duties embody his function as chair of the board at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago and as trustee at Lincoln Academy in Maine.

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