Diversification myths: 14x new research on ESG and consumption, ESG data, ESG washing, ESG returns, climate risks, voting, divestments, diversification myths, anomalies, trend following, real estate and private equity (# shows number of full paper downloads as of Jan. 18th, 2024)
Social and ecological research
Low ESG-consumption effect: How Do Consumers Use Firm Disclosure? Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment by Sinja Leonelli, Maximilian Muhn, Thomas Rauter, and Gurpal Sran as of Jan. 11th, 2024 (#79): “In a sample of more than 24,000 U.S. households, we first establish several stylized facts: (i) the average consumer has a moderate preference to purchase from ESG-responsible firms; (ii) consumers typically have no preference for more or less profitable firms; (iii) consumers rarely consult ESG reports and virtually never use financial reports to inform their purchase decisions. … Consumers increase their purchase intent when exogenously presented with firm-disclosed positive signals about environmental, social, and—to a lesser extent—governance activities. Full ESG reports only have an impact on consumers who choose to view them, whereas financial reports and earnings information do not have an effect. After the experiment, consumers increase their actual product purchases, but these effects are small, short-lived, and only materialize for viewed ESG reports and positive social signals. … we provide explanations for why consumers (do not) change their shopping behavior after our information experiment“ (abstract).
ESG investment research (Diversification myths)
ESG data criticism: ESG Data Primer: Current Usage & Future Applications by Tifanny Hendratama, David C. Broadstock, and Johan Sulaeman as of Jan. 12th, 2024 (#66): “ESG data is important, and will become even more so as time progresses. … There remains a prevalent use of combined ESG scores instead of E, S and G specific pillar scores; The use of combined ESG, and pillar specific scores may themselves detract focus away from crucial underlying raw data; Empirical research depends heavily on a small number of ESG data providers; That some data providers focus more on the E than the S – creating a need for data users to make sure the scoring ethos of each provider aligns with their expectations and requirements; There is a potentially material quantity of ESG data inconsistencies which could result in unintended investment allocation” (p. iv). My comment: I use segregated E, S and G ratings since many years and best-in-universe instead of best-in-class ratings
Costly washing: ESG washing: when cheap talk is not cheap! by Najah Attig and Abdlmutaleb Boshanna as of Dec. 26th, 2023 (#63): “… we introduce an easily replicable ESG washing measure. We then document a robust negative impact of ESG washing on corporate financial performance … we show that the COVID-19 pandemic incentivized firms to engage in increased overselling of their ESG performance. Taken together, our new evidence suggests that ‚cheap talk is not cheap‘ and the misalignment between ‘ESG talk’ and ‘ESG walk’ not only fails to serve shareholders‘ best interests but may also undermine a firm’s social license to operate” (abstract).
Disclosure or performance? The relation between environmental performance and environmental disclosure: A critical review of the performance measures used by Thomas Thijssens as of Jan. 9th, 2024 (#8): “More extensive disclosures may even be a signal for inferior rather than superior performance in terms of actual environmental impact. This suggestion is fueled by the observations that more polluting industries have on average more extensive ED (Sö: Environmental disclosure) and higher environmental commitment is associated with higher GHG emissions“ (p. 18). My comment: Most other studies known to me show – in general – positive effects of more disclosure
Performance-neutral ESG: Drawing Up the Bill: Is ESG Related to Stock Returns Around the World? by Rómulo Alves, Philipp Krüger, and Mathijs van Dijk as of Jan. 13th, 2024 (#47): “… our analysis of a comprehensive global database (including 16,000+ stocks in 48 countries and seven different ESG rating providers over 2001-2020) uncovers very little evidence that ESG ratings are related to stock returns around the world. … thus it has been possible to “do good without doing poorly.” Our findings also suggest that the prices of strong ESG stocks have not consistently been driven up, and that, going forward, ESG investors could potentially still benefit from any demand effects resulting in the pricing of ESG preferences. On the flip side, our analysis implies that ESG investing has so far not been effective in reducing (increasing) the cost of equity capital of strong (poor) ESG firms, which could lead firms to internalize climate and social externalities (Fama 2021, Pástor et al. 2021)“ (p. 14). My comment: I could not agree more for the small and midcap companies on which I focus
Huge climate risks: How climate stress test may underestimate financial losses from physical climate risks by a factor of 2-3x by Jakob Thomä from 1 in 1000 and Theia Finance Labs as of Dec. 1st, 2023: “A high baseline climate risk (i.e. using a climate stress-test model with meaningful baseline GDP losses over the next 30 years) stress-test scenario can create a 10% shock to global equity markets. A combination of climate tipping points, ecosystem decline, and social risks can increase that number as a cumulative risk to 27%, almost 3x the baseline losses. A low baseline scenario of a 4% shock in turn turns into a 14% shock when considering these other factors. These losses are dramatic as they are secular and not cyclical. It is worth flagging that this event would be unprecedented in modern financial market history“ (p. 4). My comment: Thanks to Bernd Spendig for informing me about this study.
Climate risk aversion: Institutionelle Investor:innen und physische Klimarisiken vom Lehrstuhl für Sustainable Finance, Universität Kassel as of September Dec. 17th, 2023: “Approximately 40 percent of the surveyed institutions do not take physical climate risks into account when valuing corporate bonds. In addition, a majority of respondents who already take physical climate risks into account are unsure whether these risks are adequately taken into account. In this regard, Part II reveals that 80% of the surveyed institutional investors believe that physical climate risks are not adequately reflected in the risk premiums of corporate bonds” (abstract).
Impact investing research
Voting deficits: Voting matters 2023 by Abhijay Sood at al from Share Action as of Jan. 11th, 2024: “In 2023, only 3% of assessed resolutions passed, just eight out of 257 resolutions. This is down from 21% of assessed resolutions in 2021 … In 2023, the ‘big four’ (BlackRock, Vanguard, Fidelity Investments, and State Street Global Advisors) only supported – on average – one eighth of those put forward, a marked drop since 2021 … Eight asset managers with public net zero targets supported fewer than half of all climate resolutions … Three quarters of all shareholder proposals covered in our study asked only for greater corporate disclosure, including those which some asset managers have deemed overly “prescriptive”. The other quarter of resolutions ask for movement in line with globally agreed climate goals or international human rights standards. … Resolutions at financial services companies on fossil fuel financing received the lowest support by asset managers of any climate-related topic” (p. 8-10). My comment: I focus more on direct dialogue (engagement) than voting, see Shareholder engagement: 21 science based theses and an action plan – (prof-soehnholz.com)
Divestment myths: Beyond Divestment by David Whyte as of Jan. 16th, 2024 (#11): “The top 20 shareholders in both BP and Shell have increased their total number of shares by three quarters of a billion in BP, and half a billion in Shell since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Indeed, although 47% of BP shareholders and 54% of Shell shareholders have reduced their stake, net share ownership overall has risen significantly in both companies. … more than a quarter of the 20 investors who made the most significant reductions in shareholdings in either BP or Shell increased their overall fossil fuel investment. … only 60 institutional investors have sold all of their shares in the two oil firms. This represents 3% of BP and 4% of Shell shareholders“ (abstract).
Other investment research (Diversification myths)
Diversification myths: Diversification Is Not A Free Lunch by Dirk G. Baur as of Jan. 3rd, 2024 (#56): “We … demonstrate that diversification generally comes at a cost through lower returns and is thus not a free lunch. While the risk of diversified portfolios is clearly lower than that of less diversified or undiversified portfolios, the return is generally also lower. There is only one exception. If the investor is ignorant and picks stocks randomly, diversification is a free lunch. … if diversification is a free lunch, it would violate the fundamental positive risk – return relationship in finance. Specifically, if risk can be reduced without a cost, risk and return are not positively aligned” (p.15). My comment: Even for randomly picked stocks the marginal gains of diversification are very low (see p. 11) whereas the reductions in sustainability – which are not covered in this paper – can be high, see 30 stocks, if responsible, are all I need – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)
Normal anomalies: Anomalies Never Disappeared: The Case of Stubborn Retail Investors by Xi Dong and Cathy Yang as of Dec. 29th, 2023 (#56): “Our examination of 260 anomalies challenges the prevailing notion that market efficiency erodes anomaly-based profits, these anomalies continue to thrive, especially over longer timeframes. We demonstrate that retail investors play a pivotal role in the persistence of these anomalies. Their stubborn trading patterns, especially against anomalies, not only contribute to initial mispricing but also lead to delayed price corrections“ (p. 37).
Trend following theory: Speculating on Higher Order Beliefs by Paul Schmidt-Engelbertz and Kaushik Vasudevan as of Aug.3rd, 2023 (#187): “We study investors’ higher order beliefs, using survey data from the Robert Shiller Investor Confidence surveys. While previous work has documented instances of non-fundamental speculation – investors taking positions in a risky asset in a direction that conflicts with their fundamental views – we find that such speculation is the norm for the U.S. stock market. The majority of investors in the Shiller surveys, who represent an important class of investors, report that other investors have mistaken beliefs, but nevertheless report positive return expectations from speculating in the direction of these mistaken beliefs. In addition, investors report that they believe that stock markets overreact and exhibit momentum and reversal in response to news. … We find that higher order beliefs may substantially amplify stock market fluctuations. When investors exhibit the same fundamental belief biases that they attribute to other investors, patterns such as overreaction, momentum, and reversal can persist in equilibrium, even though everybody knows about them“ (p. 37/38). My comment: I use simple trend following strategies to reduce drawdown-risks for investors who do not like bond investments but not to try to enhance returns
US Real Estate: A First Look at the Historical Performance of the New NAV REITs by Spencer J. Couts and Andrei S. Goncalves as of Jan.12th, 2024 (#31): “…we study the historical investment performance of NAV REITs relative to public bonds, public equities, and public REITs from 2016 to 2023. … First, the smoothness of NAV REIT returns due to lagged price reactions creates an important challenge to the measurement of the alphas of NAV REIT investments relative to public market indices. Moreover, return unsmoothing methods significantly mitigate (but do not fully solve) this issue. Second, traditional performance analysis indicates that NAV REIT investments generated substantial alpha (above 5% per year) relative to public indices over our sample period“ (p. 26).
PE calculation-uncertainties: Unpacking Private Equity Performance by Gregory Brown and William Volckmann as of Dec. 20th., 2023 (#31): “… complicating the analysis are the increasingly common practices of funds using subscription lines of credit (fund-level debt) and recycling capital. Even the variation in the timing of capital deployment across funds has important implications for common performance measures used to evaluate funds such as internal rate of return (IRR) and multiple on invested capital (MOIC). …. values likely observed during fundraising periods for subsequent funds – are strongly affected by subscription lines and deployment pacing. Intermediate MOICs are only weakly affected by subscription lines, but strongly affected by capital deployment pacing. Both IRRs and MOICs are strongly affected by recycle deal accounting methodology“ (abstract). “When a fund utilizes subscription lines, net IRR is very sensitive over the life cycle of the fund and can massively exaggerate performance during the investment/fundraising period. Net MOIC can also be exaggerated early in the investment period …” (p. 17).
Advert for German investors
Sponsor my research by investing in and/or recommending my global small/midcap mutual fund (SFDR Art. 9). The fund focuses on social SDGs and uses separate E, S and G best-in-universe minimum ratings and broad shareholder engagement with currently 25 of 29 companies: FutureVest Equity Sustainable Development Goals R – DE000A2P37T6 – A2P37T or Noch eine Fondsboutique? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)