Archiv der Kategorie: Risikomanagement

Sustainable investment: Picture by Peggy and Marco-Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Sustainable investment = radically different?

Sustainable investment can be radically different from traditional investment. „Asset Allocation, Risk Overlay and Manager Selection“ is the translation of the book-title which I wrote in 2009 together with two former colleagues from FERI in Bad Homburg. Sustainability plays no role in it. My current university lecture on these topics is different.

Sustainability can play a very important role in the allocation to investment segments, manager and fund selection, position selection and also risk management. Strict sustainability can even lead to radical changes: More illiquid investments, lower asset class diversification, significantly higher concentration within investment segments, more active instead of passive mandates and different risk management. Here is why:

Central role of investment philosophy and sustainability definition for sustainable investment

Investors should define their investment philosophy as clearly as possible before they start investing. By investment philosophy, I mean the fundamental convictions of an investor, ideally a comprehensive and coherent system of such convictions (see Das-Soehnholz-ESG-und-SDG-Portfoliobuch 2023, p. 21ff.). Sustainability can be an important element of an investment philosophy.

Example: I pursue a strictly sustainable, rule-based, forecast-free investment philosophy (see e.g. Investment philosophy: Forecast fans should use forecast-free portfolios). To this end, I define comprehensive sustainability rules. I use the Policy for Responsible Investment Scoring Concept (PRISC) tool of the German Association for Asset Management and Financial Analysis (DVFA) for operationalization.

When it comes to sustainable investment, I am particularly interested in the products and services offered by the companies and organizations in which I invest or to which I indirectly provide loans. I use many strict exclusions and, above all, positive criteria. In particular, I want that the revenue or service is as compatible as possible with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (UN SDG) („SDG revenue alignment“). I also attach great importance to low absolute environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks. However, I only give a relatively low weighting to the opportunities to change investments („investor impact“) (see The Soehnholz ESG and SDG Portfolio Book 2023, p. 141ff). I try to achieve impact primarily through shareholder engagement, i.e. direct sustainability communication with companies.

Other investors, for whom impact and their own opportunities for change are particularly important, often attach great importance to so-called additionality. This means, that the corresponding sustainability improvements only come about through their respective investments. If an investor finances a new solar or wind park, this is considered additional and therefore particularly sustainable. When investing money on stock exchanges, securities are only bought by other investors and no money flows to the issuers of the securities – except in the case of relatively rare new issues. The purchase of listed bonds or shares in solar and wind farm companies is therefore not considered an impact investment by additionality supporters.

Sustainable investment and asset allocation: many more unlisted or alternative investments and more bonds?

In extreme cases, an investment philosophy focused on additionality would mean investing only in illiquid assets. Such an asset allocation would be radically different from today’s typical investments.

Better no additional allocation to illiquid investments?

Regarding additionality, investor and project impact must be distinguished. The financing of a new wind farm is not an additional investment, if other investors would also finance the wind farm on their own. This is not atypical. There is often a so-called capital overhang for infrastructure and private equity investments. This means, that a lot of money has been raised via investment funds and is competing for investments in such projects.

Even if only one fund is prepared to finance a sustainable project, the investment in such a fund would not be additional if other investors are willing to commit enough money to this fund to finance all planned investments. It is not only funds from renowned providers that often have more potential subscriptions from potential investors than they are willing to accept. Investments in such funds cannot necessarily be regarded as additional. On the other hand, there is clear additionality for investments that no one else wants to make. However, whether such investments will generate attractive performance is questionable.

Illiquid investments are also far from suitable for all investors, as they usually require relatively high minimum investments. In addition, illiquid investments are usually only invested gradually, and liquidity must be held for uncertain capital calls in terms of timing and amount. In addition, illiquid investments are usually considerably more expensive than comparable liquid investments. Overall, illiquid investments therefore have hardly any higher return potential than liquid investments. On the other hand, mainly due to the methods of their infrequent valuations, they typically exhibit low fluctuations. However, they are sometimes highly risky due to their high minimum investments and, above all, illiquidity.

In addition, illiquid investments lack an important so-called impact channel, namely individual divestment opportunities. While liquid investments can be sold at any time if sustainability requirements are no longer met, illiquid investments sometimes have to remain invested for a very long time. Divestment options are very important to me: I have sold around half of my securities in recent years because their sustainability has deteriorated (see: Divestments: 49 bei 30 Aktien meines Artikel 9 Fonds).

Sustainability advantages for (corporate) bonds over equities?

Liquid investment segments can differ, too, in terms of impact opportunities. Voting rights can be exercised for shares, but not for bonds and other investment segments. However, shareholder meetings at which voting is possible rarely take place. In addition, comprehensive sustainability changes are rarely put to the vote. If they are, they are usually rejected (see 2023 Proxy Season Review – Minerva).

I am convinced that engagement in the narrower sense can be more effective than exercising voting rights. And direct discussions with companies and organizations to make them more sustainable are also possible for bond buyers.

Irrespective of the question of liquidity or stock market listing, sustainable investors may prefer loans to equity because loans can be granted specifically for social and ecological projects. In addition, payouts can be made dependent on the achievement of sustainable milestones. However, the latter can also be done with private equity investments, but not with listed equity investments. However, if ecological and social projects would also be carried out without these loans and only replace traditional loans, the potential sustainability advantage of loans over equity is put into perspective.

Loans are usually granted with specific repayment periods. Short-term loans have the advantage that it is possible to decide more often whether to repeat loans than with long-term loans, provided they cannot be repaid early. This means that it is usually easier to exit a loan that is recognized as not sustainable enough than a private equity investment. This is a sustainability advantage. In addition, smaller borrowers and companies can probably be influenced more sustainably, so that government bonds, for example, have less sustainability potential than corporate loans, especially when it comes to relatively small companies.

With regard to real estate, one could assume that loans or equity for often urgently needed residential or social real estate can be considered more sustainable than for commercial real estate. The same applies to social infrastructure compared to some other infrastructure segments. On the other hand, some market observers criticize the so-called financialization of residential real estate, for example, and advocate public rather than private investments (see e.g. Neue Studie von Finanzwende Recherche: Rendite mit der Miete). Even social loans such as microfinance in the original sense are criticized, at least when commercial (interest) interests become too strong and private debt increases too much.

While renewable raw materials can be sustainable, non-industrially used precious metals are usually considered unsustainable due to the mining conditions. Crypto investments are usually considered unsustainable due to their lack of substance and high energy consumption.

Assuming potential additionality for illiquid investments and an impact primarily via investments with an ecological or social focus, the following simplified assessment of the investment segment can be made from a sustainability perspective:

Sustainable investment: Potential weighting of investment segments assuming additionality for illiquid investments:

Source: Soehnholz ESG GmbH 2023

Investors should create their own such classification, as this is crucial for their respective sustainable asset allocation.

Taking into account minimum capital investment and costs as well as divestment and engagement opportunities, I only invest in listed investments, for example. However, in the case of multi-billion assets with direct sustainability influence on investments, I would consider additional illiquid investments.

Sustainable investment and manager/fund selection: more active investments again?

Scientific research shows that active portfolio management usually generates lower returns and often higher risks than passive investments. With very low-cost ETFs, you can invest in thousands of securities. It is therefore no wonder that so-called passive investments have become increasingly popular in recent years.

Diversification is often seen as the only „free lunch“ in investing. But diversification often has no significant impact on returns or risks: With more than 20 to 30 securities from different countries and sectors, no better returns and hardly any lower risks can be expected than with hundreds of securities. In other words, the marginal benefit of additional diversification decreases very quickly.

But if you start with the most sustainable 10 to 20 securities and diversify further, the average sustainability can fall considerably. This means that strictly sustainable investment portfolios should be concentrated rather than diversified. Concentration also has the advantage of making voting and other forms of engagement easier and cheaper. Divestment threats can also be more effective if a lot of investor money is invested in just a few securities.

Sustainability policies can vary widely. This can be seen, among other things, in the many possible exclusions from potential investments. For example, animal testing can be divided into legally required, medically necessary, cosmetic and others. Some investors want to consistently exclude all animal testing. Others want to continue investing in pharmaceutical companies and may therefore only exclude „other“ animal testing. And investors who want to promote the transition from less sustainable companies, for example in the oil industry, to more sustainability will explicitly invest in oil companies (see ESG Transition Bullshit?).

Indices often contain a large number of securities. However, consistent sustainability argues in favor of investments in concentrated, individual and therefore mostly index-deviating actively managed portfolios. Active, though, is not meant in the sense of a lot of trading. In order to be able to exert influence by exercising voting rights and other forms of engagement, longer rather than shorter holding periods for investments make sense.

Still not enough consistently sustainable ETF offerings

When I started my own company in early 2016, it was probably the world’s first provider of a portfolio of the most consistently sustainable ETFs possible. But even the most sustainable ETFs were not sustainable enough for me. This was mainly due to insufficient exclusions and the almost exclusive use of aggregated best-in-class ESG ratings. However, I have high minimum requirements for E, S and G separately (see Glorious 7: Are they anti-social?). I am also not interested in the best-rated companies within sectors that are unattractive from a sustainability perspective (best-in-class). I want to invest in the best-performing stocks regardless of sector (best-in-universe). However, there are still no ETFs for such an approach. In addition, there are very few ETFs that use strict ESG criteria and also strive for SDG compatibility.

Even in the global Socially Responsible Investment Paris Aligned Benchmarks, which are particularly sustainable, there are still several hundred stocks from a large number of sectors and countries. In contrast, there are active global sustainable funds with just 30 stocks, which is potentially much more sustainable (see 30 stocks, if responsible, are all I need).

Issuers of sustainable ETFs often exercise sustainable voting rights and even engage, even if only to a small extent. However, most providers of active investments do no better (see e.g. 2023 Proxy Season Review – Minerva). Notably, index-following investments typically do not use the divestment impact channel because they want to replicate indices as directly as possible.

Sustainable investment and securities selection: fewer standard products and more individual mandates or direct indexing?

If there are no ETFs that are sustainable enough, you should look for actively managed funds, award sustainable mandates to asset managers or develop your own portfolios. However, actively managed concentrated funds with a strict ESG plus impact approach are still very rare. This also applies to asset managers who could implement such mandates. In addition, high minimum investments are often required for customized mandates. Individual sustainable portfolio developments, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly simple.

Numerous providers currently offer basic sustainability data for private investors at low cost or even free of charge. Financial technology developments such as discount (online) brokers, direct indexing and trading in fractional shares as well as voting tools help with the efficient and sustainable implementation of individual portfolios. However, the variety of investment opportunities and data qualities are not easy to analyze.

It would be ideal if investors could also take their own sustainability requirements into account on the basis of a curated universe of particularly sustainable securities and then have them automatically implemented and rebalanced in their portfolios (see Custom ESG Indexing Can Challenge Popularity Of ETFs (asiafinancial.com). In addition, they could use modern tools to exercise their voting rights according to their individual sustainability preferences. Sustainability engagement with the securities issuers can be carried out by the platform provider.

Risk management: much more tracking error and ESG risk monitoring?

For sustainable investments, sustainability metrics are added to traditional risk metrics. These are, for example, ESG ratings, emissions values, principal adverse indicators, do-no-significant-harm information, EU taxonomy compliance or, as in my case, SDG compliance and engagement success.

Sustainable investors have to decide how important the respective criteria are for them. I use sustainability criteria not only for reporting, but also for my rule-based risk management. This means that I sell securities if ESG or SDG requirements are no longer met (see Divestments: 49 bei 30 Aktien meines Artikel 9 Fonds).

The ESG ratings I use summarize environmental, social and governance risks. These risks are already important today and will become even more important in the future, as can be seen from greenwashing and reputational risks, for example. Therefore, they should not be missing from any risk management system. SDG compliance, on the other hand, is only relevant for investors who care about how sustainable the products and services of their investments are.

Voting rights and engagement have not usually been used for risk management up to now. However, this may change in the future. For example, I check whether I should sell shares if there is an inadequate response to my engagement. An inadequate engagement response from companies may indicate that companies are not listening to good suggestions and thus taking unnecessary risks that can be avoided through divestments.

Traditional investors often measure risk by the deviation from the target allocation or benchmark. If the deviation exceeds a predefined level, many portfolios have to be realigned closer to the benchmark. If you want to invest in a particularly sustainable way, you have to have higher rather than lower traditional benchmark deviations (tracking error) or you should do without tracking error figures altogether.

In theory, sustainable indices could be used as benchmarks for sustainable portfolios. However, as explained above, sustainability requirements can be very individual and, in my opinion, there are no strict enough sustainable standard benchmarks yet.

Sustainability can therefore lead to new risk indicators as well as calling old ones into question and thus also lead to significantly different risk management.

Summary and outlook: Much more individuality?

Individual sustainability requirements play a very important role in the allocation to investment segments, manager and fund selection, position selection and risk management. Strict sustainability can lead to greater differences between investment mandates and radical changes to traditional mandates: A lower asset class diversification, more illiquid investments for large investors, more project finance, more active rather than passive mandates, significantly higher concentration within investment segments and different risk management with additional metrics and significantly less benchmark orientation.

Some analysts believe that sustainable investment leads to higher risks, higher costs and lower returns. Others expect disproportionately high investments in sustainable investments in the future. This should lead to a better performance of such investments. My approach: I try to invest as sustainably as possible and I expect a normal market return in the medium term with lower risks compared to traditional investments.

First published in German on www.prof-soehnholz.com on Dec. 30th, 2023. Initial version translated by Deepl.com

Sustainable investment: Picture by Peggy and Marco-Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Nachhaltige Geldanlage = Radikal anders?

Nachhaltige Geldanlage kann radikal anders sein als traditionelle. „Asset Allocation, Risiko-Overlay und Manager-Selektion: Das Diversifikationsbuch“ heißt das Buch, dass ich 2009 mit ehemaligen Kollegen der Bad Homburger FERI geschrieben habe. Nachhaltigkeit spielt darin keine Rolle. In meiner aktuellen Vorlesung zu diesen Themen ist das anders. Nachhaltigkeit kann eine sehr wichtige Rolle spielen für die Allokation auf Anlagesegmente, die Manager- bzw. Fondsselektion, die Positionsselektion und auch das Risikomanagement (Hinweis: Um die Lesbarkeit zu verbessern, gendere ich nicht).

Strenge Nachhaltigkeit kann sogar zu radikalen Änderungen führen: Mehr illiquide Investments, erheblich höhere Konzentration innerhalb der Anlagesegmente, mehr aktive statt passive Mandate und ein anderes Risikomanagement. Im Folgenden erkläre ich, wieso:

Zentrale Rolle von Investmentphilosophie und Nachhaltigkeitsdefinition für die nachhaltige Geldanlage

Dafür starte ich mit der Investmentphilosophie. Unter Investmentphilosophie verstehe ich die grundsätzlichen Überzeugungen eines Geldanlegers, idealerweise ein umfassendes und kohärentes System solcher Überzeugungen (vgl.  Das-Soehnholz-ESG-und-SDG-Portfoliobuch 2023, S. 21ff.). Nachhaltigkeit kann ein wichtiges Element einer Investmentphilosophie sein. Anleger sollten ihre Investmentphilosophie möglichst klar definieren, bevor sie mit der Geldanlage beginnen.

Beispiel: Ich verfolge eine konsequent nachhaltige regelbasiert-prognosefreie Investmentphilosophie. Dafür definiere ich umfassende Nachhaltigkeitsregeln. Zur Operationalisierung nutze ich das Policy for Responsible Investment Scoring Concept (PRISC) Tool der Deutschen Vereinigung für Asset Management und Finanzanalyse (DVFA, vgl. Standards – DVFA e. V. – Der Berufsverband der Investment Professionals).

Für die nachhaltige Geldanlage ist mir vor allem wichtig, was für Produkte und Services die Unternehmen und Organisationen anbieten, an denen ich mich beteilige oder denen ich indirekt Kredite zur Verfügung stelle. Dazu nutze ich viele strenge Ausschlüsse und vor allem Positivkriterien. Dabei wird vor allem der Umsatz- bzw. Serviceanteil betrachtet, der möglichst gut mit Nachhaltigen Entwicklungszielen der Vereinten Nationen (UN SDG) vereinbar ist („SDG Revenue Alignment“). Außerdem lege ich viel Wert auf niedrige absolute Umwelt-, Sozial- und Governance-Risiken (ESG). Meine Möglichkeiten zur Veränderung von Investments („Investor Impact“) gewichte ich aber nur relativ niedrig (vgl. Das-Soehnholz-ESG-und-SDG-Portfoliobuch 2023, S. 141ff). Impact möchte ich dabei vor allem über Shareholder Engagement ausüben, also direkte Nachhaltigkeitskommunikation mit Unternehmen.

Andere Anleger, denen Impact- bzw. eigene Veränderungsmöglichkeiten besonders wichtig sind, legen oft viel Wert auf sogenannte Additionalität bzw. Zusätzlichkeit. Das bedeutet, dass die entsprechenden Nachhaltigkeitsverbesserungen nur durch ihre jeweiligen Investments zustande gekommen sind. Wenn ein Anleger einen neuen Solar- oder Windparkt finanziert, gilt das als additional und damit als besonders nachhaltig. Bei Geldanlagen an Börsen werden Wertpapiere nur anderen Anlegern abgekauft und den Herausgebern der Wertpapiere fließt – außer bei relativ seltenen Neuemissionen – kein Geld zu. Der Kauf börsennotierter Anleihen oder Aktien von Solar- und Windparkunternehmen gilt bei Additionalitätsanhängern deshalb nicht als Impact Investment.

Nachhaltige Geldanlage und Asset Allokation: Viel mehr nicht-börsennotierte bzw. alternative Investments und mehr Anleihen?

Eine additionalitätsfokussierte Investmentphilosophie bedeutet demnach im Extremfall, nur noch illiquide zu investieren. Die Asset Allokation wäre radikal anders als heute typische Geldanlagen.

Lieber keine Mehrallokation zu illiquiden Investments?

Aber wenn Additionalität so wichtig ist, dann muss man sich fragen, welche Art von illiquiden Investments wirklich Zusätzlichkeit bedeutet. Dazu muss man Investoren- und Projektimpact trennen. Die Finanzierung eines neuen Windparks ist aus Anlegersicht dann nicht zusätzlich, wenn andere Anleger den Windpark auch alleine finanzieren würden. Das ist durchaus nicht untypisch. Für Infrastruktur- und Private Equity Investments gibt es oft einen sogenannten Kapitalüberhang. Das bedeutet, dass über Fonds sehr viel Geld eingesammelt wurde und um Anlagen in solche Projekte konkurriert.

Selbst wenn nur ein Fonds zur Finanzierung eines nachhaltgien Projektes bereit ist, wäre die Beteiligung an einem solchen Fonds aus Anlegersicht dann nicht additional, wenn alternativ andere Anleger diese Fondsbeteiligung kaufen würden. Nicht nur Fonds renommierter Anbieter haben oft mehr Anfragen von potenziellen Anlegern als sie akzeptieren wollen. Investments in solche Fonds kann man nicht unbedingt als additional ansehen. Klare Additionalität gibt es dagegen für Investments, die kein anderer machen will. Ob solche Investments aber attraktive Performances versprechen, ist fragwürdig.

Illiquide Investments sind zudem längst nicht für alle Anleger geeignet, denn sie erfordern meistens relativ hohe Mindestinvestments. Hinzu kommt, dass man bei illiquiden Investments in der Regel erst nach und nach investiert und Liquidität in Bezug auf Zeitpunkt und Höhe unsichere Kapitalabrufe bereithalten muss. Außerdem sind illiquide meistens erheblich teurer als vergleichbare liquide Investments. Insgesamt haben damit illiquide Investments kaum höhere Renditepotenziale als liquide Investments. Durch die Art ihrer Bewertungen zeigen sie zwar geringe Schwankungen. Sie sind durch ihre hohen Mindestinvestments und vor allem Illiquidität aber teilweise hochriskant.

Hinzu kommt, dass illiquiden Investments ein wichtiger sogenannter Wirkungskanal fehlt, nämlich individuelle Divestmentmöglichkeiten. Während liquide Investments jederzeit verkauft werden können wenn Nachhaltigkeitsanforderungen nicht mehr erfüllt werden, muss man bei illiquiden Investments teilweise sehr lange weiter investiert bleiben. Divestmentmöglichkeiten sind sehr wichtig für mich: Ich habe in den letzten Jahren jeweils ungefähr die Hälfte meiner Wertpapiere verkauft, weil sich ihre Nachhaltigkeit verschlechtert hat (vgl. Divestments: 49 bei 30 Aktien meines Artikel 9 Fonds – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)).

Nachhaltigkeitsvorteile für (Unternehmens-)Anleihen gegenüber Aktien?

Auch liquide Anlagesegmente können sich in Bezug auf Impactmöglichkeiten unterscheiden. Für Aktien kann man Stimmrechte ausüben (Voting), für Anleihen und andere Anlagesegmente nicht. Allerdings finden nur selten Aktionärsversammlungen statt, zu denen man Stimmrechte ausüben kann. Zudem stehen nur selten umfassende Nachhaltigkeitsveränderungen zur Abstimmung. Falls das dennoch der Fall ist, werden sie meistens abgelehnt (vgl. 2023 Proxy Season Review – Minerva-Manifest).

Ich bin überzeugt, dass Engagement im engeren Sinn wirkungsvoller sein kann als Stimmrechtsausübung. Und direkte Diskussionen mit Unternehmen und Organisationen, um diese nachhaltiger zu machen, sind auch für Käufer von Anleihen möglich.

Unabhängig von der Frage der Liquidität bzw. Börsennotiz könnten nachhaltige Anleger Kredite gegenüber Eigenkapital bevorzugen, weil Kredite speziell für soziale und ökologische Projekte vergeben werden können. Außerdem können Auszahlungen von der Erreichung von nachhaltigen Meilensteinen abhängig gemacht werden können. Letzteres kann bei Private Equity Investments aber ebenfalls gemacht werden, nicht jedoch bei börsennotierten Aktieninvestments. Wenn ökologische und soziale Projekte aber auch ohne diese Kredite durchgeführt würden und nur traditionelle Kredite ersetzen, relativiert sich der potenzielle Nachhaltigkeitsvorteil von Krediten gegenüber Eigenkapital.

Allerdings werden Kredite meist mit konkreten Rückzahlungszeiten vergeben. Kurz laufende Kredite haben dabei den Vorteil, dass man öfter über die Wiederholung von Kreditvergaben entscheiden kann als bei langlaufenden Krediten, sofern man sie nicht vorzeitig zurückbezahlt bekommen kann. Damit kann man aus einer als nicht nachhaltig genug erkannter Kreditvergabe meistens eher aussteigen als aus einer privaten Eigenkapitalvergabe. Das ist ein Nachhaltigkeitsvorteil. Außerdem kann man kleinere Kreditnehmer und Unternehmen wohl besser nachhaltig beeinflussen, so dass zum Beispiel Staatsanleihen weniger Nachhaltigkeitspotential als Unternehmenskredite haben, vor allem wenn es sich dabei um relativ kleine Unternehmen handelt.

In Bezug auf Immobilien könnte man annehmen, dass Kredite oder Eigenkapital für oft dringend benötigte Wohn- oder Sozialimmobilien als nachhaltiger gelten können als für Gewerbeimmobilien. Ähnliches gilt für Sozialinfrastruktur gegenüber manch anderen Infrastruktursegmenten. Andererseits kritisieren manche Marktbeobachter die sogenannte Finanzialisierung zum Beispiel von Wohnimmobilien (vgl. Neue Studie von Finanzwende Recherche: Rendite mit der Miete) und plädieren grundsätzlich für öffentliche statt private Investments. Selbst Sozialkredite wie Mikrofinanz im ursprünglichen Sinn wird zumindest dann kritisiert, wenn kommerzielle (Zins-)Interessen zu stark werden und private Verschuldungen zu stark steigen.

Während nachwachsende Rohstoffe nachhaltig sein können, gelten nicht industriell genutzte Edelmetalle aufgrund der Abbaubedingungen meistens als nicht nachhaltig. Kryptoinvestments werden aufgrund fehlender Substanz und hoher Energieverbräuche meistens als nicht nachhaltig beurteilt.

Bei der Annahme von potenzieller Additionalität für illiquide Investments und Wirkung vor allem über Investments mit ökologischem bzw. sozialem Bezug kann man zu der folgenden vereinfachten Anlagesegmentbeurteilung aus Nachhaltigkeitssicht kommen:

Nachhaltige Geldanlage: Potenzielle Gewichtung von Anlagesegmenten bei Annahme von Additionalität für illiquide Investments und meine Allokation

Quelle: Eigene Darstellung

Anleger sollten sich ihre eigene derartige Klassifikation erstellen, weil diese entscheidend für ihre jeweilige nachhaltige Asset Allokation ist. Unter Berücksichtigung von Mindestkapitaleinsatz und Kosten sowie Divestment- und Engagementmöglichkeiten investiere ich zum Beispiel nur in börsennotierte Investments. Bei einem Multi-Milliarden Vermögen mit direkten Nachhaltigkeits-Einflussmöglichkeiten auf Beteiligungen würde ich zusätzliche illiquide Investments aber in Erwägung ziehen. Insgesamt kann strenge Nachhaltigkeit also auch zu wesentlich geringerer Diversifikation über Anlageklassen führen.

Nachhaltige Geldanlage und Manager-/Fondsselektion: Wieder mehr aktive Investments?

Wissenschaftliche Forschung zeigt, dass aktives Portfoliomanagement meistens geringe Renditen und oft auch höhere Risiken als passive Investments einbringt. Mit sehr günstigen ETFs kann man in tausende von Wertpapieren investieren. Es ist deshalb kein Wunder, dass in den letzten Jahren sogenannte passive Investments immer beliebter geworden sind.

Diversifikation gilt oft als der einzige „Free Lunch“ der Kapitalanlage. Aber Diversifikation hat oft keinen nennenswerten Einfluss auf Renditen oder Risiken. Anders ausgedrückt: Mit mehr als 20 bis 30 Wertpapieren aus unterschiedlichen Ländern und Branchen sind keine besseren Renditen und auch kaum niedrigere Risiken zu erwarten als mit hunderten von Wertpapieren. Anders ausgedrückt: Der Grenznutzen zusätzlicher Diversifikation nimmt sehr schnell ab.

Aber wenn man aber mit den nachhaltigsten 10 bis 20 Wertpapiern startet und weiter diversifiziert, kann die durchschnittliche Nachhaltigkeit erheblich sinken. Das bedeutet, dass konsequent nachhaltige Geldanlageportfolios eher konzentriert als diversifiziert sein sollten. Konzentration hat auch den Vorteil, dass Stimmrechtsausübungen und andere Formen von Engagement einfacher und kostengünstiger werden. Divestment-Androhungen können zudem wirkungsvoller sein, wenn viel Anlegergeld in nur wenige Wertpapiere investiert wird.

Nachhaltigkeitspolitiken können sehr unterschiedlich ausfallen. Das zeigt sich unter anderem bei den vielen möglichen Ausschlüssen von potenziellen Investments. So kann man zum Beispiel Tierversuche in juristisch vorgeschriebene, medizinisch nötige, kosmetische und andere unterscheiden. Manche Anleger möchten alle Tierversuche konsequent ausschließen. Andere wollen weiterhin in Pharmaunternehmen investieren und schließen deshalb vielleicht nur „andere“ Tierversuche aus. Und Anleger, welche die Transition von wenig nachhaltigen Unternehmen zum Beispiel der Ölbranche zu mehr Nachhaltigkeit fördern wollen, werden explizit in Ölunternehmen investieren (vgl. ESG Transition Bullshit? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)).

Indizes enthalten oft sehr viele Wertpapiere. Konsequente Nachhaltigkeit spricht aber für Investments in konzentrierte, individuelle und damit meist indexabweichende aktiv gemanagte Portfolios. Dabei ist aktiv nicht im Sinne von viel Handel gemeint. Um über Stimmrechtsausübungen und andere Engagementformen Einfluss ausüben zu können, sind eher längere als kürzere Haltedauern von Investments sinnvoll.

Immer noch nicht genug konsequent nachhaltige ETF-Angebote

Bei der Gründung meines eigenen Unternehmens Anfang 2016 war ich wahrscheinlich weltweit der erste Anbieter eines Portfolios aus möglichst konsequent nachhaltigen ETFs. Aber auch die nachhaltigsten ETFs waren mir nicht nachhaltig genug. Grund waren vor allem unzureichende Ausschlüsse und die fast ausschließliche Nutzung von aggregierten Best-in-Class ESG-Ratings. Ich habe aber hohe Mindestanforderungen an E, S und G separat (vgl. Glorreiche 7: Sind sie unsozial? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com). Ich interessiere mich auch nicht für die am besten geraten Unternehmen innerhalb aus Nachhaltigkeitssicht unattraktiven Branchen (Best-in-Class). Ich möchte branchenunabhängig in die am besten geraten Aktien investieren (Best-in-Universe). Dafür gibt es aber auch heute noch keine ETFs. Außerdem gibt es sehr wenige ETFs, die strikte ESG-Kriterien nutzen und zusätzlich SDG-Vereinbarkeit anstreben.

Auch in den in besonders konsequent nachhaltigen globalen Socially Responsible Paris Aligned Benchmarks befinden sich noch mehrere hundert Aktien aus sehr vielen Branchen und Ländern. Aktive globale nachhaltige Fonds gibt es dagegen schon mit nur 30 Aktien, also potenziell erheblich nachhaltiger (vgl. 30 stocks, if responsible, are all I need – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)).

Emittenten nachhaltiger ETFs üben oft nachhaltige Stimmrechtsausübungen und sogar Engagement aus, wenn auch nur in geringem Umfang. Das machen die meisten Anbieter aktiver Investments aber auch nicht besser (vgl. z.B. 2023 Proxy Season Review – Minerva-Manifest). Indexfolgende Investments nutzen aber typischerweise den Impactkanal Divestments nicht, weil sie Indizes möglichst direkt nachbilden wollen.

Nachhaltige Geldanlage und Wertpapierselektion: Weniger Standardprodukte und mehr individuelle Mandate oder Direct Indexing?

Wenn es keine ETFs gibt, die nachhaltig genug sind, sollte man sich aktiv gemanagte Fonds suchen, nachhaltige Mandate an Vermögensverwalter vergeben oder seine Portfolios selbst entwickeln. Aktiv gemanagte konzentrierte Fonds mit strengem ESG plus Impactansatz sind aber noch sehr selten. Das gilt auch für Vermögensverwalter, die solche Mandate umsetzen könnten. Außerdem werden für maßgeschneiderte Mandate oft hohe Mindestanlagen verlangt. Individuelle nachhaltige Portfolioentwicklungen werden dagegen zunehmend einfacher.

Basis-Nachhaltigkeitsdaten werden aktuell von zahlreichen Anbietern für Privatanleger kostengünstig oder sogar kostenlos angeboten. Finanztechnische Entwicklungen wie Discount-(Online-)Broker, Direct Indexing und Handel mit Bruchstücken von Wertpapieren sowie Stimmrechtsausübungstools helfen bei der effizienten und nachhaltigen Umsetzung von individuellen Portfolios. Schwierigkeiten bereiten dabei eher die Vielfalt an Investmentmöglichkeiten und mangelnde bzw. schwer zu beurteilende Datenqualität.

Ideal wäre, wenn Anleger auf Basis eines kuratierten Universums von besonders nachhaltigen Wertpapieren zusätzlich eigene Nachhaltigkeitsanforderungen berücksichtigen können und dann automatisiert in ihren Depots implementieren und rebalanzieren lassen (vgl. Custom ESG Indexing Can Challenge Popularity Of ETFs (asiafinancial.com). Zusätzlich könnten sie mit Hilfe moderner Tools ihre Stimmrechte nach individuellen Nachhaltigkeitsvorstellungen ausüben. Direkte Nachhaltigkeitskommunikation mit den Wertpapieremittenten kann durch den Plattformanbieter erfolgen.

Risikomanagement: Viel mehr Tracking-Error und ESG-Risikomonitoring?

Für nachhaltige Geldanlagen kommen zusätzlich zu traditionellen Risikokennzahlen Nachhaltigkeitskennzahlen hinzu, zum Beispiel ESG-Ratings, Emissionswerte, Principal Adverse Indicators, Do-No-Significant-Harm-Informationen, EU-Taxonomievereinbarkeit oder, wie in meinem Fall, SDG-Vereinbarkeiten und Engagementerfolge.

Nachhaltige Anleger müssen sich entscheiden, wie wichtig die jeweiligen Kriterien für sie sind. Ich nutze Nachhaltigkeitskriterien nicht nur für das Reporting, sondern auch für mein regelgebundenes Risikomanagement. Das heißt, dass ich Wertpapiere verkaufe, wenn ESG- oder SDG-Anforderungen nicht mehr erfüllt werden.

Die von mir genutzten ESG-Ratings messen Umwelt-, Sozial- und Unternehmensführungsrisiken. Diese Risiken sind heute schon wichtig und werden künftig noch wichtiger, wie man zum Beispiel an Greenwashing- und Reputationsrisiken sehen kann. Deshalb sollten sie in keinem Risikomanagement fehlen. SDG-Anforderungserfüllung ist hingegen nur für Anleger relevant, denen wichtig ist, wie nachhaltig die Produkte und Services ihrer Investments sind.

Stimmrechtsausübungen und Engagement wurden bisher meistens nicht für das Risikomanagement genutzt. Das kann sich künftig jedoch ändern. Ich prüfe zum Beispiel, ob ich Aktien bei unzureichender Reaktion auf mein Engagement verkaufen sollte. Eine unzureichende Engagementreaktion von Unternehmen weist möglicherweise darauf hin, dass Unternehmen nicht auf gute Vorschläge hören und damit unnötige Risiken eingehen, die man durch Divestments vermeiden kann.

Traditionelle Geldanleger messen Risiko oft mit der Abweichung von der Soll-Allokation bzw. Benchmark. Wenn die Abweichung einen vorher definierten Grad überschreitet, müssen viele Portfolios wieder benchmarknäher ausgerichtet werden. Für nachhaltige Portfolios werden dafür auch nachhaltige Indizes als Benchmark genutzt. Wie oben erläutert, können Nachhaltigkeitsanforderungen aber sehr individuell sein und es gibt meiner Ansicht nach viel zu wenige strenge nachhaltige Benchmarks. Wenn man besonders nachhaltig anlegen möchte, muss man dementsprechend höhere statt niedrigere Benchmarkabweichungen (Tracking Error) haben bzw. sollte ganz auf Tracking Error Kennzahlen verzichten.

Nachhaltigkeit kann also sowohl zu neuen Risikokennzahlen führen als auch alte in Frage stellen und damit auch zu einem erheblich anderen Risikomanagement führen.

Nachhaltige Geldanlage – Zusammenfassung und Ausblick: Viel mehr Individualität?

Individuelle Nachhaltigkeitsanforderungen spielen eine sehr wichtige Rolle für die Allokation auf Anlagesegmente, die Manager- bzw. Fondsselektion, die Positionsselektion und auch das Risikomanagement. Strenge Nachhaltigkeit kann zu stärkeren Unterschieden zwischen Geldanlagemandaten und radikalen Änderungen gegenüber traditionellen Mandaten führen: Geringere Diversifikation über Anlageklassen, mehr illiquide Investments für Großanleger, mehr Projektfinanzierungen, mehr aktive statt passive Mandate, erheblich höhere Konzentration innerhalb der Anlagesegmente und ein anderes Risikomanagement mit zusätzlichen Kennzahlen und erheblich geringerer Benchmarkorientierung.

Manche Analysten meinen, nachhaltige Geldanlage führt zu höheren Risiken, höheren Kosten und niedrigeren Renditen. Andere erwarten zukünftig überproportional hohe Anlagen in nachhaltige Investments. Das sollte zu einer besseren Performance solcher Investments führen. Meine Einstellung: Ich versuche so nachhaltig wie möglich zu investieren und erwarte dafür mittelfristig eine marktübliche Rendite mit niedrigeren Risiken im Vergleich zu traditionellen Investments.

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Achtung: Werbung für meinen Fonds

Mein Fonds (Art. 9) ist auf soziale SDGs fokussiert. Ich nutze separate E-, S- und G-Best-in-Universe-Mindestratings sowie ein breites Aktionärsengagement bei derzeit 27 von 30 Unternehmen: FutureVest Equity Sustainable Development Goals R – DE000A2P37T6 – A2P37T oder Divestments: 49 bei 30 Aktien meines Artikel 9 Fonds

ESG research criticism illustration with detective picture from Mariana Anatoneag from Pixabay

ESG research criticism? Researchpost #156

ESG research criticism: 13x new research on e-commerce, petrochemical and corruption problems, good and average sustainable performance, high transition risks, EU Taxonomy, Greenium, climate disaster effects, good investment constraints and private equity benchmarks (# shows SSRN full paper downloads as of Dec. 14th, 2023)

Social and ecological research (ESG research criticism)

Brown e-commerce: Product flows and GHG emissions associated with consumer returns in the EU by Rotem Roichman, Tamar Makov, Benjamin Sprecher, Vered Blass, and Tamar Meshulam as of Dec. 6th, 2023 (#5):“Building on a unique dataset covering over 630k returned apparel items in the EU … Our results indicate that 22%-44% of returned products never reach another consumer. Moreover, GHG emissions associated with the production and distribution of unused returns can be 2-14 times higher than post-return transport, packaging, and processing emissions combined“ (abstract).

US financed European petrochemicals: Toxic Footprints Europe by Planet Tracker as of December 2023: “Petrochemicals, which provide feedstocks for numerous products embedded in the global economy, carry a significant environmental footprint. One of the most important is toxic emissions. The financial market appears largely unconcerned by toxic emissions. This could be for several reasons: • perhaps because they are viewed as an unpriced pollutant or investors’ focus remains on carbon rather than other discharges or for those monitoring the plastic industry the spotlight is on plastic waste rather than toxic releases. In the Trilateral Chemical Region of Europe – an area consisting of Flanders (Belgium), North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany), Planet Tracker identified 1,093 facilities …. These facilities have released and transferred 125 million tonnes of chemicals since 2010 resulting in an estimated 24,640 years of healthy life being lost and 57 billion fractions of species being potentially affected. … BASF and Solvay are the most toxic polluters in the region, appearing in the top 5 of all four metrics analysed (physical releases, ecotoxicity, human toxicity and RSEI hazard).  The financiers behind these toxic footprints are led by BlackRock (5.4% of total investments by equity market value), Vanguard (5.2%) and JPMorgan Chase (3.6%). In terms of debt financing, Citigroup leads with 6.4% of total 10-year capital underwriting (including equity, loans and bonds), followed closely by JPMorgan Chase (6.3%) and Bank of America (5.2%)“ (p. 3).

Corruption Kills: Global Evidence from Natural Disasters by Serhan Cevik and João Tovar Jalles from the International Monetary Fund as of Nov. 2nd, 2023 (#12): “… we use a large panel of 135 countries over a long period spanning from 1980 to 2020 … The empirical analysis provides convincing evidence that widespread corruption increases the number of disaster-related deaths … the difference between the least and most corrupt countries in our sample implies a sixfold increase in the number of deaths per population caused by natural disaster in a given year. Our results show that this impact is stronger in developing countries than in advanced economies, highlighting the critical relationship between economic development and institutional capacity in strengthening good governance and combating corruption“ (p. 11/12).

Investment ESG research criticsm

Complex sustainability: Sustainability of financial institutions, firms, and investing by Bram van der Kroft as of Dec. 7th, 2023 (#22): “… financial institutions will take on additional risk in ways unpriced by regulators when facing financial constraints. Throughout the paper, we provide evidence that this additional risk-taking harms society as banks and insurance corporations acquire precisely those assets most affected in economic downturns” (p. 194) … “we find for over four thousand listed firms in 77 countries, as two-thirds of firms substantively improve their sustainable performance when institutional pressure is imprecise and increases, while one-third of firms are forced to start symbolically responding” (p. 196) … “One critical assumption underlining .. sustainable performance advances is that socially responsible investors can accurately identify sustainable firms. In practice, we show that these investors rely on inaccurate estimates of sustainable performance and accidentally “tilt the wrong firms” (p. 196) … “First, we find that MSCI IVA, FTSE, S&P, Sustainalytics, and Refinitiv ESG ratings do not reflect the sustainable performance of firms but solely capture their forward-looking sustainable aspirations. On average, these aspirations do not materialize up to 15 years in the future” (p. 84). …“Using unique identification in the real estate market and property-level sustainable performance information, we find that successful socially responsible engagement improves the sustainable performance of firms”(p. 196). My comment regarding the already published ESG rating criticism: Not all rating agencies work in the criticized way. My main ESG ratings supplier shifted its focuses to actual from planned sustainability (see my Researchpost #90 as of July 5th, 2022 relating to this paper: Tilting the Wrong Firms? How Inflated ESG Ratings Negate Socially Responsible Investing under Information Asymmetries).

ESG research criticism (1)? Comment and Replication: The Impact of Corporate Sustainability on Organizational Processes and Performance by Andrew A. King as of Dec. 7th, 2023 (#186): “Do High Sustainability companies have better financial performance than their Low Sustainability counterparts? An extremely influential publication in Management Science, “The Impact of Corporate Sustainability on Organizational Processes and Performance”, claims that they do. … after reviewing the report, I conclude that its critical findings are unjustified by its own evidence: its main method appears unworkable, a key finding is miscalculated, important results are uninterpretable, and the sample is biased by survival and selection. … Despite considering estimates from thousands of models, I find no reliable evidence for the proposed link between sustainability and financial performance” (abstract). My comment: If there is no negative effect of sustainability on performance, shouldn’t all investors invest 100% sustainably

ESG research criticism (2)? Does Corporate Social Responsibility Increase Access to Finance? A Commentary on Cheng, Ioannou, and Serafeim (2014) by Andrew A. King as of Dec. 12th, 2023 (#7): “Does Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) facilitate access to finance? An extremely influential article claims that it does … I show that its research method precludes any insight on either access to finance or its connection to CSR. … I correct the original study by substituting more suitable measures and conducting further analysis. Contrary to the original report, I find no robust evidence for a link between CSR and access to finance” (abstract).

High transition risk: The pricing of climate transition risk in Europe’s equity market by Philippe Loyson, Rianne Luijendijk, and Sweder van Wijnbergen as of Aug. 22nd, 2023 (#46): “We assessed the effect of carbon intensity (tCO2/$M) on relative stock returns of clean versus polluting firms using a panel data set consisting of 1555 European companies over the period 2005-2019. We did not find empirical evidence that carbon risk is being priced in a diversified European equity portfolio, implying that investors do not seem to be aware of or at least do not require a risk premium for the risk they bear by investing in polluting companies“ (p. 32). My comment: Apparently, at least until 2019, there has not been enough sustainable investment to have a carbon risk impact

Green indicator confusion: Stronger Together: Exploring the EU Taxonomy as a Tool for Transition Planning by Clarity.ai and CDP as of Dec. 5th, 2023: „We find that out of the 1,700 NFRD (Sö: EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive) companies that published EU Taxonomy reports this year, around 600 identified their revenues and spending as part of their transition plans, and approximately 300 have validated science-based targets, both of which correlate to higher taxonomy alignment overall. There is a large dispersion of eligibility across companies within similar sectors which suggests that individual companies are involved in a variety of economic activities. This influences the low correlation between corporate GHG emissions and Taxonomy eligibility and alignment, as non-eligibility can be the result of exposure to either very high-impact or very low-impact economic activities. We observe that higher taxonomy alignment does not necessarily lead to lower carbon intensity when comparing companies within sectors. It is important to highlight that the largest source of corporate emissions might not always be well reflected in revenue shares” (p. 38). My comment: My experience is that the huge part of Scope 3 CO2 emissions and almost all non-CO2 emissions like methane are still seriously neglected by many corporations and investors

Greenium: Actions Speak Louder Than Words: The Effects of Green Commitment in the Corporate Bond Market by Peter Pope, Yang Wang, and Hui Xu as of Nov. 22nd, 2023 (#64): “This paper studies the effects of green bond issuance on the yield spreads of other conventional bonds from the same issuers. A traditional view of new bond issuance suggests that new bonds (whether green or brown) will increase secondary market bond yields if higher leverage increases default risk and dilutes creditors’ claim over assets. However, we find that the issuance of green bonds reduces conventional bond yield spreads by 8 basis points in secondary markets, on average. The effect is long-lasting (beyond two years) … An event study shows that the “bond” attribute of the green bonds still increases the yield spreads of outstanding conventional bonds by 1 basis point. It is the “green” attribute that lowers the yield spreads and ultimately dominates the net effects. … we show that socially responsible investors increase their demand for, and hold more, conventional bonds in their portfolios following the issuance of green bonds … we show that shareholders submit fewer environment-related proposals following green bond issuance. … Finally, our analysis highlights that green bonds give rise to positive real effects, though such effects are confined to the issuer“ (p. 42/43).

Costly values? Perceived Corporate Values by Stefano Pegoraro, Antonino Emanuele Rizzo, and Rafael Zambrana as of Dec. 4th, 2023 (#54): “…. analyzing the revealed preferences of values-oriented investors through their portfolio holdings … Using this measure of perceived corporate values, we show that values-oriented investors consider current and forward-looking information about corporate misconduct and controversies in their investment decisions. We also show that values-oriented investors sacrifice financial performance to align their portfolios with companies exhibiting better corporate values and lower legal risk” (p. 24). My comment: According to traditional investment theories, lower (ESG or other) risk should lead to lower returns. Any complaints about that?

Some investor impact: Propagation of climate disasters through ownership networks by Matthew Gustafson, Ai He, Ugur Lel, and Zhongling (Danny) Qin as of Dec. 5th, 2023 (#127): “We find that climate-change related disasters increase institutional investors’ awareness of climate change issues and accordingly these investors engage with the unaffected firms in their portfolios to influence corporate climate policies. In particular, we observe that such institutional investors vote in greater support of climate-related shareholder proposals at unaffected firms only after getting hit by climate change disasters in their portfolios and compared to other institutional investors. … In the long-run, firm-level GHG emissions and energy usage cumulatively decline at the same time as the unaffected firms adopt specific governance mechanisms such as linking their executive pay policies to GHG emission reductions, suggesting that changes in governance mechanisms potentially incentivize firms to internalize some of the negative externalities from their activities. … our results are more pronounced in brown industries“ (p. 26). My comment: When changing executive pay, negative effects have to be mitigated, see Wrong ESG bonus math?

Other investment research

Good constraints: Performance Attribution for Portfolio Constraints by Andrew W. Lo and Ruixun Zhang as of Nov. 1st, 2023 (#57): “While it is commonly believed that constraints can only decrease the expected utility of a portfolio, we show that this is only true when they are treated as static. … our methodology can be applied to common examples of constraints including the level of a particular characteristic, such as ESG scores, and exclusion constraints, such as divesting from sin stocks and energy stocks. Our results show that these constraints do not necessarily decrease the expected utility and returns of the portfolio, and can even contribute positively to portfolio performance when information contained in the constraints is sufficiently positively correlated with asset returns“ (p. 42). My comment: Traditional investment constraints are typically used to reduce risks. Looking at a actively managed funds, that does not always work as expected. Maybe responsible investment constraints are better than traditional ones?

PE Benchmark-Magic: Benchmarking Private Equity Portfolios: Evidence from Pension Funds by Niklas Augustin, Matteo Binfarè, and  Elyas D. Fermand as of Oct. 31st, 2023 (#245): “We document significant heterogeneity in the benchmarks used for US public pension fund private equity (PE) portfolios. … We show that general (Soe: investment) consultant turnover predicts changes in PE benchmarks. … we find that public pension funds only beat their PE benchmarks about 50% of the time, that they tend to use public market benchmark indices that underperform private market benchmark indices, and that their benchmarks have become easier to beat over the last 20 years“ (abstract).

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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 26 of 30 companiesFutureVest Equity Sustainable Development Goals R – DE000A2P37T6 – A2P37T or Noch eine Fondsboutique? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)

Supplier ESG illustrated with delivery man by 28819275 from Pixabay

Supplier ESG – Researchpost #144

Supplier ESG: 17x new research on SDG, green behavior, subsidies, SMEs, ESG ratings, real estate, risk management, sin stocks, trading, suppliers, acting in concert, AI and VC by Alexander Bassen, Andreas G.F. Hoepner, and many more (#: SSRN downloads on Sept. 21st, 2023)

Too late? Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries by Katherine Richardson and many more as of Sept. 13th, 2023: “This planetary boundaries framework update finds that six of the nine boundaries are transgressed, suggesting that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity. Ocean acidification is close to being breached, while aerosol loading regionally exceeds the boundary. Stratospheric ozone levels have slightly recovered. The transgression level has increased for all boundaries earlier identified as overstepped. As primary production drives Earth system biosphere functions, human appropriation of net primary production is proposed as a control variable for functional biosphere integrity. This boundary is also transgressed. Earth system modeling of different levels of the transgression of the climate and land system change boundaries illustrates that these anthropogenic impacts on Earth system must be considered in a systemic context“ (abstract).

Ecological research (corporate perspective)

Social measures: How useful are convenient measures of pro-environmental behavior? Evidence from a field study on green self-reports and observed green behavior by Ann-Kathrin Blankenberg, Martin Binder, and Israel Waichmann as of Aug. 20th, 2023 (#12): “We conduct a field study with n = 599 participants recruited in the town hall of a German medium-sized town to compare self-reports of pro-environmental behavior of our participants with observed behavior (green product choice and donation to real charities). Our results indicate that self-reports are only weakly correlated to incentivized behavior in our sample of an adult population (r = .09∗ ), partly because pro-environmental behavior measures can conflate prosocial and pro-environmental preferences. … Our results … cast some doubt on the validity of commonly used convenient measures of pro-environmental behavior“ (abstract).

Expensive subsidies: Converting the Converted: Subsidies and Solar Adoption by Linde Kattenberg, Erdal Aydin, Dirk Brounen, and Nils Kok as of July 25th, 2023 (#18): „… there is limited empirical evidence on the effectiveness of subsidies that are used to promote the adoption of such (Sö: renewable energy) technologies. This paper exploits a natural experimental setting, in which a solar PV subsidy is assigned randomly within a group of households applying for the subsidy. Combining data gathered from 100,000 aerial images with detailed information on 15,000 households … The results show that, within the group of households that applied for the subsidy, the provision of subsidy leads to a 14.4 percent increase in the probability of adopting solar PV, a 9.6 percent larger installation, and a 1-year faster adoption. However, examining the subsequent electricity consumption of the applicants, we report that the subsidy provision leads to a decrease in household electricity consumption of just 8.1 percent, as compared to the rejected applicant group, implying a cost of carbon of more than €2,202 per ton of CO2”.

Regulatory SME effects: The EU Sustainability Taxonomy: Will it Affect Small and Medium-sized Enterprises? by Ibrahim E. Sancak as of Sept. 6th, 2023 (#52): “The EU Sustainability Taxonomy (EUST) is a new challenge for companies, particularly SMEs and financial market participants; however, it potentially conveys its economic value; hence, reliable taxonomy reporting and strong sustainability indicators can yield enormously. … We conclude that the EU’s sustainable finance reforms have potential domino effects. Backed by the European Green Deal, sustainable finance reforms, and in particular, the EUST, will not be limited to large companies or EU companies; they will affect all economic actors having business and finance connections in the EU“ (p. 14).

ESG rating credits: Determinants of corporate credit ratings: Does ESG matter? by Lachlan Michalski and Rand Kwong Yew Low as of Aug. 19th, 2023 (#25): “We show that environmental and social responsibility variables are important determinants for the credit ratings, specifically measures of environmental innovation, resource use, emissions, corporate social responsibility, and workforce determinants. The influence of ESG variables become more pronounced following the financial crisis of 2007-2009, and are important across both investment-grade and speculative-grade classes” (abstract).

Climate risk management: Climate and Environmental risks and opportunities in the banking industry: the role of risk management by Doriana Cucinelli, Laura Nieri, and Stefano Piserà as of Aug. 18th, 2023 (#22): “We base our analysis on a sample of 112 European listed banks observed from 2005 to 2021. Our results … provide evidence that banks with a stronger and more sophisticated risk management are more likely to implement a better climate change risk strategy. … Our findings underline that bank providing their employees and managers with specific training programs on environmental topics, or availing of the presence of a CSR committee, or adopting environmental-linked remuneration scheme, stand out for a greater engagement towards C&E risks and opportunities and a sounder C&E strategy” (p. 16).

Generic ESG Research (investor perspective)

ESG dissected: It’s All in the Detail: Individual ESG Factors and Firm Value by Ramya Rajajagadeesan Aroul, Riette Carstens and Julia Freybote as of Aug. 25th, 2023 (#29): “We disaggregate ESG into its individual factors (E, S and G) and investigate their impact on firm value using publicly listed equity real estate investment trusts (REITs) as a laboratory over the period of 2009 to 2021. … We find that the environmental factor (E) and governance factor (G) positively predict firm value while the social factor (S) negatively predicts it. … Further analysis into antecedents of firm value suggests that our results are driven by 1) E reducing cost of debt and increasing financial flexibility, operating efficiency, and performance, 2) S leading to a higher cost of debt as well as lower financial flexibility and operating performance, and 3) G increasing operating efficiency. … We also find evidence for time-variations in the relationships of E, S and G with firm value and its determinants” (abstract). My comment: This is not really new as one can see in my publication from 2014: 140227 ESG_Paper_V3 1 (naaim.org)

Greenbrown valuations: The US equity valuation premium, globalization, and climate change risks by Craig Doidge, G. Andrew Karolyi, and René M. Stulz as of Sept. 15th, 2023 (#439): “It is well-known that before the GFC (Sö: Global Financial Crisis of 2008), on average, US firms were valued more highly than non-US firms. We call this valuation difference the US premium. We show that, for firms from DMs (Sö: Developed Markets), the US premium is larger after the crisis than before. By contrast, the US premium for firms from EMs (Sö: Emerging Markets) falls. In percentage terms, the US premium for DMs increases by 27% while the US premium for EMs falls by 24%. … the differing evolution of the US premium for DM firms and for EM firms is concentrated among old economy firms – older firms in industries that have a high ratio of tangible assets to total assets. … We find that the valuations of firms in brown industries in non-US DMs fell significantly relative to comparable firm valuations in the US and this decline among brown industries in EMs did not take place. Though this mechanism does not explain the increase in the US premium for firms in DMs fully, it explains much of that increase. It follows from this that differences across countries in the importance given to sustainability and ESG considerations can decrease the extent to which financial markets across the world are integrated“ (p. 28).

Sin ESG: Does ESG impact stock returns for controversial companies? by Sonal and William Stearns as of Sept. 2nd, 2023 (#35): “We find that the market perception of ESG investments of controversial firms have changed over time. For the 2010-2015 period, ESG investments made by sinful firms are rewarded positively by increasing stock prices. However, for the sample period post 2015, increases in ESG no longer result in positive stock returns. We further find the maximum change for the oil and gas industry“ (p. 11/12). My comment see ESG Transition Bullshit? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)

Portfolio ESG effects: Quantifying the Impacts of Climate Shocks in Commercial Real Estate Market by Rogier Holtermans, Dongxiao Niu, and Siqi Zheng as of Sept. 7th, 2023 (#251): “We focus on Hurricanes Harvey and Sandy to quantify the price impacts of climate shocks on commercial buildings in the U.S. We find clear evidence of a decline in transaction prices in hurricane-damaged areas after the hurricane made landfall, compared to unaffected areas. We also observe that …. Assets in locations outside the FEMA floodplain (with less prior perception about climate risk) have experienced larger price discounts after the hurricanes. … Moreover, the price discount is larger when the particular buyer has more climate awareness and has a more geographically diverse portfolio, so it is easier for her to factor in this risk in the portfolio construction” (abstract).

ESG investors or traders? Do ESG Preferences Survive in the Trading Room? An Experimental Study by Alexander Bassen, Rajna Gibson Brandon, Andreas G.F. Hoepner, Johannes Klausmann, and Ioannis Oikonomou as of Sept. 19th, 2023 (#12): “This study experimentally tests in a competitive trading room whether Socially Responsible Investors (SRIs) and students are consistent with their stated ESG preferences. … The results suggest that all participants who view ESG issues as important (ESG perception) trade more aggressively irrespective of whether the news are related to ESG matters or not. … More importantly, SRIs trade on average much less aggressively than students irrespective of their ESG perceptions and behaviors” (abstract). … “Investors mostly consider macroeconomic and id[1]iosyncratic financial news in their investment decisions. Updates on the ESG performance of a firm are perceived as less likely to move prices by the participants. In addition to that, we observe a stronger reaction to positive news compared to negative news” (p. 26). My comment: I prefer most-passive rules based to active investments, compare Noch eine Fondsboutique? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com) or Active or impact investing? – (prof-soehnholz.com)

Supplier ESG research (also see Supplier engagement – Opinion post #211)

Supplier ESG shocks: ESG Shocks in Global Supply Chains by Emilio Bisetti, Guoman She, and Alminas Zaldokas as of Sept. 6th, 2023 (#38): “We show that U.S. firms cut imports by 29.9% and are 4.3% more likely to terminate a trade relationship when their international suppliers experience environmental and social (E&S) incidents. These trade cuts are larger for publicly listed U.S. importers facing high E&S investor pressure and lead to cross-country supplier reallocation …. Larger trade cuts around the scandal result in higher supplier E&S scores in subsequent years, and in the eventual resumption of trade” (abstract).

Sustainable supplier reduction: A Supply Chain Sourcing Model at the Interface of Operations and Sustainability by Gang Li and Yu A. Xia as of Aug. 25th, 2023 (#204): “This research investigates … how to integrate sustainability with sourcing planning decisions and how to address the challenges associated with the integration, such as the balance between operational factors and sustainability factors and the quantitative evaluation of sustainability performance. … Our model suggests that while increasing the number of suppliers may cause additional sustainability risk in supply chain management, decreasing the supply base will decrease the production capacity and increase the risk of delivery delay. Therefore, a firm should carefully set up its global sourcing network with only a limited number of selected suppliers. This finding is particularly true when the focus of sourcing planning gradually moves away from decisions based solely on cost to those seeking excellence in both supply chain sustainability and cost performance“ (p. 32).

Empowering stakeholders: Stakeholder Governance as Governance by Stakeholders by Brett McDonnell as of August 31st, 2023 (#64): “… American stakeholder engagement is limited to soliciting (and on occasion responding to) the opinions of employees, customers, suppliers, and others. True stakeholder governance would involve these groups in actively making corporate decisions. I have suggested various ways we could do this. The focus should be on employees, who could be empowered via board representation, works councils, and unions. Other stakeholders could be less fully empowered through councils, advisory at first but potentially given power to nominate or even elect directors” (p. 19).

Impact investment research (supplier ESG)

Anti-climate concert: Rethinking Acting in Concert: Activist ESG Stewardship is Shareholder Democracy by Dan W. Puchniak and Umakanth Varottil as of Sept. 13th, 2023 (#187): “… the legal barriers posed by acting in concert rules in virtually all jurisdictions prevent institutional investors from engaging in collective shareholder activism with the aim or threat of replacing the board (i.e., “activist stewardship”). Perversely, the current acting in concert rules effectively prevent institutional investors from replacing boards that resist (or even deny) climate change solutions – even if (or, ironically, precisely because) they collectively have enough shareholder voting rights to democratically replace the boards of recalcitrant brown companies. This heretofore hidden problem in corporate and securities law effectively prevents trillions of dollars of shareholder voting rights that institutional investors legally control from being democratically exercised to change companies who refuse to properly acknowledge the threat of climate change” … (abstract).

Other investment research

AI investment risks: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Future Retail Investment by Imtiaz Sifat as of Sept. 12th, 2023 (#20): “I have analyzed AI’s integration in retail investment. … The benefits spring from access to sophisticated strategies once exclusive to institutional investors. The downside is that the opaque models which facilitate such strategies may aggravate risks and information asymmetry for retail investors. To stop this gap from widening, proper governance is essential. Similarly, the ability to ingest copious alternative data and instantaneous portfolio optimization incurs a tradeoff—too much dependence on historical data invokes modelling biases and data quality cum privacy concerns. It is also likely that AI-dominated markets of the future will be more volatile, and new forms of speculation would emerge as trading platforms incentivize speculation and gamification. The combined forces of these concurrent challenges put a heavy stress on orthodox finance theories …“ (p. 16/17). Maybe interesting: AI: Wie können nachhaltige AnlegerInnen profitieren? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)

Venture careers: Failing Just Fine: Assessing Careers of Venture Capital-backed Entrepreneurs via a Non-Wage Measure by Natee Amornsiripanitch, Paul A. Gompers, George Hu, Will Levinson, and Vladimir Mukharlyamov as of Aug. 30th, 2023 (#131): “Would-be founders experience accelerated career trajectories prior to founding, significantly outperforming graduates from same-tier colleges with similar first jobs. After exiting their start-ups, they obtain jobs about three years more senior than their peers who hold (i) same-tier college degrees, (ii) similar first jobs, and (iii) similar jobs immediately prior to founding their company. Even failed founders find jobs with higher seniority than those attained by their non-founder peers“ (abstract).

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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 30 of 30 engaged companiesFutureVest Equity Sustainable Development Goals R – DE000A2P37T6 – A2P37T; also see Active or impact investing? – (prof-soehnholz.com)

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Supplier Engagement table by CAF as example

Supplier engagement – Opinion post #211

Supplier engagement is my term for shareholder engagement with the goal to address suppliers either directly or indirectly. I provide an overview of current scientific research regarding supplier engagement. I also explain my respective recommendations to the companies I am invested in. Supplier engagement can be very powerful.

The other two stakeholder groups which I address with my “leveraged shareholder engagement” are customers and employees (compare HR-ESG shareholder engagement: Opinion-Post #210 – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)).

Supplier emissions can be very high

Supplier relations have become much talked about in recent years. Climate change is one of the reasons. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are one of the prime shareholder concerns if they are interested in environmental topics. To compare more or less vertically integrated companies with their competitors, evaluating GHG emissions of suppliers is important. Often, GHG emissions of suppliers (part of so-called scope 3) are much higher than the (scope 1 and 2) emissions of the analyzed company itself.

Relevant research (1): Managing climate change risks in global supply chains: a review and research agenda by Abhijeet Ghadge, Hendrik Wurtmann and Stefan Seuring as of June 13th, 2022: “The research … captures a comprehensive picture of climate change and associated phenomenon in terms of sources, consequences, control drivers, and mitigation mechanisms. … The study contributes to practice by providing visibility into the industry sectors most likely to be impacted; their complex association with other supply chain networks. The drivers, barriers, and strategies for climate change mitigation are particularly helpful to practitioners for better managing human-induced risks …” (p. 59).

Supply chain becomes more important for ESG-analyses

COVID and geopolitical changes such as the Russian attack on the Ukraine also showed that the management of supply chains is crucial for many companies. Even before, many supplier related incidents such as the Foxconn/Apple discussions had significant effects on company ESG perceptions and potentially also on ESG-ratings. Also, supply chains are becoming more in many countries.

Relevant research (2): ESG Shocks in Global Supply Chains by Emilio Bisetti, Guoman She, and Alminas Zaldokas as of Sept. 6th, 2023: “We show that U.S. firms cut imports by 29.9% and are 4.3% more likely to terminate a trade relationship when their international suppliers experience environmental and social (E&S) incidents. These trade cuts are larger for publicly listed U.S. importers facing high E&S investor pressure and lead to cross-country supplier reallocation …. Larger trade cuts around the scandal result in higher supplier E&S scores in subsequent years, and in the eventual resumption of trade” (abstract).

On the positive side, many suppliers have great knowhow and can help their clients to become better in ESG-terms.

Relevant research (3): Stakeholder Engagement by Brett McDonnell as of Nov. 1st, 2022t:  “Suppliers, like employees, also provide inputs to the production process of companies. Retaining the loyalty of suppliers may be important for companies, depending in part on how firm-specific inputs are. Where inputs are fungible, they can be bought on the market for the prevailing market price, but where they are firm-specific, the buying firm will have more trouble replacing a supplier that decides to withdraw. Suppliers have information about the quality of what they supply, and about conditions which may affect future availability and prices” (p. 8).

Supplier engagement: How investors can indirectly engage

Investors in publicly listed companies do probably not want to directly with the often many important suppliers of their portfolios companies. But they can indirectly leverage the knowhow and energy of suppliers. Here is what Brett McDonnell suggests:

Relevant research (4): Stakeholder Governance as Governance by Stakeholders by Brett McDonnell as of August 31st, 2023: “… American stakeholder engagement is limited to soliciting (and on occasion responding to) the opinions of employees, customers, suppliers, and others. True stakeholder governance would involve these groups in actively making corporate decisions. I have suggested various ways we could do this. The focus should be on employees, who could be empowered via board representation, works councils, and unions. Other stakeholders could be less fully empowered through councils, advisory at first but potentially given power to nominate or even elect directors” (p. 19).

In my opinion, too, advisory councils of suppliers could be helpful to improve listed companies. I prefer other forms of ESG engagement with suppliers, though. First, companies could regularly survey most of their direct and even some important indirect suppliers in a regular way regarding ESG topics. With regular surveys companies can find out how happy their suppliers are with the companies ESG activities and ESG-improvement ideas by suppliers can be collected.

Example (1): Surveys from Stakeholders Make Good Business Sense by Terrie Nolinske from the National Business Research Institute (no date) mentions The Body Shop and Michelin who use supplier surveys.

Example (2): AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard from Accountability as of 2015 “provides a … practical framework to implement stakeholder engagement and … Describes how to integrate stakeholder engagement with an organization’s governance, strategy, and operations”.

I specifically suggest to regularly ask suppliers the following questions: 1) “How satisfied are you with the environmental, social and corporate governance activities of company XYZ?” and 2) “Which environmental, social and corporate governance improvements do you suggest to company XYZ?”.

Systematic supplier engagement using ESG evaluations

In my view, even more important to improve the full supply chain ESG-profile is that companies regularly, broadly and independently evaluate the ESG-quality of their suppliers. Independent ESG-ratings can be very useful for that purpose, since they systematically cover many environmental, social and governance aspects.

I try to invest in the 30 most sustainable publicly listed companies globally (see Active or impact investing? – (prof-soehnholz.com)), but even most of these companies do not have such a supplier ESG evaluation process. Here are the two best examples of my portfolios companies:

Supplier ESG evaluation (1): Watts Water Sustainability Report 2022 p. 63: “In 2022, we met our goal of reviewing suppliers representing approximately 30% of our global annual spend using the Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) ESG Rating Service. The service is a web-based ratings platform that assesses the ESG operations of suppliers across 70 key topics, including through peer benchmarking and using leading sustainability frameworks …. Through our expanded use of this tool, we gained increased insight into our suppliers’ sustainability practices, including that suppliers making up one-sixth of the global spend we assessed already have advanced ESG systems in place”.

Supplier ESG evaluation (2): CAFs 2022 Sustainability Report: “… the evaluation effort focuses on 349 target suppliers out of a total of approximately 6,000 suppliers. The evaluations are carried out by Ecovadis …. Ecovadis adapts the evaluation questionnaire to each supplier based on the locations in which it operates, its sector and its size to evaluate 21 aspects of sustainability alligned with the most demanding international norms, regulations and standards …. Suppliers‘ responses are evaluated by specialised analysts … This analysis results in a general rating with a maximum score of 100 points …. If the result of an evaluation does not meet the requirements established by CAF (a general score of 45 out of 100 in sustainability management), the supplier is required to implement an action plan to improve the weaknesses identified. If the supplier does not raise its assessment to acceptable levels or does not show a commitment to improve, it is audited by experts in the field” (p. 83).

“By the end of 2022, the activities … have assessed … 78% of the prioritised suppliers (118 business groups) …. The assessed suppliers have an average overall rating of 58.6 out of 100 … which is 13 percentage points higher than the average of all suppliers assessed by Ecovadis worldwide (45/100). In addition, 71% of CAF suppliers reassessed in the last year improved their general rating … As a result of these assessments it has also been identified that 2% of the Group’s total purchases are made from suppliers with average or lower sustainability management and an improvement plan has been agreed with all of them”(p. 84).

The picture of my blogpost summarises the results of the 2022 supplier assessment campaign of one of my portfolio companies: Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF Sustainability Report 2022, p. 85):

But even Watts Water and CAF currently only cover a relatively small share of their suppliers with these evaluations.

Better fewer suppliers?

Such a sustainability-oriented supplier evaluation approach could result in fewer and therefore more important suppliers.

Relevant research (5): A Supply Chain Sourcing Model at the Interface of Operations and Sustainability by Gang Li and Yu A. Xia as of Aug. 25th, 2023: “This research investigates … how to integrate sustainability with sourcing planning decisions and how to address the challenges associated with the integration, such as the balance between operational factors and sustainability factors and the quantitative evaluation of sustainability performance. … Our model suggests that while increasing the number of suppliers may cause additional sustainability risk in supply chain management, decreasing the supply base will decrease the production capacity and increase the risk of delivery delay. Therefore, a firm should carefully set up its global sourcing network with only a limited number of selected suppliers. This finding is particularly true when the focus of sourcing planning gradually moves away from decisions based solely on cost to those seeking excellence in both supply chain sustainability and cost performance“ (p. 32).

Supplier engagement: Powerful supplier ESG disclosures

I think that is very important to make the supplier engagement activities transparent. Only transparent activities can be controlled by stakeholders. It is very useful for stakeholders, too, to know the identities of the major suppliers.

Relevant research (6):  Green Image in Supply Chains: Selective Disclosure of Corporate Suppliers by Yilin Shi, Jing Wu, and Yu Zhang as of Sept. 9th, 2022 (#2015): “We uncover robust empirical evidence showing that listed firms selectively disclose environmentally friendly suppliers while selectively not disclosing suppliers with poor environmental performance, i.e., they conduct supply chain greenwashing. This is a prevalent behavior in the sample of more than 40 major countries or regions around the world that we study. … we find that customer firms that face more competitive pressure, care more about brand image and reputation, and have larger shares of institutional holdings are more likely to conduct such selective disclosure. … we find that information transparency reduces such behavior. Finally, we study the outcomes of selectively disclosing green suppliers and find that customers benefit from the practice in terms of sales, profitability, and market valuation“ (p. 22/24). 

A supplier engagement proposal and first engagement experiences

Based on my engagement policy (Shareholder engagement: 21 science based theses and an action plan – (prof-soehnholz.com)), I try to make it as simple as possible for my portfolio companies to implement my suggestions. Comprehensive and regular supplier ESG surveys would be a rather simple and low-cost approach and I certainly encourage them.

Given the importance of the supply chain for ESG-topics and the risks of greenwashing, I especially recommend a more demanding supplier ESG-rating approach to all my portfolio companies. Specifically, I tell them: “Favoring suppliers with better overall/comprehensive ESG scores is probably the way to go. Reporting aggregated information such as percentage of suppliers with XYZ ESG-scores can be one first step regarding transparency”. I also inform them about current relevant research and the two examples mentioned above.

No supplier engagement results yet

I started my respective engagement activities only at the end of 2022. Some companies answered that they like my suggestions and plan to analyze them, but I cannot report implementations so far (compare 230831_FutureVest_Engagementreport-2830ab605a502648339b4f8f58fa2ee2dce539ef.pdf).

I am only a small investors and cooperative engagement can me more powerful. Unfortunately, my attempts for cooperative engagement with other investors have not been fruitful yet. One reason is that I could only find very few sustainable investment funds with a dedicated small-and midcap focus such as mine. With the few such funds I have typically very little company overlap. The asset managers and the shareholder organizations which I have asked so far want to cooperate with larger asset managers and not with such a small entity as mine.

Nevertheless, I will continue to ask my portfolio companies for such stakeholder engagements and the publication of their results. I am confident, that at least a few companies will adopt such surveys and evaluations and thus position themselves even more as ESG-leaders. Research such as “A Test of Stakeholder Governance” by Stavros Gadinis and Amelia Miazad as of Aug. 25th, 2021 is one of the reasons for optimism on my part. And, maybe, with publications such as this blog post, I can encourage other companies, investors etc. to support such broad stakeholder engagement activities as well.

Additional research:

Bringing ESG Accountability to Global Supply Chains as of Oct. 30th, 2023 by Ingrid Cornander, Michael Jonas, and Daniel Weise from The Boston Consulting Group

Technology risk illustration with nuclear risk picture from Pixabay by clkr free vector images

Technology risks: Researchpost #139

Technology risks: 17x new research on SDGs, nuclear, blockchain and AI risks, innovation, climate, carbon offsets, ESG ratings, treasuries, backtests and trading, big data, forensic finance, private equity and other alternatives by Patrick Behr, Richard Ennis, Christian von Hirschhausen, Thierry Roncalli, Bernhard Schwetzler and many more (# shows SSRN downloads on August 17th, 2023):

Social and ecological research (Technology risks)

SDG or green? Take a Deep Breath! The Role of Meeting SDGs With Regard to Air Pollution in EU and ASEAN Countries by Huynh Truong Thi Ngoc, Florian Horky, and Chi Le Quoc as of July 10th, 2023 (#26): “First, the results show that in ASEAN countries, Goal 10 (Reduced Inequalities) has a negative correlation with most other SDGs while in the EU it shows a broadly positive correlation. … air pollution, particularly SO2 and CO emissions, is positively connected to most SDGs in ASEAN while the trend in the EU is not clear. This could be due to the rapid economic development in ASEAN nations as well …” (p. 19).

Nuclear risks: The Potential of Nuclear Power in the Context of Climate Change Mitigation -A Techno-Economic Reactor Technology Assessment by Fanny Böse, Alexander Wimmers, Björn Steigerwald, and Christian von Hirschhausen as of July 27th, 2023 (#17): “… we synthesize techno-economic aspects of potential new nuclear power plants differentiating between three different reactor technology types: light-water cooled reactors with high capacities (in the range or above 1,000 MWel), so-called SMRs (“small modular reactor”), i.e., light-water cooled reactors of lower power rating (< 300 MWel) (pursued, e.g., in the US, Canada, and the UK), and non-light water cooled reactors (“so-called new reactor” (SNR) concepts), focusing on sodium-cooled fast neutron reactors as well as high-temperature reactors. … Actual development .. shows an industry in decline and, if commercially available, lacking economic competitiveness in low-carbon energy markets for all reactor types. Literature shows that other reactor technologies are in the coming decades unlikely to be available on a scale that could impact climate change mitigation efforts. The techno-economic feasibility of nuclear power should thus be assessed more critically in future energy system scenarios“ (abstract).

Blockchain risks: On the Security of Optimistic Blockchain Mechanisms by Jiasun Li as of August 15th, 2023 (#68): “Many new blockchain applications … adopt an “optimistic” design, that is, the system proceeds as if all participants are well-behaving … We point out that such protocols cannot be secure if all participants are rational” (abstract). “Given that alternative solutions are still technically immature, … the community either has to deviate from its pursuit of decentralization and accept a system that relies on trusted entities, or accept that fact their systems cannot be 100% secure” (p. 33).

AI chains: Determining Our Future: How Artificial Intelligence Creates a Deterministic World by Yuval Goldfus and Niklas Eder as of Aug. 9th, 2023 (#22): “… we demonstrate that AI relies on a deterministic worldview, which contradicts our most fundamental cultural narratives. AI-based decision making systems turn predictions into self-fulfilling prophecies; not simply revealing the patterns underlying our world, but creating and enforcing them, to the detriment of the underprivileged, the exceptional, the unlikely. The widespread utilisation of AI dramatically aggravates the tension between the constraints of environment, society, and past behavior, and individuals’ ability to alter the course of their lives, and to be masters of their own fate. Exposing hidden costs of the economic exploitation of AI, the article facilitates a philosophical discussion on responsible uses. It provides foundations of an ethical principle which allows us to shape the employment of AI in a way which aligns with our narratives and values” (abstract). My comment: My opinion regarding AI for sustainable investments see How can sustainable investors benefit from artificial intelligence? – GITEX Impact – Leading ESG Event 2023

Musical therapy? The Value of Openness by Joshua Della Vedova, Stephan Siegel, and Mitch Warachka as of July 5th (#48): “We construct a novel proxy for openness using MSA-level data (Sö: US Metropolitan Statistical Areas) from radio station playlists. This proxy is based on the adoption of new music and varies significantly across MSAs. Empirically, we find a robust positive association between openness and proxies of value creation such as the number of new ventures funded by venture capital, the number of successful exits by new ventures, the proportion of growth firms, and Tobin’s q. … An instrumental variables procedure confirms that openness is highly persistent with variation across MSAs being evident more than a century before the start of our sample period. … our results are especially strong for young firms that are more likely to depend on new products“ (p. 26/27).

ESG and impact investing research

Climate stress: From Climate Stress Testing to Climate Value-at-Risk: A Stochastic Approach by Baptiste Desnos, Théo Le Guenedal, Philippe Morais, and Thierry Roncalli from Amundi as of July 5th, 2023 (697): „This paper proposes a comprehensive climate stress testing approach to measure the impact of transition risk on investment portfolios. … our framework considers a bottom-up approach and is mainly relevant for the asset management industry. … we model the distribution function of the carbon tax, provide an explicit specification of indirect carbon emissions in the supply chain, introduce pass-through mechanisms of carbon prices, and compute the probability distribution of potential (economic and financial) impacts in a Monte Carlo setting. Rather than using a single or limited set of scenarios, we use a probabilistic approach to generate thousands of simulated pathways” (abstract).

Disaster flows: Flight to climatic safety: local natural disasters and global portfolio flows by Fabrizio Ferriani,  Andrea Gazzani, and Filippo Natoli from the Bank of Italy as of July 5th, 2023 (#35): “… we find that local natural disasters have significant effects on global portfolio flows. First, when disasters strike, international investors reduce their net flows to equity mutual funds exposed to affected countries. This only happens when disasters occur in the emerging economies that are more exposed to climate risk. Second, natural disasters lead investors to reduce their portfolio flows into unaffected, high-climate-risk countries in the same region as well. Third, disasters in high-climate-risk emerging economies spur investment flows into advanced countries that are relatively safer from a climate risk standpoint“ (abstract).

Carbon offsets: Portfolio Allocation and Optimization with Carbon Offsets: Is it Worth the While? by Patrick Behr, Carsten Mueller, and Papa Orge as of Aug. 10th, 2023: “We explore whether the integration of carbon offsets into investment portfolios improves performance. … our results show that investment strategies that include such offsets broadly achieve higher Sharpe Ratios than the diversified benchmark, with the long-short strategy performing best”.

Useless ratings? ESG Ratings Management by Jess Cornaggia and Kimberly Cornaggia as of July 27th, 2023 (#92): “We use data from an ESG rater that incorporates feedback from firms during the rating process and produces ratings at a monthly frequency. We … find that when the rater changes the weight it applies to certain criteria in the creation of its ESG ratings, firms respond by adjusting their reported ESG behavior in the same month. … we do not observe real changes in the likelihood that firms are embroiled in ESG controversies, or that they reduce their release of toxic chemicals because of these adjustments. Rather, it appears firms “manage” their ESG ratings for the benefit of ESG-conscious investors and customers” (p. 26/27). My comment: I do not use market leading MSCI or ISS or Sustainalytics ratings and also because of my custom rating profile (Best-in-Universe with specific approach to treat missing data) the risk of such ratings management should be low, see Noch eine Fondsboutique? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)

AI and other investment research (Technology risks)

ETFs effect Treasuries: ETF Dividend Cycles by Pekka Honkanen, Yapei Zhang, and Tong Zhou as of Aug. 10th, 2023 (#340): “… in the “ETF dividend cycle,” ETFs accumulate incoming corporate dividends in MMFs (Sö: Money Market Funds)  gradually but withdraw them abruptly in large amounts when they themselves have to pay dividends to investors. … This … leads to large, sudden outflows from MMFs, forcing these funds to liquidate some of their underlying assets. We find that these liquidations are concentrated in short-term Treasury bonds. … in the aggregate time series, an ETF dividend distribution event of average size leads to increases in short-term Treasury yields by approximately 0.38-0.58 basis points. … The total value fluctuation in the Treasury market could be considerable, as ETFs distribute dividends on 205 trading days in 2019, for example” (p. 9/10).

Backtest-problems: Market Returns Are Estimated with Error. How Much Error? by Edward F. McQuarrie as of July 24th, 2023 (#30): “For periods beginning 1926, it is conventional to suppose that historical market returns are known with reasonable accuracy. This paper challenges that comfortable certainty. Multiple indexes of market return are examined to show that return estimates do not closely agree across indexes and are unstable within index over time. The paper concludes that two-decimal precision—to the whole percentage point, with an error band of plus or minus one percentage point—would better reflect the accuracy of historical estimates of annual market return” (abstract).

Easy profits: Intraday Stock Predictability Everywhere by Fred Liu, and Lars Stentoft as of July 5th, 2023 (#1167): “First, we demonstrate that the market and sector portfolios are highly predictable. … we show that portfolio profitability mostly remains high after accounting for transaction costs, and is largely orthogonal to common risk factors. … we further exploit machine learning forecasts of individual stocks by constructing machine learning intraday portfolios, and demonstrate that a long-short portfolio achieves a Sharpe ratio of up to 4 after transaction costs. … demonstrate that less liquid firms are more predictable and firms which are more actively traded and volatile tend to be more profitable … intraday predictability and profitability generally decrease as the time horizon increases” (p. 28/29). My comment: If this is so easy, why do Quant funds typically disappoint? The information is important for stock trading, though (for my trading approach see Artikel 9 Fonds: Sind 50% Turnover ok? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (prof-soehnholz.com)).

Satellite vs. people: Displaced by Big Data: Evidence from Active Fund Managers by Maxime Bonelli and Thierry Foucault as of Aug. 2nd, 2023 (#325): “We test whether the availability of satellite imagery data tracking retailer firms’ parking lots affects the stock picking abilities of active mutual fund managers in stocks covered by this data. … we find that active mutual funds’ stock picking ability declines in covered stocks after the introduction of satellite imagery data for these stocks. This decline is particularly pronounced for funds that heavily rely on traditional sources of expertise, indicating that these managers are at a higher risk of being displaced by new data sources“ (p. 29/30).

AI bubble? Artificial Intelligence in Finance: Valuations and Opportunities by Yosef Bonaparte as of August 15th, 2023 (#65): “First, we display the current and projected AI revenue by sector, technology type, and geography. Second, present valuation model to AI stocks and ETFs that accounts for AI sentiment as well as fundamental analyses. Our findings demonstrate that the AI revenue will pass $2.7 trillion in the next 10 years, where the service AI technology stack will contain 75% of the market share (as of 2023 it is 50% of the market share). As for AI stock valuation, we present two main models to adopt when we value stocks“ (abstract).

Bad finance: What is Forensic Finance? by John M. Griffin and Samuel Kruger as of Aug. 10th, 2023 (#467): “We survey a growing field studying aspects of finance that are potentially illegal, illicit, or immoral. Some of the literature is investigative in nature to uncover malfeasance that is recent and possibly ongoing. … The work spans newer areas such as cryptocurrencies, financial advisor and broker misconduct, and greenwashing; and newer research in established fields that are still developing, such as insider trading, structured finance, market manipulation, political connections, public finance, and corporate fraud. We highlight investigative forensic finance, common economic questions, common empirical methods, industry and political opposition, censoring, and the importance of avoiding publication biases“ (abstract).

Specialist PE: Specialization in Private Equity and Corporate Financial Distress by Benjamin Hammer, Robert Loos, Lukas Andreas Oswald, and Bernhard Schwetzler as of Aug. 7th, 2023 (#384): “We investigate the impact of industry specialization of private equity firms on financial distress risk of portfolio companies … Difference-in-differences estimates suggest an increase in distress risk through private equity backing. The effect is stronger for specialist-backed firms than for generalist-backed firms relative to a carefully matched control group. However, specialist-backed firms can afford the increase in distress risk because they are less risky than generalist-backed firms before the buyout. Overall, our findings are consistent with the idea that greater idiosyncratic risk in specialized PE portfolios induces more risk-averse target selection” (abstract).

Costly diversification: Have Alternative Investments Helped or Hurt? by Richard M. Ennis as of August 3rd, 2023 (#135): “This paper shows that since the GFC (Sö: Global Financial Crisis in 2007/2008), US public-sector pension funds’ exposure to alternative investments is strongly associated with a reduction in alpha of approximately 1.2 percentage points per year relative to passive investment. While exposure to private equity has arguably neither helped nor hurt, both real estate and hedge fund exposures have detracted significantly from performance. Institutional investors should consider whether continuing to invest in alts warrants the time, expense and reduced liquidity associated with them” (p. 11).

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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 28 of 30 engaged companiesFutureVest Equity Sustainable Development Goals R – DE000A2P37T6 – A2P37T; also see Active or impact investing? – (prof-soehnholz.com)

ESG AI: Picture from Gordon Johnson from Pixabay to illustrate green or ESG AI

ESG AI: Researchpost #125

ESG AI: >10x new research on climate AI models (for banks), CO2 removal, bridge technology risks, human capital, ESG risk management and ESG bullshit, government greenium, double materiality and listed impact investing and industry versus regional diversification by Markus Leippold, Marco Wilkens, Johannes Leister, Ottmar Edenhofen, Timo Busch, Andreas Hoepner and many more (# indicates the number of SSRN downloads on April 30th, 2023)

Social and ecological research: ESG AI

Climate LLM: Enhancing Large Language Models with Climate Resources (ESG AI) by Mathias Kraus, Julia Anna Bingler, Markus Leippold, Tobias Schimanski, Chiara Colesanti Senni, Dominik Stammbach, Saeid Ashraf Vaghefi, Nicolas Webersinke as of April 17th, 2023 (#114): “Our prototype LLM agent retrieves information from general Google searches and emission data from ClimateWatch to provide reliable and accurate information. Through two exemplary experiments, we showcase how such an LLM agent can operate to enhance the accuracy and reliability of climate-related text generation. This work contributes to the exploration of LLM applications in domains where up-to-date and accurate information is critical …” (p. 6).

Complex climate scenarios: Klima-Szenarioanalysen in Banken (ESG AI) von Marco Wilkens und Johannes Leister vom April 2023: “… supervisory-motivated climate scenario analyses build on „traditional scenario analyses“ for assessing market and economic risks, but they are much more complex. This is in particular due to the need to model the interrelationship between climate data and macroeconomic data and the significantly much longer period under consideration. In addition, there is very little empirical data available for mapping climate risks, which is needed for econometric modeling of relevant relationships. Moreover, these long time periods require considerations of how banks and bank customers act over time. However, taking into account resulting dynamic bank balance sheets lead to hardly comparable results between banks. … this allows primarily a relative estimation of climate-related risks between banks than a realistic and comprehensive estimation of climate-related credit risks for individual banks. … In summary, we see climate scenario analyses as one of several important tools for transforming both the financial industry and the real economy toward the green economy“ (abstract).

Tricky CO2 removal: On the Governance of Carbon Dioxide Removal – A Public Economics Perspective by Ottmar Edenhofer, Max Franks, Matthias Kalkuhl, and Artur Runge-Metzger as of April 19th, 2023 (#25): “This paper highlights the importance of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies for climate policy. We … discuss removal costs and storage duration of different technologies. … seemingly cheap removal technologies in the land sector can indeed be very expensive when increasing opportunity costs and and impermanence are appropriately accounted for. The use of non-permanent removal – though to a certain extent economically optimal – creates high liability to firms and regulators that warrants a careful and deliberative risk management“ (abstract).

Human-Climate relations: Climate Changes Affect Human Capital by Germán Caruso, Inés de Marcos, and Ilan Noy as of April 19th, 2023 (#13): “… we provide a framework for analyzing the multiple interlinkages between climate change and human capital … The framework presents two channels through which human capital is affected: direct effects on health, nutrition, and wellbeing, and indirect effects through changes in economic systems, markets, and through damage to infrastructure. … For mitigation and adaptation, we find that while these are overall clearly beneficial, they are also associated with significant human capital costs for specific sectors and groups in society. … Since there is also evidence that high human capital improves adaptation and mitigation, this suggests that adaptation and mitigation that accounts and compensates for these ‘sectoral’ losses can create a virtuous cycle that leads to positive outcomes for both climatic action and human capital“ (abstract). My comment: My fund focuses on human/social and climate topics, see Artikel 9 Fonds: Kleine Änderungen mit großen Wirkungen? – (prof-soehnholz.com)

Responsible investment research

Risky bridges: Bridge technologies from a sustainable finance perspective by Timo Busch, Tanja Ohlson, Ana Sarantidi, and Özüm Yenen as of March 2023: “The interviewees identified risks related to a particular bridge technology, in our case LNG infrastructure, risks that stemmed from the classification of the investment into bridge technologies, and risks to the own organizations mainly in the reputational context. These risks often led to a low appetite for investing in bridge technologies. However, the asset managers also recommended that these risks could be minimized by providing a more transparent and reliable path forward for the “end of bridge” phase of the technology. In the LNG case this relates to the future utilization of hydrogen. Moreover, a classification scheme and related label for transition finance products could help increase the attractiveness of bridge technology investments, and better communication and science-based long-term decision making would help minimize risks in the context of the bridge technology” (p. 50).

Less (ESG) bullshit: Bloated Disclosures: Can ChatGPT Help Investors Process Information? (ESG AI) by Alex G. Kim, Maximilian Muhn, and Valeri V. Nikolaev as of April 27th, 2023 (#443): “By summarizing a large sample of corporate disclosures with GPT-3.5- Turbo, we show that the length of the summaries is shortened by as much as 80%, on average. Importantly, the obtained summaries appear to provide more relevant insights as compared to the underlying raw documents. Specifically, we show that summarized sentiment better explains cumulative abnormal returns around disclosure dates than raw sentiment. Building on this insight, we construct a novel and easy-to-implement measure of the degree of “bloat” in textual disclosures. … We show that bloated disclosures are associated with slower price discovery and higher information asymmetry, thus implying negative capital market consequences. Finally, we show that GPT is useful to investors interested in targeted summaries related to important topics, such as a summary of ESG-related activities” (p. 24/25).

Good E/S/G risk management: How ESG risk management can impact security risk by Miranda Carr, Yuliya Plyakha Ferenc, Blessy Varghese, Zoltán Nagy, and Guido Giese from MSCI ESG Research as of April 13th, 2023: “Our findings indicate that companies with higher E and S risk management and governance scores, and consequently higher ESG Ratings, than their peer groups had lower stock-specific risk than their peers during the 2017-2022 time period. … A key element behind this lower risk profile is … how the company itself managed these risks … our findings demonstrated that E and S risk management adds valuable informational content in portfolio management. … For social key issues, management metrics include elements such as the promotion of training and development of the workforce for companies in knowledge-intensive industries, transparency and visibility over the supply chain for companies in the retail industry, robust health and safety policies for companies in the consumer-durables sector and positive community relations for companies in the mining industry“ (p. 14). My comment: My engagement policy focuses on several of these topics see Shareholder engagement: 21 science based theses and an action plan – (prof-soehnholz.com)

Government greenium? How Large is the Sovereign Greenium? by Sakai Ando, Chenxu Fu, Francisco Roch and Ursula Wiriadinata as of April 19th, 2023 (#18): “This paper is the first empirical study to estimate the sovereign greenium using both the twin bonds issued by Denmark and Germany, and panel regression analysis. While the estimated greenium in this paper is not large, it has been increasing over time alongside the level of sovereign green bond issuances. Whether the administrative costs associated with green bond issuance exceed the benefit is a country-specific question … It remains an open question whether the purpose of the project associated with the green bond is a key determinant of the greenium, and whether green bonds have resulted in the climate outcomes they intended to achieve” (p. 11/12).

Double materiality: Beyond Climate: ‚EU Taxonomy‘ Criteria, Materiality, and CDS Term Structure by Andreas G. F. Hoepner, Johannes Klausmann, Markus Leippold, and Jordy Rillaerts as of April 18th, 2023: “… the risks associated with water and biodiversity impacting a firm are perceived to be long-term issues, as evidenced by significantly negative effects on CDS slopes. The negative effects are weaker but still significant for pollution prevention, also suggesting a long-term vision. The financing benefits due to a firm’s commitment to pollution prevention, however, have stronger long-term implications rather than short-term advantages. In contrast, a firm’s impact on biodiversity has no such timing differential, revealing a more imminent awareness. … Overall, our findings identify the long-term focus on infrastructure firms’ financing conditions with regard to the environmental topics covered in the latest EU taxonomy beyond climate change. Moreover, they highlight the importance of considering both materiality sides, i.e., the impact of the environment on firms and the impact of firms on the environment“ (p. 23).

Listed impact? Guidance for Pursuing Impact in Listed Equities by the Global Impact Investing Network as of March 30th, 2023: “Developed with input from over 100 investors, Guidance for Pursuing Impact in Listed Equities uses the GIIN’s “Core Characteristics of Impact Investing” to provide baseline practices and expectations for asset managers seeking to achieve positive impacts in listed equities. The guidance is structured around four main aspects of listed equities impact investing: setting fund/portfolio strategy, portfolio design and selection, engagement and performance data usage. Additionally, it introduces two key concepts, investor contribution and theory of change, that investors should consider when designing and managing listed equities impact funds”.

Traditional investment research

Good industry diversification: Market Segmentation and International Diversification Across Country and Industry Portfolios by Mehmet Umutlu, Seher Gören Yargı and Adam Zaremba as of April 14th, 2023 (#22): “We conjecture that partially segmented stock indexes that are characterized by low correlation with the world market are mainly priced by local factors and should produce abnormal returns relative to a global asset-pricing model. This implies a negative relation between correlation and future index returns in the presence of segmented indexes. Empirical evidence confirms such a relationship for the sample of industry indexes, suggesting a heterogeneous segmentation. Nonetheless, we do not observe a similar pattern for country indexes. Thus, cross-industry diversification is superior to cross-country diversification. The international diversification potential of industries does not vanish during volatile periods” (abstract).

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Heidebild als Illustration für Proven Impact Investing

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Ecological and social research

More homework: Working from home around the world by Cevat Giray Aksoy, Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, Steven J. Davis, Mathias Dolls, and Pablo Zarate as of September 19, 2022 (#13): “… we survey full-time workers who finished primary school in 27 countries as of mid 2021 and early 2022. … first, that WFH averages 1.5 days per week in our sample, ranging widely across countries. Second, employers plan an average of 0.7 WFH days per week after the pandemic, but workers want 1.7 days. Third, employees value the option to WFH 2-3 days per week at 5 percent of pay … employer plans for WFH levels after the pandemic rise strongly with WFH productivity surprises during the pandemic” (abstract).

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ESG regulation: Das Bild von Thomas Hartmann zeigt Blumen in Celle

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Bild zum Beitrag ESG skeptical zeigt eine Ansicht einer Allee aus dem Celler Französischen Garten

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