ESG Bluff: Picture from pixabay by May Leroy shows dices etc.

ESG bluff? Researchpost #164

ESG bluff: 10x new research on Swiss/sustainable retail, lab meat, Weimar politics, sustainable women, SDG financial research, green funds, real estate ESG, free trading governance effects and bond factors (#shows the number of SSRN full paper downloads as of February 22nd, 2024)

Social and ecological research (in: ESG bluff?)

Sustainable retail (English version below): Ausgebummelt – Wege des Handels aus der Spass- und Sinnkrise by Gianluca Scheidegger, Johannes Bauer, and Jan Bieser as of Dec. 7th, 2023 (#21): „Die Zeit wird neu verteilt: Was keine Freude oder Sinn stiftet, wird gestrichen … Nachhaltiger Konsum gewinnt an Bedeutung … Umfassend informiert: KI erleichtert die Produktsuche für Konsument:innen …Auf einer Linie: Persönliche Werte werden bei der Produkt- und Händlerwahl entscheidend: Purpose-driven Consumers sind die weltweit größte Kundengruppe. Tendenz steigend. Diese Kund:innen kaufen nur bei Firmen ein, die ihre Werte teilen. Die Konsument:innen erwarten in Zukunft mehr von den Unternehmen. Händler müssen Stellung zu gesellschaftlichen Problemen beziehen und aktiv zu ihrer Lösung beitragen. Die gute Nachricht ist: Die Menschen trauen dies den Unternehmen zu. Jedem Kanal seine Rolle: Transaktion primär online, Inspiration eher offline. Schnell und nachhaltig: … Händler, die beide Ansprüche unter einen Hut bekommen, verschaffen sich einen klaren Wettbewerbsvorteil“ (p. 84).

Sustainable retail (German version above): Going shopping is dead – How to Restore Meaning and Fun in Retail by Gianluca Scheidegger, Johannes Bauer and Jan Bieser as of Dec. 4th, 2023 (#17): “Time is being reallocated: what’s not fun or meaningful will be crossed off the schedule … Sustainable consumption is gaining in importance Overconsumption has a massive impact on the environment. … Fully informed: AI facilitates consumers’ searches for products … In aligment: personal values becoming decisive in choosing products and retailers Purpose-driven consumers are the largest customer group worldwide. This trend is rising. These customers only buy from companies that share their values. Consumers will expect more from companies in the future. Retailers must take a stand on social problems and actively contribute to solving them. The good news is that people trust companies to do this. Each channel has its role: transactions primarily online, inspiration mostly offline … Fast and sustainable: delivery under greater scrutiny … The fastest form of delivery is often not the most sustainable. Retailers who can reconcile both requirements gain a clear competitive advantage“ (p. 84).

Lab meat: Good conscience from the lab? The State of Acceptance for Cultivated Meat by Christine Schäfer, Petra Tipaldi and Johannes C. Bauer as of Jan. 8th, 2024 (#12; German version: Gutes Gewissen aus dem Labor? So steht es um die Akzeptanz von kultiviertem Fleisch by Christine Schäfer, Petra Tipaldi, Johannes Bauer :: SSRN, #26): “Lab-grown meat instead of beef fillet, cell-cultured patties instead of burgers – for many Swiss people this sounds far from appetising. A mere 20% would even try cultivated meat, whilst 15% remain undecided. … The Swiss population is also sceptical about other kinds of novel foods, such as insects or coffee made from mushrooms. There are, however, customer groups who may be more inclined to tuck into a steaming plate of crispy lab-grown schnitzel: They are young, male, educated, mainly live in the city, already have experience with a particular diet, such as vegetarian or low carb, and know a lot about sustainable food. … Lab-grown meat is one such example of a novel food. It is cultivated from stem cells in a bioreactor and has many advantages, namely that factory farming and the use of antibiotics are all but eliminated, less space and water is needed for production, no rainforests need to be cut down to cultivate animal feed and the combination of nutrients in the meat can be adapted to specific target groups. But there are risks …. the production facilities needed eat up enormous amounts of energy … Lab-grown meat is still hard to find on the market. Customers can only taste chicken derived from cellular agriculture in a few restaurants in Singapore and the USA at the moment. As yet, it has not been approved anywhere in Europe“ (p. 2). My comment: I am skeptical about the ecological footprint and market potential of lab meat compared to plant-based meat alternatives.

Sustainable women: Sustainable leadership among financial managers in Spain: a gender issue by Elena Bulmer, Iván Zamarrón, and Benito Yáñez-Araque as of Dec. 29th, 2023 (#13): “A total of 131 senior financial managers (106 men and 25 women), from various sectors in Spanish companies (a multi-sector study), responded to two scales: the Honeybee Sustainable Leadership Scale (focusing on stakeholder orientation and a vision of social and shared leadership) and the Locust Leadership Scale (primarily centered on achieving short-term profits at any cost). … The main finding was that female financial managers scored significantly higher on the Honeybee Leadership Scale compared to their male counterparts, signifying that female presence is key to sustainable leadership” (abstract).

Deglobalization effect? The consequences of a trade collapse: Economics and politics in Weimar Germany by Björn Brey and Giovanni Facchini as of Jan. 17th, 2024 (#18): “What are the political consequences of de-globalization? We address this question in the context of Weimar Germany, which experienced a 67% decline in exports between 1928-1932. During this period, the Nazi party vote share increased from 3% to 37%. … we show that this surge was not driven by the direct effects of the export decline in manufacturing areas. At the same time, trade shock-induced declines in food prices spread economic hardship to rural hinterlands. We document that this indirect effect and the pro-agriculture policies put forward by the Nazis are instead key to explain their electoral success” (abstract).

Responsible investment research (in. ESG bluff?)

SDG research: Finance Research and the UN Sustainable Development Goals – an analysis and forward look by Yang Sua, Brian M. Lucey, and Ashish Kumar Jha as of Feb. 13th, 2024 (#183): “This study conducts a comprehensive analysis of the interplay between the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and scholarly output in financial journals from 2010 to 2022. … The findings demonstrate a focus within finance research on Economic Growth (Goal 8) and Peace and Justice (Goal 16), while also identifying areas that warrant further scholarly attention” (abstract). My comment: For mutual funds it seems to be easiest to focus on SDGs 3 (Health), 7 (Energy) and 9 (Industry/Infrastructure). That is my experience with a bottom-up stock selection approach, see “Nachhaltigkeitsreport”.

ESG bluff? Sustainable in Name Only? Does Bluffing or Impact Explain Success in a Moral Market? by Kevin Chuah and Witold Henisz as of Feb. 13th, 2024 (#16): “… US-domiciled equity-focused investment funds that are labeled as focusing on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. Although we find that product success in terms of investment inflows is more likely for funds with better ESG performance, the draw of larger fund operators and of superior financial returns remains substantial. We further segment our sample, finding that segments offering lower levels of ESG engagement achieve inflows that are unrelated to ESG performance, yet are a substantial part of the overall market. This suggests that bluffing by large product providers may undermine genuine attempts at social impact in moral markets“ (abstract). My comment: It certainly seems to help to grow fund assets to have huge marketing power and good returns, recently often based on high allocations to the glorious 7 which I do not consider to be very sustainable, see Glorreiche 7: Sind sie unsozial? – Responsible Investment Research Blog (

Green disadvantage? Carbon Risk Pricing or Climate Catering? The Impact of Morningstar’s Low Carbon Designation on Fund Performance by K. Stephen Haggard, Jeffrey S. Jones , H. Douglas Witte, and C. Edward Chang as of Jan. 18th, 2024 (#21): “Our results show insignificant performance differences between Low Carbon Designated (LCD) funds and non-LCD funds for the most recent (three-year) period. For longer periods of five and ten years, we observe excess performance only for the Sharpe and Sortino ratios, but not for Total Return or the Treynor ratio. … our results are consistent with a catering hypothesis of climate investing. Initially, investors seeking low-carbon investments bid up the prices of low-carbon stocks. Firms respond by seeking Low Carbon Designations, whether through real efforts or greenwashing. Once enough low-carbon stocks are available to meet the demand of the lowcarbon clientele, the premium associated with low carbon disappears“ (p. 17). My comment: If low LCD funds have similar performance as high carbon funds, why invest in the latter?

Green disadvantage? Doing Good and Doing Well: The Relationships between ESG and Stock Returns of REITs by Neo Jing Rui Dominic and Sing Tien Foo as of Jan. 29th, 2024 (#31): “Using a sample of 413 REITs from both the US and other developed countries covering the period from 2018 to 2022 …We find that REITs with an ESG rating have a lower price return of 0.8% relative to REITs not assessed for ESG. … The results show that the total returns of the ESG-rated REITs were even lower when the climate change risks increased, or more specifically, when investors became more salient about climate change news, they increased their preference for ESG-rated REITs, thus reducing the total return of REITs. … we find that higher compliance and operation costs for REITs with strong ESG agendas, which may come in the form of higher compensation for the Board and Senior Management, who take on more ESG responsibilities, may have a negative impact on the ESG-rated REIT stock performance“ (p. 19/20). My comment: The higher compensation for REIT Boards and Senior Management with the associated higher pay gap compared to median employee should be explored further. With my shareholder engagement strategy I try to alert regarding this issue, see Shareholder engagement: 21 science based theses and an action plan – (

Retail anti-governance? Retail Investors and Corporate Governance: Evidence from Zero-Commission Trading by Dhruv Aggarwal, Albert H. Choi, and Yoon-Ho Alex Lee as of Feb. 9th, 2024 (#102): “We examine the effects of the sudden abolition of trading commissions by major online brokerages in 2019, which lowered stock market entry costs for retail investors, on corporate governance. … Firms with positive abnormal returns in response to commission-free trading subsequently saw a decrease in institutional ownership, a decrease in shareholder voting, and a deterioration in environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) metrics. Finally, these firms were more likely to adopt bylaw amendments to reduce the percentage of shares needed for a quorum at shareholder meetings” (abstract).

Other investment research (in: ESG bluff)

Few good bond factors: The Corporate Bond Factor Zoo by Alexander Dickerson, Christian Julliard, and Philippe Mueller as of Nov. 14th, 2023 (#1299): “We find that the majority of tradable factors designed to price corporate bonds are unlikely sources of priced risk, and that only one factor, capturing the post-earnings an-nouncement drift in corporate bonds, which has not been utilized in prior asset pricing models, should be included in any stochastic discount factor (SDF) with very high probability. Furthermore, we find that nontradable factors capturing inflation volatility risk … and the term structure yield spread … as well as the return on a broad based bond market index, are likely components of the SDF” (p. 37/38).


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