ESG IS FREE

When it comes to making smart investing decisions, data is king. And in an investing landscape where every trader has cheap access to core financial data, a trader with access to a unique dataset that is not widely available to the public can act on this powerful information to generate alpha. These alpha-generating undiscovered data assets are called alternative data - and they’re one of the fastest growing data sources on Wall Street. Hundreds of firms and hedge funds are incorporating alternative datasets into their models in order to derive profit-generating insights

Datasets comprised of satellite imagery, geo-location data, and social media data are just a few of a vast number of alternative data sources that have yet to undergo widespread adoption by the investment community. For example, when JCPenney announced better than expected earnings for Q2 2015, most investors were taken by surprise. A few hedge funds, however, were not surprised due to an obscure dataset of satellite imagery provided by RS metrics, which showed an increase in foot traffic in JCPenney parking lots.

The hedge funds were able to make a 10% profit in two days all thanks to their access to an alternative dataset. 

Unlike RS metrics’ satellite imagery data, ESG data is available at no cost to anyone with a Bloomberg terminal.

The growing dataset of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data is one of these alternative methods that fund managers are turning towards in an effort to generate alpha for investors. Multiple studies have verified that in the long run, companies with sustainable business practices generate higher returns with lower volatility compared to the market as a whole.

The “E” of ESG represents the ‘Environmental’ impact of a company including its carbon emissions, natural capital, renewable energy, and water stress.
Next, the “S” stands for ‘Social’ and pertains to the data surrounding human capital, labor standards, privacy and data security, and stakeholder opposition.
And finally, the “G” is short for ‘Governance’, taking into account data about the board, pay, corruption, and business ethics and fraud.

Recent scandals such as Volkswagen’s violation of the Clean Air Act, Facebook’s data privacy issues with the Cambridge Analytica breach, and Wells Fargo’s account fraud are examples of how Environmental, Social and Governance can present themselves as portfolio risk, respectively. The Volkswagen emissions and cheating scandal, for example, resulted in the stock shedding nearly a quarter of its value.

Why has ESG just recently become a consideration in portfolio construction?

The emergence of quality ESG data sources is largely responsible for facilitating the increased adoption of this alternative data asset. The percentage of corporations in the S&P 500 publishing sustainability reports has risen from just under 20% in 2011 to 85% in 2017. Similarly, across the Atlantic the European Union has mandated companies with over 500 employees to report certain ESG data.

 

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This deluge of information is being analyzed by investment research companies such as Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg, which produce sustainability datasets with actionable insights. With the increased availability of public ESG data, and coupled with fundamental analysis, ESG has emerged as a powerful tool for alpha generation.

We are living in an era of unprecedented transparency – modern technology enables us to collect and analyze a massive amount of data, sustainability reporting is becoming the expectation rather than the exception, and social movements such as #metoo bring previously suppressed voices to the forefront.

Now that we have the data and the technology, ESG investing is the data-driven way to invest in better run companies. Companies with the strongest track records on environmental sustainability and employee relations are more likely to have better long-term performance than those with the weakest records.

The data is out there at virtually no cost, so why wouldn’t you or your Financial Advisor use it to your advantage?

Author: Shivam Patel, High School Junior & Editorial Intern


Sources:

Eccles, Robert, et al. “The Impact of Corporate Sustainability on Organizational Processes and Performance.” Harvard Business Review, 2014.

Kresge, Naomi, and Richard Weiss. “Volkswagen Drops 23% After Admitting Diesel Emissions Cheat.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 21 Sept. 2015, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-21/volkswagen-drops-15-after-admitting-u-s-diesel-emissions-cheat.

“Non-Financial Reporting.” European Commission - European Commission, 14 Dec. 2017, ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/company-reporting-and-auditing/company-reporting/non-financial-reporting_en.

“2005 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500.” Women in Management Review, vol. 21, no. 6, 2006, doi:10.1108/wimr.2006.05321fab.001.

Zlotnicka, Eva, and Lin Lin. “A Framework for Gender Diversity in the Workplace.”Morganstanley.com, 31 Mar. 2016, linkback.morganstanley.com/web/sendlink/webapp/f/48lii6g4-3pfn-g001-a95b-005056013400?store=0&d=UwBSZXNlYXJjaF9NUwA0Y2JhNjRhYS1lYmFkLTExZTUtODkwZC01ODE5YTBmMGFjNDI%3D&user=dc5x8vusckszb-1&__gda__=1585560191_cef9ab0dce0d5c07e768b773fbe18ad1.

Ekwurzel, B., et al. “The Rise in Global Atmospheric CO2, Surface Temperature, and Sea Level from Emissions Traced to Major Carbon Producers.” SpringerLink, Springer Netherlands, 7 Sept. 2017, link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-017-1978-0.

If You Hate Fox News Why Are They One of Your Investment Holdings?

As a member of Gen Z, the #neveragain movement stands as a symbol of the massive political change my generation can enact. We have the power to have our voices heard and we are demanding change. The leaders of the #neveragain movement, who are high school students just like me, serve as a source of inspiration and give us hope that we can change the world we are going to inherit.

Unable to vote, but armed with a smartphone, David Hogg is taking on gun reform in a new arena – Corporate America.

Hogg was in AP environmental science in Parkland, Florida, when a legally purchased AR-15 in the hands of a 19-year old began firing. Hiding in a closet, he recorded interviews of his fellow students in case they did not survive the event. Since then, Hogg has been an integral voice in the #neveragain movement and has amassed a Twitter following exceeding 750k.

While David and his fellow Parkland pupils have their eyes set on the 2018 midterm elections, the #neveragain movement has already engendered meaningful action by some of America’s largest corporations. 

We have seen a backlash against the gun industry that extends from gun manufacturers to consumer brands publicly distance themselves from the NRA.

Most recently, we have seen David Hogg’s representation take action against Fox News in response to Laura Ingraham’s tweet on March 28th – see below.

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What is the intention behind Ingraham’s tweet? Personally, I see no other intention other than to discredit Hogg, a 17-year-old mass murder survivor fighting for change.  

As a true Gen Zer, Hogg replied the same day on Twitter, calling for his (then) 600k followers to urge advertisers to boycott Ingraham’s show.

Less than a month later, 19 advertisers have dropped sponsorship of the show. Ingraham’s on-air advertising has dropped from an average of 14.5 minutes to about 7 minutes following the aftermath of the Ingraham’s tweet. In an industry reliant on advertising, that is not a good sign for Laura.

Clearly, a growing number of consumers are repulsed by networks such as Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting. Let’s not forget Fox News’ other disgraced hosts Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Charles Payne who were all ousted from the network after news of numerous sexual assault allegations against them came became public knowledge.

David Hogg can’t even vote in this country, but he and his fellow Parkland activists are using all the tools they have to be heard. They have uncovered a path to gun reform that skirts politics and directly asks our nation’s largest corporations to enact change.

If you disagree with Fox News' stance on gun reform, does your investment portfolio reflect the same sentiment?

Even with such animosity towards these networks, many investors - whether they are cognizant of it or not - continue to hold shares of these companies in their portfolios. In fact, anyone owning an SP500 index fund owns 21st Century Fox, which in turn owns Fox News.

While it can be difficult to exercise ethical preferences within retirement plan structures such as 401(k) and 403(b), anyone owning passive index funds within taxable accounts can find actively-managed options that exclude specific holdings.

Investors have the choice to minimize portfolio risk and align capital with their belief systems by filtering funds that hold Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting. It’s a win-win situation

About the Author:

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Shivam Patel is the newest member of Stance Capital. A current high school junior, Shivam has a deep interest in mathematical finance and sustainable investing. In addition to his work at Stance Capital as the Editorial Intern, Shivam conducts research at Stanford University under Professor Fuhito Kojima. 

Stance Capital: The Evolving Role of Sustainable Investing Webinar

In case you missed it, you can view a recording of our webinar, "Stance Capital: The Evolving Role of Sustainable Investing" here: https://www.anymeeting.com/yglugvdhcilbhk/E957DE88854730

Now there is a lot more data to work with, which means it’s no longer about negative screening, it’s also about building portfolios around companies who, relative to their industry group peers, are doing a better job of mitigating specific environmental, social, governance, and other off-balance sheet risks
— Bill Davis, Managing Director & Portfolio Manager

Below are a few excerpted slides from Bill Davis' presentation.

Press Release: Stance Equity divests Facebook, Inc.

March 22, 2018

PRESS RELEASE - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Stance Equity ESG Large Cap Core divests from Facebook, Inc.

BOSTON, March 22, 2018

Stance Equity ESG Large Cap Core, an actively-managed quantitative approach to investing in U.S. companies in a large cap index that demonstrate management focus on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) sustainability factors, announced today that it will be divesting from Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ: FB).

In the wake of revelations that election data company Cambridge Analytica was able to access data of 50 million Facebook users, and given Facebook’s complacency with respect to the proliferation of fake news during the 2016 election cycle, Stance Equity will be selling its holdings in Facebook.

“While it is clear Facebook was initially unaware of the contractual breach that caused data on 50 million users to end up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica,” said Bill Davis, Founder and Portfolio Manager, "it is also clear that once Facebook learned of the situation in 2015, they lacked the willpower to address the problem and develop systems to responsibly protect user data. Indeed Facebook has been completely silent on this issue until it became headline news”.

About Stance Capital

Stance Capital is a Massachusetts-based Registered Investment Advisor focused on constructing public equity portfolios that mitigate material risk and allow clients to align their capital with their belief systems.

 

Stance Capital Media Relations:
Serena Fagan
857.753.1276
sfagan@stancecap.com

Heaven and Hell

There’s an old joke about the definition of heaven and hell in Europe. I first heard it attributed to Malcolm Forbes, but that may be unfair. It goes like this:

Heaven is where the English are the police, the French are the chefs, the Germans are the auto mechanics, the Swiss are the bankers, and the Italians are the lovers. And hell is where the Germans are the police, the English are the chefs, the French are the auto mechanics, the Italians are the bankers, and the Swiss are the lovers.

Europe has changed since the joke was first penned, so apologies to European chefs, auto mechanics, police, bankers, and of course, lovers. I share this because it reminds me of the upside-down nature of heaven and hell in America.

In my view, heaven in America is where corporations focus on creating long term shareholder value, while being thoughtful stewards of the environment and the communities in which they operate. And governments, (local, state and federal) focus on representing the will of the people. To play this out, "hell," then, would be corporations focusing on representing the will of the people and government focusing on profit maximization.

So are we living in hell? The answer is decidedly yes. Check out a recent piece in The Atlantic by Derek Thompson that articulates an emerging “corporatocracy” filling a vacuum left by legislative paralysis.

Thomson reasons that a number of forces have come together to make Parkland more than just another school shooting and big corporations can no longer afford to stand on the sidelines. What’s interesting to me is that it’s not just the 20 or so companies that provided discounts to NRA members that have fled. The NRA/assault weapons divestment movement has expanded to include retailers such as Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and a division of Kroger taking action. Due to Congress' inability to agree on raising the gun purchase minimum age from 18 to 21, these retailers will do so themselves.

And just yesterday, a Vancouver firm, Mountain Equipment Co-op, announced it will no longer source any product from Vista Outdoor, a gun and ammo manufacturer that sells assault rifles through one of its divisions. The most interesting thing about this announcement is that Mountain Equipment doesn’t sell guns or ammo. They are a health, fitness and outdoor living company, and buy products such as Bushnell binoculars from Vista. Not anymore. A few hours later, REI indicated it would no longer be ordering CamelBak, Bell, Giro or any other of the 50 Vista Outdoor brands to sell in its stores.

As Joe Pinsker points out in an earlier Atlantic piece, "Brands are aware that in a hyper-partisan climate, it can be conspicuous not to weigh in on heated debates."

This particular “hell” makes a lot of sense to me as a values-aligned portfolio manager. There are many ways we screen companies based on off-balance sheet behavior, but #neveragain hasn’t been one of them. It’s tragic that it needs to be, but here we are. A question worth asking is whether this role reversal between corporations and government is just a temporary response to Washington gridlock or the more pervasive politicization of everything in America. If it’s the latter, and I fear it might be, it’s worth considering Delta Airlines, which last week cut ties with the NRA.

Several days before doing so, the Georgia legislature passed a sweeping bill that included in it a jet fuel tax break for Delta and other airlines. The Governor’s motivation for this tax break was to bring more flights into Atlanta and more businesses to Georgia. This tax break is said to be worth $40 million to Delta. Note, Delta is based in Atlanta and is the largest private employer in Georgia.

After news broke that Delta joined all the other corporate sponsors in ending the NRA relationship, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle announced he would kill any tax bill that benefits Delta until the NRA discount was fully restored. Feel free to read that last sentence again if it didn’t sink in. An elected official in Georgia is openly putting the interests of the NRA ahead of the economic interests of the State he serves over a measly airline discount to Georgia-based NRA members flying to NRA conventions. Furthermore, this comes at a time when Atlanta is a finalist to attract Amazon’s other headquarters. As you may have guessed, Mr. Cagle is gearing up to run for Governor, so maybe this is all just red meat for his base.

Keep an eye on this race as it will inevitably catch the attention of the #neveragain movement. Mr. Cagle’s campaign may serve as a litmus test as to which way the scales are tipping in this country. Perhaps the intersection of engaged corporations and this incredible activism rising from the tragedy at Parkland will restore heaven and hell to their proper balance.

-Bill Davis
Founder & Portfolio Manager

 

Sources:

Thompson, Derek. “Why Are Corporations Finally Turning Against the NRA?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 26 Feb. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/02/nra-discounts-corporations/554264/.

Pinsker, Joe. “Patagonia, REI, and the Politics of 'The President Stole Your Land'.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 5 Dec. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/12/patagonia-rei-bears-ears-president-stole/547577/.

Evans, Pete. “MEC Says It Will Stop Selling Products from Gun, Ammo Maker Vista Outdoor.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 1 Mar. 2018, www.cbc.ca/news/business/mec-vista-outdoor-1.4557071.

Kosoff, Maya. “Did Republicans Just Give Amazon's HQ2 the Kiss of Death in Georgia?” The Hive, Vanity Fair, 1 Mar. 2018, www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/03/did-republicans-just-give-amazons-hq2-the-kiss-of-death-in-georgia.

Are you funding the AR-15 industry without knowing it?

The AR-15 is an American-made, semi-automatic weapon capable of piercing a steel helmet from 500 yards away. During the civilian massacres of Newtown, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and (most recently) Parkland, Florida, the AR-15 was the killing tool of choice. 

With our current gun laws, legal action against AR-15 manufacturers is limited, however, we can take a stance with our capital investments. Today $17.3B is invested in gun & ammo maker/seller stocks via 2,120 mutual funds and ETFs. As our legislative representatives fail to respond with meaningful action, perhaps divestment can effect change.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg Business broke a story that the Florida Teachers' Pension fund was invested in all three of the publicly traded AR-15 manufacturers- American Outdoor Brands, Sturm Ruger, and Vista Outdoors. 

The largest of the fund's gun holdings was 41,129 shares of American Outdoors Brand valued at more than a half-million dollars. You may know American Outdoors Brand better as Massachusetts-based Smith & Wesson. 

The AR-15 used during the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was manufactured by Smith & Wesson. 

I am sure that most of Florida’s public school employees are as sickened as I am to learn that the state has invested some of our pension fund holdings in the maker of the AR-15.
Surely there are better places for the state to invest its public employee retirement money than in companies that make products that harm our children.
— Joanne McCall, President of Florida's Education Association

The Florida Teachers' pension is part of the larger Florida Retirement System (FRS) Pension Plan. Unlike a 401k where participants can choose different plans, the Florida Education Association's pension investments are not customizable to the individual. 

The call for divestment in gun stocks will be an uphill battle for Joanne McCall and her association for the simple reason that nothing ever seems to change with respect to gun laws, even though three of the dead in Parkland were presumed participants in the FRS Pension Plan.

But what about the rest of us? Would you be comfortable knowing that you are an investor in an AR-15 manufacturer through your 401(k) or 403(b) or taxable investment account?

Gun stocks can bleed into portfolios in a number of different ways. Here are a few ways you can identify exposure to gun stocks in your own investment portfolio:

  1. Know the players: 
    • Ruger  (RGR
    • American Outdoors Brand/Smith & Wesson (AOBC)
    • Vista Outdoor (VSTO)
    • Olin (OLN)
  2. Investigate your mutual funds:
    • While you may not own gun stocks in the form of individual equities, you may be exposed through your passive investments
    • Good Bye Gunstocks allows you to search among 12,400 funds to determine exposure to gun stocks.
    • Here are a few of the Good Bye Gunstock team's macro findings:
      • $17.3B is invested in gun & ammo maker/seller stocks via 2,120 mutual funds and ETFs.

      • 35% of US stock funds include gun and ammo maker/seller

      • The top 3 fund companies invested in gun stocks are Vanguard, Fidelity and American

And finally, think about whether you want to support companies that provide special benefits to NRA members at a time when the NRA no longer reflects the will of its membership. The following is courtesy of Think Progress and you will note that a bunch of sponsors have already signaled they are terminating their relationship:

Sources:

Gray, Sarah. “A Timeline of Gun Control Laws in The U.S.” Time, Time, 22 Feb. 2018, time.com/5169210/us-gun-control-laws-history-timeline/.

Mosendz, Polly, and Neil Weinberg. “Florida Teachers Demand Their Retirement Fund Dump Gun Stocks.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 22 Feb. 2018

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Public Elementary/ Secondary School Universe Survey," 2014–15, Provisional Version 1a, "Local Education Agency Universe Survey," 2014–15, Provisional Version 1a, and "State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education," 2014–15, Provisional Version 1a.

Florida State Board of Administration.” State Board of Administration - Internet > Home, www.sbafla.com/fsb/.

Choking on Carbon

Choking on Carbon

This past summer CDP, in conjunction with Climate Accountability Institute, released a report detailing that 100 companies have been responsible for ~71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a staggering number.According to a recent report by George Mason and Yale universities, more than half of Americans (58%) believe climate change is mostly human-caused. As a result, more and more people try to manage the carbon emissions of their lifestyle.