ESG Oversight Lessons from the PG&E Bankruptcy Filing: Where External ESG Ratings Fall Short - and Why
By Bill Davis
Values-based investing has been around for hundreds of years and long before the terminology surrounding this practice got confused by labels such as socially-responsible investing (SRI) and environmental, social, governance investing (ESG). At its core the idea is a good one: use capital to support ethical preferences of investors whether these be based on faith, worker-rights, the environment, or something else entirely. The challenge has always been to do so without under-performing the market in the process, and historically speaking, practitioners often failed to generate competitive financial returns. As a result, financial advisors just as often advised against values-based investing and the overall movement struggled to become mainstream.
To put a finer point on this: under-performance led to mis-alignment with advisors, which led to capped interest, which stagnated the industry. It’s that simple.
But as the saying goes, that was then and this is now. Environmental damage, poor governance, and geo-political risks, to name a few, are also portfolio risks, just not ones captured by traditional approaches to portfolio construction. Companies that aren’t good stewards of the environment, the communities within which they operate, and their employees are a threat to portfolio returns. And since more and more companies file annual corporate sustainability reports that detail their progress toward material ESG risk factors, a new generation of portfolio managers has emerged armed with actionable data and a growing demographic of investors seeking values-based investing.
With proper portfolio construction, portfolio managers can now mitigate off balance sheet risks and at the same time perform at or better than their benchmarks. In other words, practiced properly, values alignment is free. There’s only one problem…just at the very moment that portfolio managers have proven that values-alignment is essentially free, and more and more investors – be they institutions, family offices, individuals, etc, - are actually looking for product in this area, the financial advisor community is mostly stuck in the 20th century, equating values-aligned investing with poor performance.
It stands to reason that many financial advisors have the same concerns as their clients as it relates to the world their children and grandchildren will inherit, so on many levels there is complete alignment. So why are financial advisors a roadblock in this movement? A former work colleague of mine referred to this problem as one of “unlearning the alphabet”. Financial advisors grew up in the age of underperformance, assume nothing has changed, and that has become the lens through which they view the industry. In reality, almost everything has changed except their view of things.
Consider that there are 80 million Millennials that are due to inherit up to $30 trillion of wealth over the next ten years. And given they care a lot more about social justice and the environment than their parents, financial advisors might consider that in order to retain these clients they will need to start incorporating values-aligned strategies into their portfolios.
So for investors that care about aligning capital with values, start demanding viable product from your advisors; and for financial advisors, it’s time to unlearn the alphabet of the past and catch up to a new way of looking at portfolio risk that will help keep and even attract new clients.
By Jurriaan Kamp, President & Editor in Chief of the Optimist Daily
Gas is the future. That may sound counterintuitive in an emerging world of renewable energy where new solar power records are set on a monthly basis. However, for Joost Wouters, Dutch engineer and entrepreneur at Inrada Group, there’s no doubt: in the future, we will continue to use gas-fired stoves to cook our meals and warm our homes with gas-burning heating systems. Gas? Yes, biogas from seaweed.
It’s a sad fact that—at a moment when renewable clean energy is rising fast—a final surge of fossil fuel exploration mostly through fracking is causing immense environmental degradation and pollution around the planet. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently projected that oil production through fracking will cover 80 percent of new global demand for oil in the next three years. Most of that new oil production will come from the U.S. where fracking has increased from 23,000 wells producing some 100,000 barrels per day in 2000 to more than 300,000 wells producing over 4 million barrels per day in 2015. Today, more than 50 percent of the U.S. oil production comes from fracking.
In the past years, the Inrada Group ran several experiments in different parts of the world and created a very compelling business case to replace fracking in the short term and all oil and gas exploration with biogas from seaweed. Joost Wouters: “Seaweed is produced by nature. You don’t have to pay for the CO2. You don’t have to pay for the sunshine nor for the salt water.” He runs the numbers based on recent tests off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa: one hectare of seaweeds produces—in multiple annual production cycles—as much as 800 tons biomass per year. That biomass can be converted into 160,000 cubic meters of biogas per year or 120,000 cubic meters of methane per year. A successful shale gas field in the U.S. has an output of some 50 million cubic meters per year. Wouters: “That means that approximately 450 hectares of seaweed plantations replace the production of a shale gas field.”
Cost comparison calculations by Inrada—confirmed by Shell and Accenture—show that seaweed biogas outperforms shale gas by up to a factor 4. Shale gas can only be competitive at around 50 dollars per barrel. Seaweed gas can be produced for 12 to 15 dollars a barrel. Wouters explains the productivity of seaweed referring to the three-dimensional environment of the plantations. The seaweed grows at depths of up to three-meters, unaffected by gravity. That allows for a volume and a speed of conversion of solar energy that are impossible to achieve in farming in a two-dimensional environment on land. In addition, water is 784 times denser than air and supplies a multiple of nutrients.
Inrada has developed modular semi-submersed structures to grow seaweed. Seaweed spores are collected on ropes. The ropes are attached to the structures. At the time of harvest, the ropes are pulled through a harvesting machine that cuts off the seaweed. The biomass is subsequently fed into a digester. The seaweed digester is a key innovation by Inrada. Because of its biological composition, traditional biomass digesters don’t work well with seaweed, according to Wouters.
Fracking comes at a high price. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that between 250 to 500 billion liters of water were used to fracture 35,000 wells. Today, that precious, fresh water use would be 10-fold—in the U.S. only. Oil companies add chemicals to the water to facilitate the fracking process. They say that the concentration of chemicals in the frack fluid is low: only two percent. However, two percent of 2,5 trillion liters is still 50 billion liters of poisonous chemicals seeping into groundwater supplies and endangering public health.
Whereas we have become used to the fact that most industrial processes have “hidden costs” for the environment and public health, Wouters points out that seaweed production comes with “hidden benefits”. “Fracking spills water and destroys the environment. By contrast, seaweed produces drinking water and regenerates the environment, says Wouters”. Inrada began the tests in South Africa in “dead sea water where you couldn’t see anything alive after an intensive fish farm had exhausted the marine environment”. As the seaweed began growing, fish and shells started to come back. Wouters: “Pollution is creating acidity in the oceans and that threatens marine life. Seaweed alkalinizes the water again.” In addition: each hectare of seaweed delivers 680,000 liters of fresh—not salt—water while the growth process sequesters CO2.
There’s more. After digestion, the seaweed residue is an ideal fertilizer. In fact, countries used to farm seaweed as a fertilizer prior to the invention of chemical fertilizers about a century ago. Today, many countries import natural gas to produce fertilizer. The seaweed biomass also provides a great source for animal feed: seaweed can replace the soy plantations that have depleted vast areas of agricultural soils for our growing meat consumption.
Wouters’ list of seaweed benefits keeps growing: nearly all processed and frozen foods around the world include seaweed extracts to maintain softness and texture. Seaweed extracts such as agar-agar and carrageenan are key ingredients of products like toothpaste, ice cream, and cosmetic creams and lotions. Seaweed can also provide fibers for the textile industry. In the 1940s British scientists already discovered that fibers from seaweeds could be used as non-toxic, non-irritating, biodegradable woven material to treat wounds. Seaweed-based gauze has an anti-inflammatory capacity as well while it maintains a certain degree of humidity which supports wound healing.
There’s one ultimate factor that makes the seaweed biogas case extremely compelling: the infrastructure already exists. The clean energy provided by wind and solar requires big infrastructural investments. Seaweed biogas, however, can be fed into existing pipeline networks that run across the globe connecting factories and homes to a secure energy supply. That’s why Wouters says: “gas is the future”. Granted, we need to build the floating platforms to grow the seaweed, but—at a price of $25,000 per hectare—that is hardly a prohibitive investment compared to the millions of dollars needed to explore a fracking well. The digester requires an additional investment. Wouters envisages using depleted oil or gas rigs to host digesters offshore and prevent the shipment of heavy biomass. The rigs already have pipelines that bring their production to land.
The seaweed revolution is “brewing”. Wouters: “I hear myself talking, it is almost too good to be true. But it’s reality that as long as the sun shines and there is water in the oceans, seaweed provides an unending supply of clean, renewable energy with many additional benefits.”
About the Author: About the author: Jurriaan is the President & Editor in Chief of The Intelligent Optimist (formerly Ode Magazine), a media company focused on presenting solutions to problems the planet and humanity face. The Intelligent Optimist publishes a bi-monthly magazine and organizes (online) events and courses. Everything they do is around stories that make lives happier and healthier and the world a better place.
By Serena Fagan & Shivam Patel
It is no secret that shareholder activism has gained traction over the last decade; and lobbyists are seeking to undermine its pursuit of data disclosures they would rather keep under wraps.
As shareholder activists push to improve transparency in corporate America, corporate lobbyists--especially those representing the interests of the Oil & Gas industry--are fighting to keep data behind closed doors by attacking the bedrock of shareholder activism: the shareholder resolution.
What is a Shareholder Resolution?
- A shareholder resolution is a non-binding recommendation to the board of directors of a public corporation regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
- Proposed by shareholders, resolutions are presented and voted upon at the corporation's annual meeting and through the annual proxy vote.
- A shareholder must own at least $2,000 or 1 percent of the company’s shares and have held the shares continuously for the year prior to the company’s annual submission deadline.
- The resolution has to be about something that is relevant to the company and upon which the company can take action.
- After the company receives the shareholder's proposal, if the resolution does not meet all of the SEC's criteria, the corporation can choose to omit, that is not to include, the resolution in the proxy statement.
Shareholder activism is a process that often takes time. Boston-based Walden Asset Management urged filtration company Clarcor to issue sustainability reports for over 3 years until Clarcor conformed. In 2013 (when Walden first filed), 72% of the companies in the S&P 500 reported emissions data to CDP, a global non-profit working with companies to reduce their environmental impact, and Clarcor was clearly lagging behind industry peers. This statistic, along with Walden's explanation of the material risks associated with poor environmental practices, led 54.5% of shareholders to support sustainability reporting.
Further, nearly a decade and a half after oil giant ExxonMobil was asked to adopt a non-discrimination policy towards LGBT employees, management finally acquiesced. The company had received a shareholder resolution every year since 2001 asking for sexual orientation and gender identity to be added to its list of protected classes. These resolutions helped raise awareness for the issue and compelled others to get involved; President Obama signed an executive order in July of 2014 mandating federal contractors such as ExxonMobil to include LGBT workers in their non- discrimination policies. That same month, ExxonMobil announced they would comply with the order.
After Wells Fargo became embroiled in a scandal which involved the unauthorized opening of over 2 million customer accounts, investors such as the California and Illinois State Treasurers pointed to the combined CEO/Chairman role as a factor that enabled the scandal. Activist investors filed a shareholder resolution demanding an independent chairman to lead the board. Wells Fargo bowed to the pressure and agreed to amend its bylaws, separating the role of CEO and Chairman and ensuring the placement of an independent Chairman. Such a move presents greater oversight and transparency for the company’s operations and the ability to minimize risk.
Since 2010, 130 shareholder resolutions have been filed asking companies to set science-based climate change goals and, until recently, only those with technical errors (ex. Filing late) were excluded from appearing on the proxy ballot.
This spring, however, in a shareholder resolution mirroring greenhouse gas reduction targets of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Oil and Gas company EOG Resources successfully threw out a shareholder resolution filed by Trillium Asset Management.
The SEC supported EOG Resources wish to block the shareholder resolution.
Trillium Asset Management had successfully filed for nearly identical science-based, GHG emission targets to be included and voted on Proxy Ballots at Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Valero, ConocoPhillips, WPX Energy, and Marathon Oil Corporation.
The dismissal of Trillium's Shareholder Resolution by the SEC is a dangerous precedent for investors seeking to change laggard behavior in their portfolios. And frankly, the dismissal makes little sense.
The SEC's decision mirrors the wishes of the Main Street Investors Coalition. The coalition is tied directly to the National Manufacturers Association and interests of the fossil fueled industry. In fact, the Executive Director, George "David" Banks, is a well-known fossil fuel lobbyist and has served both the Bush and Trump administrations. According to The Hill, Banks "had a leading role in the [Trump] administration's policies regarding the Paris climate agreement."
The fact that major fossil fuel lobbying money is being diverted to impede a non-binding process that calls for the release of data demonstrates just how damaging poor environmental stewardship is to a public company in 2018.
In a market where quarterly earnings reports dictate boardroom decisions, we believe shareholder activism is a necessary function to engender sustainable business practices that serve longterm value for shareholders.
In the meantime, when you receive an annual proxy ballot in the mail, think twice about throwing it in the recycling bin before making your voice heard - you can vote by mail, phone or online.
Gethard, Gregory. “Protest Divestment And The End Of Apartheid.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 16 July 2008, www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/08/protest-divestment-south-africa.asp.
“Naylor Association Management Software.” The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, Naylor Association Management Software, www.ussif.org/resolutions.
“Clarcor Investors Back Sustainability Reporting Call.” Nashville Post, www.nashvillepost.com/business/management/corporate-governance/article/20493095/clarcor-investors-back-sustainability-reporting-call.
Cohn, Yafit, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. “Climate Change, Sustainability and Other Environmental Proposals.” The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation Firm Age Corporate Governance and Capital Structure Comments, corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2016/09/06/climate-change-sustainability-and-other-environmental-proposals/.
Armental, Maria. “Wells Fargo Formally Separates Chairman, CEO Roles.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 2 Dec. 2016, www.wsj.com/articles/wells-fargo-formally-separates-chairman-ceo-roles-1480624729.
“2017 Proxy Season Review.” Proxy Preview, As You Sow, www.proxypreview.org/proxy-preview-2018/2017-proxy-season-review/.
Cama, Timothy. “Former Trump Adviser Heads Effort to Crack down on Climate Shareholder Resolutions.” TheHill, The Hill, 22 May 2018, thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/388763-former-trump-adviser-heads-effort-to-crack-down-on-climate.
In the modern world, the term ‘sustainable business practices’ most likely conjures images of proper resource management and greenhouse gas mitigation; however, the sustainability of a business is not limited to its impact on the environment.
At its core, sustainability refers to the ability to continue upon the same trajectory while simultaneously supporting long-term balance. The current state of employee compensation in the United States is unsustainable and companies not paying attention to this governance factor present a material risk to long term investors.
A recent study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute illustrates the expanding divergence by showing that CEOs went from making 20 times more than the average worker in 1965 to making 271 times the average worker in 2016.
And this growth in CEO compensation is in light of the fact that there is a growing mismatch between the pay of CEOs and the performance of CEOs.
The discrepancy between the performance and total package of CEOs is exemplified by the large compensation package of iHeartMedia's CEO Robert Pittman. Pittman was paid $14 million in the 12 months leading up to the iHeartMedia bankruptcy. In fact, in the year that Pittman lead iHeartMedia to bankruptcy, his bonus alone was larger than his total compensation from when he became CEO in 2011.
Why then, when many boards claim to desire to link CEO compensation to business performance, does the problem persist?
The New York Federal Reserve found evidence that when CEOs are paid highly in stock or options, they become fixated on actions that will boost the company’s stock price in the short run. Such failure to invest in a corporation’s long-term future leads to detrimental effects in terms of lack of innovation and investments in projects beneficial in the long run. In fact, CEO compensation is often tied to performance metrics such as earnings per share, which can easily be inflated through corporate buybacks.
Such actions expend corporate cash for the purpose of boosting short-term performance metrics, rather than innovating and constructing a viable business.
This spring, a new mandate from Dodd-Frank went into effect requiring that companies release the following ratio: CEO Compensation/Median Employee Compensation
While CEO Compensation is not a new data point, the latter half of the equation -Median Employee Compensation- is a new disclosure and opens up a whole new can of worms for corporations. In particular, this disclosure shines light upon the gender gap when it comes to employee compensation.
It is a well-known statistic that women in the United States make 79 cents on the dollar in comparison to their male counterparts. As Median Employee Compensation becomes a widely disclosed statistic, female employees finally have transparency into where they stack up to their coworkers and, consequently, more leverage in salary negotiations.
This new disclosure presents a material portfolio risk to companies with unfair pay practices. Salesforce took the gender gap issue head on when they conducted a 2015 audit into their own pay practices. Despite a consistent ranking as one of the top places to work and a CEO with a strong liberal voice, Salesforce found a pay discrepancy amounting to $3 million across the company in 2015. After the acquisition of 13 companies in 2016, Salesforce ran another pay audit and found that the pay gap was back, resulting in an additional $3 million paid to eliminate the gender pay gap again.
With a new, alternative data point now widely available, investors are able to screen for companies that have disproportionate CEO Pay. A large discrepancy may present portfolio risk as CEO’s with highly incentivized pay packages are in danger of putting short-term financial goals ahead of sustainable business practices and long-term shareholder value. Additionally, as more female employees demand equal pay, the price of equalizing pay will have a material effect upon the income statement of corporations and subsequently shareholder value.
“CEO Pay Continues to Rise as Typical Workers Are Paid Less.” Economic Policy Institute, www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-continues-to-rise/.
Fuhrmans, Vanessa. “CEO Pay and Performance Often Don't Match Up.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 14 May 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/ceo-pay-and-performance-dont-match-up-1526299200.
Alsin, Arne. “What's The Harm In Excessive CEO Pay? Answer: Long-Term Damage To Shareholders And Pension Funds.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 8 Sept. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/aalsin/2017/09/07/whats-the-harm-in-excessive-ceo-pay-answer-long-term-damage-to-shareholders-and-pension-funds/#73044ad64aea.
Brickley, Peg. “Pay for IHeart CEO Rose as Bankruptcy Loomed.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 15 May 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/pay-for-iheart-ceo-ballooned-as-bankruptcy-loomed-1526417204?cx_testId=16&cx_testVariant=cx&cx_artPos=0&cx_tag=contextual&cx_navSource=newsReel#cxrecs_s.
“GE CEO Jeff Immelt's Retirement Pay May Be A Lot More Than You Think.” Fortune, Fortune, fortune.com/2017/06/12/ge-ceo-jeff-immelt-net-worth/.
“Some Unpleasant General Equilibrium Implications of Executive Incentive Compensation Contracts - Federal Reserve Bank of New York.” FEDERAL RESERVE BANK of NEW YORK, www.newyorkfed.org/research/staff_reports/sr531.html.
MacLellan, Lila. “Denial, Bargaining, Acceptance: Salesforce's CEO on His Reckoning with Equal Pay for Women.” Quartz at Work, Quartz, 16 Apr. 2018, work.qz.com/1253580/salesforce-ceo-marc-benioff-tells-60-minutes-about-his-reckoning-with-the-gender-pay-gap/.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
Below are a few excerpted slides from Bill Davis' presentation.
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:
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:
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.
Founder & Portfolio Manager
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.
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.
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:
- Know the players:
- 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:
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/.
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.