Is ESG Investing Counterproductive? | Summary and Q&A

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January 19, 2024
by
Ben Felix
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Is ESG Investing Counterproductive?

TL;DR

ESG investing may not be as impactful as it seems, with limited evidence of higher returns and mixed results on influencing corporate behavior and environmental impact.

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Key Insights

  • 🙈 Investors respond to simplified ratings like globe ratings to assess sustainability, ignoring more detailed information even when available.
  • 🛀 ESG funds have not shown statistically significant outperformance compared to conventional funds, potentially due to non-pecuniary preferences and the ability to hedge ESG risks.
  • 🔠 Impact on the cost of capital from ESG investing is mixed, with divestiture having limited effects on corporate investment decisions and increasing the cost of capital for green firms potentially leading to negative changes in environmental impact.
  • 🤯 Owning green assets can act as a hedge against increasing environmental concerns, but this may come at the cost of lower expected returns.
  • 🔬 Some investors focus on ESG investing for expressive and emotional benefits, but this may detract attention and capital from more effective activities.
  • 👋 ESG investing depends on individual objectives, with considerations like hedging ESG risks and feeling good about the portfolio being valid reasons to incorporate ESG characteristics.
  • 📼 ESG investing is important but is just one of many intangible assets that affect both financial and social value.

Transcript

ESG investing that is investing that puts an emphasis on the environmental social and governance characteristics of companies continues to be popular investors may want to avoid ESG related risks or to feel good about their portfolios which are legitimate motivations but how much good is ESG investing actually doing I'm Ben Felix portfolio manager ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How do investors assess sustainability in mutual funds, and how has this affected fund inflows and outflows?

Morningstar introduced globe ratings based on sustainability in mutual funds, simplifying the assessment process. Highest-rated funds received increased inflows while lowest-rated funds experienced outflows.

Q: Are there higher returns in ESG funds compared to conventional funds?

Multiple studies find no statistically significant difference in performance between ESG and conventional funds. ESG funds may have lower expected returns due to non-pecuniary preferences of investors.

Q: Does ESG investing effectively influence the cost of capital for companies?

The impact of ESG investing on the cost of capital is mixed. While divestiture has limited effects on corporate investment decisions, sustainability-focused investors have raised the cost of capital for firms with negative environmental impact.

Q: What are the potential drawbacks of sustainable investing aimed at increasing the cost of capital for brown firms?

Counterproductive Sustainable Investing suggests that increasing the cost of capital for brown firms leads to further high pollution production or even corners being cut on pollution mitigation. This potentially makes brown firms more brown without making green firms more green.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Morningstar's sustainability ratings for mutual funds showed that investors responded largely to simplified globe ratings, indicating a preference for a simple way to assess sustainability.

  • ESG funds have not shown statistically significant outperformance compared to conventional funds, partly due to non-pecuniary preferences of investors and the ability to hedge ESG risks.

  • The impact of ESG investing on the cost of capital for firms is mixed, with divestiture having small effects on corporate investment decisions and increasing the cost of capital for green firms potentially leading to negative changes in environmental impact.

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