CSRHub Blog Research on ESG metrics and comments on sustainability best practice

Should S&P’s Newest Index Be Associated With Corporate Sustainability?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 27, 2016 9:11:53 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

It seems that “sustainability” was a core topic at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) conference at Davos.  Many talks centered around the idea of a “fourth industrial revolution” and all of the changes in corporate behavior that would result.

The conference created good opportunities to release new lists of sustainable companies and new index products designed to help investors use their money to encourage positive changes in corporate behavior.  For instance, our friends at Corporate Knights released the latest edition of their well-respected Global 100 list.

A quick test of the top ten companies on the Global 100 list shows that they have strong average CSRHub ratings.  Nine of the ten companies are 80% percentile or better and CSRHub’s analysis indicates that all are above average performers compared to both the other companies in their country and their industries.

CSRHub Scores Top 10 Corporate Knights

However, another set of companies was singled out at the meeting and the members of this list did not show similarly strong sustainability characteristics.  The new list was the S&P Long-Term Value Creation (LTVC) Global Index.  S&P selected the companies for the LTVC using data from RobecoSAM (the creator of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes) with input from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB).  Since CPPIB is a co-founder of a group called “Focusing Capital on the Long Term,” the Wall Street Journal article on this announcement suggested that this new index would also be supported by other Focusing Capital co-founders such as McKinsey & Co. and BlackRock Inc.  In fact, BlackRock has already committed to invest $2 billion under the direction of this new Index.

The S&P’s web site entry on the LTVC says it is supposed to contain stocks “ranking highly in global equity markets, using both proprietary sustainability and financial quality criteria.”  The methodology document describes how RobecoSAM’s Economic Dimension scores are combined with S&P’s Dow Jones Indices Quality scores to generate the rankings.  Economic Dimension scores are driven by code of conduct issues, compliance and corruption problems, measures of innovation and indicators about how supply chains are managed.  A company’s Quality score is the result of combining calculations of return on equity, accrual of assets, and financial leverage.

While there are 246 companies in the LTVC, S&P doesn’t disclose the full list.  In fact, it only shares the top ten components.  A quick look at these ten companies shows a striking difference to what we saw with the Global 100.

CSRHub Scores Top 10 S&P Long Term Value Index

CSRHub’s data indicates that only five of the top ten companies in the S&P list have above average perceived sustainability performance.  Two of them—O’Reilly Automotive and Dollar Tree Stores—are in the bottom 10% among the over 15,000 companies that CSRHub tracks.

S&P’s new index may tie well to long-term value creation.  It may even capture factors that tie to long-term stock market appreciation.  But, it does not seem fair to characterize this group of companies—at least from what we can see here—as “ranking high…on sustainability characteristics.”  Perhaps it is time for those of us who track corporate responsibility and care about the metrics we have created, to take back the term “sustainability”?  We could then make sure that our favorite word is only used where it truly applies.


Bahar GidwaniBahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub.  He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to the world’s largest corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information.  It covers over 15,000 companies from 135 industries in 132 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 435 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices, and seek ways to improve corporate sustainability performance.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Bahar Gidwani, BlackRock, CPPIB, RobecoSAM, Uncategorized, WEF, LTVC, World Economic Forum, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Corporate Knight's, CSRHub, Global 100 list, McKinsey & Co., S&P Long-Term Value Creation Global Index

How Fossil Fuel Divestment Will Hurt Fossil Fuel Stock Prices

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 21, 2015 9:33:25 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

If anyone needed more proof that economics trumps sustainability: low gas prices are causing a plunge in electric vehicle and hybrid sales.

Ban Fracking Tax Carbon

The same phenomenon is happening in the divestment movement. Moral outrage pushed 83 churches, universities and non-profits to divest $50 billion before the September climate march. This is a blip for an industry valued at $5 trillion, whose top investor Blackrock owns $146 billion in fossil fuel investments and where a single company Exxon Mobil is valued at $425 billion, and Shell and Chevron at $268 billion and $248 billion respectively.

These numbers are staggering, and the pace of the divestment movement in relative monetary terms is glacial, despite its many moral and symbolic victories. Even if as Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance says this divestment movement has more rapid growth and quicker scaling than any of its predecessors, does it have a chance of affecting fossil fuel company behavior?

Only when it starts to affect the stock price.

Tim Dickinson argues eloquently in this issue of Rolling Stone that divesting has become the smart move for the financially savvy, and not because of divestment pressure. Prompted by the recent 50% drop in the price of oil, now hovering below $45 per barrel —

“From late June to early January, across the world, the 10 oil firms with the largest proven reserves collectively lost roughly 20 percent of their market value.  …Goldman Sachs warned that nearly $1 trillion in planned oil-field investments would be unprofitable – even if oil were to stabilize at $70 per barrel. The industry is already scaling back the hunt for high-cost sources of new oil. Chevron has shelved drilling in the Canadian Arctic, and Hercules Offshore, a significant driller in the Gulf of Mexico, has idled four rigs and laid off more than 300 workers. Plunging profits are also putting the brakes on fracking.”

And that’s only the beginning. Countries around the world are putting limits on carbon emissions, so much so that Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney warned that "the vast majority of reserves are unburnable." The argument that fossil fuel companies’ reserves will become “stranded assets” has long been a hopeful prediction from activists, but the message has a different tone when it comes from a powerful central banker whose main concern is not sustainability but stability.

Another concerned guardian of the status quo has similar fears. Bevis Longstreth, who served as commissioner of the SEC under Ronald Reagan and later chaired the Finance Committee of the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, blasts the oil companies: "There is no good reason for this vast expenditure of stockholder wealth. It is wasted capital, an offense against stockholders in terms financial alone."

But my favorite argument for divesting comes from a report generated by Oxford University’s Stranded Assets Programme. The authors bring up the very real reputational risk that a divestment movement creates, which they label “Organisational Stigma,” or “disapproval, even ‘disgust’ at an organisation’s activities, values or behaviour” and tie it directly to stock price: “Even when divestment outflows are small or short term and do not directly affect future cash flows (as is true with fossil fuel divestment), if they trigger a change in market norms that close off channels of previously available money (i.e., the ability to sell stock), then a downward pressure on the stock price of a targeted firm may be large and permanent.”

Add to that the growing perception that the fossil fuel companies’ decisions about where to invest are considered irrational, and you've created a very serious threat to fossil fuel companies' stock price and the managers whose pay and bonuses depends on that price. And that’s the most likely route to real change.

Photo courtesy of Carol Pierson Holding 


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 13,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 13,000+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 370 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Bevis Longstreth, BlackRock, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Exxon Mobil, Fossil Fuel Divestment, Shell, Uncategorized, Mark Carney, oil reserves, organisational stigma, Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson, oil prices, Oxford University Stranded Assets Programme, stranded assets, Carol Pierson Holding, Chevron, Hercules Offshore

Investors Could Drive Real Fossil Fuel Investment Retreat

[fa icon="calendar'] May 13, 2014 9:00:05 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The sustainable investing community has a saying that their greatest achievement will be Wall Streetto put themselves out of business. The fossil fuel divestment movement could say the same: when fossil fuel companies stop their relentless drilling and all assets currently held in reserves are abandoned, drivers of the movement will be looking for work.

The way things are going with fossil fuel companies, we might be able to halt the divestment movement sooner than we think.

Last week’s news seemed to show the market moving towards an acceptance of climate change’s negative impact on corporate earnings — and a rejection of fossil fuel investments on purely financial terms.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration’s National Climate Assessment, was reported in the Wall Street Journal under the headline “Climate Change Is Harming US Economy, Report Says.” The story does not question the report or offer conflicting scientific opinions, but points specifically to greenhouse gases from energy production as the cause:

The congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment…says…that it isn't too late to implement policies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, and calls on governments at all levels to find ways to lower carbon emissions, particularly from energy production.

That’s from The Journal, probably the most fiercely pro-business publication around.

But even more astonishing is the story in Forbes “Fossil Fuel-Free Index Will Help Investors Manage Climate Risks.” While the article says the fund, the FTSE Developed ex-Fossil Fuels Index Series, is aimed mainly at universities and public institutions, it does acknowledge —

“(The) concept of carbon stranded assets pioneered by the Carbon Tracker initiative contends that fossil fuel companies are overvalued by stock markets because their valuations include assets that cannot be exploited if we are to avoid runaway climate change. …Carbon Tracker sheds further light on the risks, (in its) report… Carbon Supply Cost Curves. Evaluating Financial Risk To Oil Capital Expenditures, setting out the assets most likely to be stranded and the companies best placed to adapt to a low carbon future.”

That Report calls out oil sands, Arctic and deepwater exploration as terrible investments.

Carbon Tracker’s website describes magical thinking in the fossil fuel industry: “Exxon saying there is no risk does not constitute prudent management of shareholder funds – it’s like King Canute assuming he can hold back the tide, but investors can see that a shift in energy is already coming in.”

That’s language you’d expect from activists. But Forbes, that bastion of conservatism, joins in the bashing in choosing to quote analyst Mark Lewis of Europe’s leading broker Kepler Cheuvreux: “The oil industry’s increasingly unsustainable dynamics – as manifested, for example, by ongoing capex (capital expenditure) reductions amid record-high oil prices – mean that stranded-asset risk exists even under business-as-usual conditions: high oil prices will encourage the shift away from oil towards renewables (whose costs are falling) while also incentivising (sic) greater energy efficiency.”

Forbes notes that with BlackRock — the world’s largest asset manager — participating in the fund, the anti-fossil fuel movement has gone mainstream.

Mainstream? From a reporter at Forbes, whose self-reported audience statistics place its readers at higher levels of wealth and power than any other business publication, is calling the FTS ex-Fossil Fuel Index a welcome first step in making the idea of a world without fossil fuels a mainstream notion?

Now that’s progress.

Of course there is still enormous weight on the other side of the argument. Fossil fuel companies recognize the threat to their business in the massive shifts in capital that are coming and are determined to get every last bit out of the ground ASAP. Even here in the hyper-environmental Pacific Northwest, the Black Diamond coal mine is reopening after 15 years and proposed coal ports refuse to die.

But there is growing evidence that fossil fuels are just a dumb investment. As stated in a recent report by HIP Investor, “Since 2011, the global energy sector has diverged from the S&P 500 for the first time in a decade, and dramatically lagged the S&P 500. The Coal Index (KOL) is down 28% since late 2011, and the Oil & Gas Index (BGR) is down 8% as well.”

I see the day coming when investors who hold fossil fuel stocks will be derided for poor money management. The smart money? Managers who bought renewable energy stocks early.

Image courtesy of  thetaxhaven via Flickr CC.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 8,900+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 102 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 300+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 
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