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Responsible investing and ESG

By Andrew Lawford - Topics: ESG Funds, ESG investing, Italy, responsible investments
This article is published on: 12th July 2022

12.07.22

Why things really aren’t that bad

It might seem rather strange for me to be writing an article with this title given everything that is currently going on in the world. In truth, however, I have been vaguely working on this for some months, and whilst in no way am I trying to downplay the difficult situation in Eastern Europe, I have no particular insights to share on the topic (apart from wishing that calmer heads will soon prevail), and I am quite sure everyone is receiving enough information about it already.

We have a natural tendency to focus on bad news for the simple reason that no newspaper ever appeared with the title: “Everything’s going well – not so much to report today”. This is not strictly true – the website Future Crunch offers a periodic newsletter dedicated to good news. It is the perfect complement to the diet of negativity that we receive from traditional news outlets.

I had assumed that I was fairly knowledgeable about the world around me and had an objective view of humanity’s current state of affairs. I was thoroughly disabused of this notion by Factfulness by Hans Rosling, one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read and which I thoroughly recommend to everyone.

However, if you have little time or inclination for reading, you can take the Gap Minder test here, which is based on the work done by Rosling. It won’t take long and I suggest you do it before reading the rest of this article.

Gapminder

So what is my point? We tend not to realise that improvements are so gradual as to be imperceptible to us, and this, combined with the fact that we don’t often receive information that challenges our negative stereotypes, leads to a bias towards negativity. It is interesting how much bad news is anecdotal and how much good news is statistical – but of course you wouldn’t want it to be the other way around!

Is a negative bias worthwhile as we consider challenges such as climate change? I don’t know, but I would say this: panic is not a strategy, and going from bad to slightly better (whilst creating incentives to improve continually) is something we should celebrate. This reflection is also relevant to the field of investments: almost all investment houses now make ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) considerations part of their “process”. Are these processes perfect? Certainly not, but it is a start, and some of the leaders are blazing a trail that others are bound to follow. Again, from bad to not-so-bad is still something to celebrate.

In Italy, it is easy to complain about the bureaucracy, but I have to admit that some things are getting better. For anyone doubting this, consider the advent of SPID (Sistema Pubblico di Identità Digitale), which acts basically as a digital gateway to any interaction with the public administration. It is a Substantial Headache to get set-up (capital letters intended), but once you have it working, it is very useful. Also, consider PEC (Posta Elettronica Certificata) – a sort of “registered e-mail”. For anyone who has spent time and money sending raccomandate from their local post office – and let’s face it, you haven’t really lived in Italy until you’ve had to send a raccomandata, you really should invest in a PEC. For 10 euros or so a year you can send as many digital raccomandate as you like from the comfort of your own home, and they have the same legal validity as their paper counterparts. All companies and state entities have to have a PEC, so they are a very effective way of making official communications.

common reporting standard

Of course, this technological advancement has also been a way for the Agenzia to concentrate its tax-collecting efforts. They are no longer in the dark about your assets abroad, thanks to the mechanisms of CRS (Common Reporting Standards). Most people have now come to terms with this and are making the necessary declarations. If you or someone you know have been sitting on the fence – talk to me about the best way of sorting out your situation – the key being that you should do this before you receive any requests for clarification.

There are also a number of tax incentives that have been launched in recent years, favouring pensioners, digital nomads and even very wealthy people. I took the opportunity recently to speak to tax practitioner Judith Ruddock from Studio Del Gaizo Picchioni about a number of them (as well as other matters of interest for Italian residents) and have published a podcast which you can find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or Stitcher.

Italian Financial Adviser

Please also check out my other podcasts, available on
SpotifyGoogle PodcastsApple Podcasts and Stitcher.

Sustainable & Ethical Investment funds in Spain

By Chris Burke - Topics: ESG Funds, ESG investing, investment diversification, Investment Risk, Spain
This article is published on: 25th April 2022

25.04.22

More and more people are contacting me regarding sustainable investments in order to understand the choices available, whether they offer a good return on your investment and would you get any more return if you didn’t invest sustainably/ethically? We all know the planet needs our help but we also want to know that our hard-earned monies are working for us – it can be a difficult emotional trade off.

Sustainable & Ethical investing has hit the world by storm over the last few years. By the end of 2019, professionally managed assets using sustainable strategies grew to $17.1 trillion, a 42% increase compared to two years prior, according to the U.S. SIF Foundation (2021). The organization also estimated that $1 out of every $3 under professional management is now invested under ´´sustainable practices´´.

Recent studies have also shown that Sustainable Investment funds, as well as providing ways to invest responsibly, provide both financial performance and lower levels of risk. For this reason, in part, many deem including sustainable investments in their portfolio is a ‘no brainer’.

Let’s say for example that you are in the market to buy a new dishwasher. You’ve analysed several products and have narrowed your choice down to the last two. Both products cost the same amount and wash dishes equally as effectively, yet one of them uses less electricity and is considered safer due to the addition of extra safety features. Which one would you pick?

ESG funds

When comparing the returns of sustainable funds and traditional funds, is there a financial trade off?
A common belief held by investors when comparing mutual funds that are performing to a similar standard is that the one with a sustainable investing model may not perform as well. However, a Morgan Stanley (2019) report has debunked this myth. The report analysed the performance of 10,723 mutual funds from 2004 to 2018 and found that the returns of sustainable funds were in line with comparable traditional funds, stating that ‘there was no consistent and statistically significant difference in total returns’.

When comparing the levels of risk of sustainable funds and traditional funds, is there a trade off?
The Morgan Stanley (2019) report found that sustainable funds experienced a 20% smaller downside deviation than traditional funds, a consistent and statistically significant finding. In years of higher market volatility (such as 2008, 2009, 2015 and 2018), sustainable funds downside deviation was significantly smaller than that of traditional funds. The study took an in-depth dive into in the last quarter of 2018 during which we saw extreme volatility in the US equity markets. Despite negative returns for almost every fund, the median US Equity sustainable fund outperformed the median US Equity traditional fund by 1.39%, and also had a narrower dispersion.

These findings may come as a surprise to many. There is a general consensus amongst investors that by investing in sustainable funds, you will also miss out on financial gains. The research based on concrete evidence of market performance over the past few years suggests that this is not the case, and that there is in fact no financial trade off when investing sustainably. Over the forthcoming years, I believe that the adoption of sustainable investments will continue and that we will continue to see the opportunity gap between investor interest and adoption narrow.

If you would like to speak with an expert on Sustainable and ESG Investments, Chris Burke is able to discuss with you the new investments in this area. Chris is also able to review your current pensions, investments and other assets, with the potential to make them more sustainable moving forward.

If you would like to find out more or to talk through your situation and receive expert, factual advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Chris via the form below, or click the button below make a direct virtual appointment.

Sources:
“Sustainable Investing Basics, 2021,” US SIF Foundation: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, https://www.ussif.org/sribasics. Accessed March 24, 2022
“Sustainable Reality – Analysing Risk and Return of Sustainable Funds, 2019,” Morgan Stanley, https://www.morganstanley.com/content/dam/msdotcom/ideas/sustainable-investing-offers-financial-performance-lowered-risk/Sustainable_Reality_Analyzing_Risk_and_Returns_of_Sustainable_Funds.pdf. Accessed March 24, 2022

ESG funds and green gardening

By David Hattersley - Topics: ESG Funds, ESG investing, Spain
This article is published on: 10th February 2022

10.02.22

I love maintaining the grounds of our home. It keeps me fit, is rewarding when a job is well done, and gets me off the computer into the fresh air.

We live on the edge of the National Park that is the Montgo, surrounded by pine trees and other natural vegetation. We decided to keep an area that many would describe as wild and unkempt as a “nature reserve”.

The joy of a variety of animals and bird life gathering at dawn and dusk at the pool as their “watering hole” has provided many an hour of entertainment. So many bird species and colours nest here, and visit us year after year with their offspring. In the summer even the occasional Parakeet/ Cockatiel fly in, Hawks circle above on the thermals looking for their prey, and Swallows “dive bomb” the pool for flying insects.

Perhaps the most amusing are the squirrels that use the balustrade surrounding the pool as their personal M25, rather than the death defying leaps from tree to tree. They drink from the deep end hanging on for dear life with their front paws in the pool, and suspended by their rear haunches.

It’s the animals’ natural habitat, and source of food. Pigeons eat the dry seed pods from the yellow Mimosa, the other birds attracted by brightly coloured berries from bushes. They drop the seeds or deposit them via “natural wastage” through their system. Bird’s beaks pollinate flowers as they move from plant to plant. Squirrels store their nuts and then forget where they left them, ie lost their nuts. All of this leads to natural germination of new plant growth.

Of course there are drawbacks, fire being our biggest fear with the latest in January this year that was only 500 metres away. A round of applause for the skill of the pilots in their helicopters and planes dispensing their water drops on steep slopes and the “ ground Fire-fighters “ that camped out overnight on the mountain slopes to ensure the fire did not restart.
Our grab bags were ready for immediate evacuation.

Like everything in life there is a balance, yin and yan. De-forestation also has other issues that impact our very lives. I ‘ll refer to this in part 2, and its quite a surprise. But we have to consider the fire risk of our natural area, man’s need vs environment. It is a compromise that needs “Forest Management “rather than total destruction. This takes time, effort, planning and thought.

On a minor basis this is no different to company investment funds that are moving to a strict code pertaining to ESG. As a company The Spectrum IFA Group continue to add new additional ESG funds to the portfolio of fund managers that are truly supportive of this vital part of investing. The most recent one is the Liontrust ESG fund and we welcome its inclusion.

As this is becoming a vital component to any individual’s portfolio, feel free to contact me as detailed below, or download our guide to responsible investing and ESG funds here

ESG funds

ESG – How to invest ethically

By Chris Burke - Topics: ESG investing, ethical investing, Spain
This article is published on: 29th January 2022

29.01.22

Positive Ethical Screening

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a large increase in enquiries relating to ethical investments. It’s brilliant to see so many people looking and willing to make a positive difference to the world, whilst also in many cases seeing an equally positive return on their investments.

However, I often get questioned ‘What exactly makes an ethical fund ethical?’ and ‘What exactly do the companies that are defined as ethical funds do to make themselves ethical?’

Traditionally, ethical investing has focussed on omitting companies which operate in a non-ethical manner (for example, companies that produce arms or alcohol). However, it is just as important that when investing ethically we also consider the positives as opposed to solely filtering out on the negatives. There are many funds and companies out there who actively make amends to be more ethical, sustainable and make the world a better place, which doesn’t always get taken into account when negatively screening. In this article, I will go over positive screening criteria that I look for in an Ethical or Sustainable Fund. What exactly makes an ethical fund (or company), ethical?

Communication, Lobbying and Engagement

Funds that regularly communicate, lobby and engage with the companies in which their funds invest in. Although there is no guarantee that doing this will make a difference, communication is never a bad thing and there is potential for it to result in positive changes. For example, a fund could issue an ultimatum to a company if they do not act to reduce their carbon footprint. If the firm does not act, then the fund may well disinvest.

For example, Blackrock are pushing for more disclosure from companies. Specifically, they are asking companies to disclose how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy. By actively communicating and lobbying the companies which they include in their ethical funds, this will make companies take note and, hopefully, change for the better. If all investment management corporations followed suit, the chances of companies in general becoming more ethical and sustainable would increase.

Climate Change
Funds that contain companies which actively establish policies relating to reducing the impact of climate change. This could mean reducing their carbon footprint by reducing their mileage or switching their vehicle fleet to electric cars, or by utilising sources of renewable energy such as solar panels and wind turbines.

Various investment management companies such as JP Morgan, Schroders and Templeton all have specific climate change funds. The criteria by which each fund selects does vary, however the goal of all of them is to appreciate by investing in companies which adapt to risks posed by climate change and resource depletion. For example, Schroder do not filter based on sector but they select companies which are based on five themes: clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transport, environmental resources and low carbon leaders. JP Morgan operates a specialist thematic approach, utilising artificial intelligence and data science to create a portfolio of sustainable companies. Templeton select companies which exhibit superior climate-change practices and favour companies that provide low carbon solutions, companies transitioning to a low carbon economy and companies that are resilient to climate change.

Human Rights
Funds that favour companies who tackle human rights issues. This could mean by actively reviewing and ensuring that they do not break any human rights issues such as child labour, poor labour or generally poor working conditions. For example, if a firm was to use the services of a subcontractor, then they could actively and regularly audit them to ensure that no human rights issues are present.

Abrdn have a strong human rights stance, as demonstrated in a recent report. As they have an ESG friendly approach for their company as a whole, this naturally flows through into the companies that they select for their fund range (although they don’t have a specific human rights fund). The company performs regular human rights assessments to monitor that they are on track. As stated in the report, their human rights status is underpinned by four core beliefs and they are supporters of the ‘Protect, Respect, Remedy’ framework agreed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008.

Positive Contributions to Society
Funds that generally screen for companies that make a positive contribution to society. For example, funds that look for companies that create products such as medical products that could save lives or industrial machinery that could help make people’s jobs safer. Furthermore, companies that offer good working conditions including pay, hours and the environment could also be screened positively. A positive working environment could see positive human resources policies within an organisation relating to disabilities, assistance with parental care and flexible working. If a company donates a sizable percentage of their profits to charity, then they could also be included here.

There are many examples of investment companies and funds which positively contribute to society. M&G have one of the most extensive ranges of ethical and sustainable funds ranging from funds that invest in long-life, immovable infrastructure assets to funds that invest in companies which companies that contribute towards the Paris Agreement goals. Furthermore, Prudential have been named as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute for the 7th year running. The award is based on five key categories: ethics and compliance program, culture of ethics, corporate citizenship and responsibility, governance, and leadership and reputation. Prudential were one of six financial services companies out of 132 honourees.

Welfare of Animals
Funds that look at companies that show a general interest in the welfare of animals. For example, this could be ensuring that farm animals have quality facilities, enough space to roam and a lasting, regular supply of food and water. It could also focus on funds that include firms who do not facilitate tests on animals. However, it is important to be aware that a lot of firms test on animals in accordance with ‘best practice’. But is this ethical? The more ethical choice would be to not test on animals at all.

Various funds show a clear interest in animal welfare. This is stated in the various fund factsheets and prospectuses. Morningstar conducted an analysis of funds that are against animal testing. The fund which came out on top, The Vegan Climate ETF Index, describes itself as having zero animal exploitation.

If you would like to find out more about ethical investing, or invest your pension or investments in a more ethical manner, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Chris via the form below.

ESG – Responsible Investing

By Mark Quinn - Topics: ESG investing, Portugal, responsible investments
This article is published on: 20th January 2022

20.01.22

Many investors are turning to environmental, social and governance responsible investing – otherwise known as ‘ESG investing’. In fact, between 2019 and 2020 the flow of wealth into such funds has more than doubled, and the sector has seen a 42% (US$17.1 trillion) increase since 2018 according to a 2020 Trends Report.

What is ESG investing?
It is not the traditional ‘avoidance of bad’ companies or sectors, like oil or munitions. It covers a broad range of non-financial factors applicable to all industries and individual businesses, such as:

Environmental – climate change, carbon emissions, pollution, biodiversity, deforestation, water security.

Social – data protection, equal opportunities, working conditions, human rights, child labour and slavery, philanthropy.

Governance – business ethics, security pay, bribery and corruption, political lobbying and donations and tax strategy.

Whilst these are not commonly part of mandatory financial reporting, companies are increasingly making such disclosures on their financial reports, and official bodies are making changes to define, homogenise and incorporate these factors into investment processes.

So, what is driving this change in investment ideology?
Firstly, growth in the sustainable sector has outperformed other more traditional sectors such as auto and energy, and importantly have proved lower volatility during the Covid pandemic.

We saw markets take a battering during the initial phase of the pandemic in February and March 2020, but according to analysis by Morningstar, 66% ESG funds ranked in the top half of their categories and 39% ranked in the best quartile during these months.

There is also Morningstar research showing portfolios with ESG and sustainable funds perform better in the long term. They found that over 10 years, 80% of blended sustainable equity portfolios outperformed traditional funds. Moreover, 77% of ESG funds that existed 10 years ago are still going, compared to 46% of traditional funds.

There has also been an increased demand from retail and institutional investors, and it is not just the younger generation. 80% of asset owners across all age groups are incorporating sustainable and ethical investments within their portfolios. This is supported by Morningstar’s recent poll in the US which showed that 72% of adults had a moderate interest, with 21% expressing a high interest, and only 11% preferring to focus on the more traditional higher return industries. Likewise, financial advisers believe their clients are more committed to ESG investing, with research showing 74% of clients are incorporating such funds in their portfolios, up from 30% in the previous 2 years.

Legislation has also had its part to play. Denmark, France, Hungary, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK, have made carbon-neutral targets law, with the US and a further 23 countries committing this to policy. A further 132 countries have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. This trend and development at a governmental level will provide further opportunities for ESG investors.

ESG funds

What can we expect in the future?
It appears that the demand for ESG investments will only continue to rise, and there are expectations that this industry will increase 433% between 2018 and 2036 to US$160 trillion.

This movement is supported, and pushed on, by institutional investors such as Amundi (the largest EU asset manager), who announced that it would use ESG in 100% of its investments by the end of 2021. Similarly, Blackrock (the world’s largest asset manager), will increase its sustainable asset holdings to US$1 trillion by 2029, up from US$90 billion in 2019. Such support from the ‘big boys’ will not doubt fuel demand at both retail and institutional levels.

At an individual level, investors are embracing the movement and supporting renewable energy. They are actively making choices to fight climate change, and this is no longer simply taking your reusable bag to the supermarket, it is entering our investment portfolios.

Fund managers, ethics, green issues and sustainability

By David Hattersley - Topics: ESG investing, ethical investing, Spain
This article is published on: 18th February 2021

18.02.21

The impact of both Brexit and the Covid 19 pandemic have given us all time to reflect on the world we live in. As consumers in the developed world, we are perhaps more aware of the impact we make on our planet. The words “Sustainable” and “Ethical” spring to mind.

So where does one stand on ethics and sustainability? As individuals, it’s very easy to say “we are Green”, but then travel 70km to stock up on our favourite brands of frozen convenience meals. Most of us, due to “lockdown”, now spend more time cooking and preparing our meals at home.

How far are major companies prepared to change too? Coca Cola has announced plans to make a paper bottle and already has a prototype that can be recycled, which was developed in the Brussels R&D centre. But, whilst that is a very applaudable, one company has gone even further.

I have to admit that there is an affection for them as I worked in one of their divisions for two years prior to a career change to Financial Services. One of the biggest global consumer companies which operates in 190 countries is Unilever. “Love or loathe it” to paraphrase Marmite, they have taken what some may consider a risky strategy. Not only do they try to ensure that the raw materials that go to make their products are as green as possible, they have taken what may be considered a leap of faith. Sustainability and ethics are not only about “green principals”. They are insisting that every part of its global chain of suppliers provide a “living wage”, and in some cases double that, by 2030. These include smallholder farmers as well major direct suppliers numbering in total 60,000. As the CEO, Alan Jope, said in a statement on the 21st Jan 2021, “The two biggest threats that the world currently faces are climate change and social inequality.”

ESG Investing

As part of a developed area of the world we should all make a choice. Do we support the ethics of a company that is looking to redistribute wealth and act in an ethical, sustainable way, or do we just look at price rather than value? Have the events of the last year been our wake up call? Morally, rather than just looking at saving tax, or short term political gain and expediency, we should consider what the real legacy is that we leave our children and grandchildren on this planet that we share.

The same questions will be applied by our fund managers, in particular those that focus on ethics, green issues and sustainability. Are they the best choices for the future? I believe so. These specialists have far greater resources than I could ever have to research this “new world” we are entering, and are better equipped to look at the longer term than I am. I would be happy to provide a portfolio of these specialist funds to anyone who is interested, so feel to contact me on any of the points raised.

What’s the story with ESG investing and what can it do for your savings?

By Barry Davys - Topics: ESG investing, investment diversification, Investments, Spain
This article is published on: 7th January 2021

07.01.21

ESG investing is now a mainstream type of investing and a useful part of a portfolio. But what is it and why is it good for me?

A year ago, someone came to ask for advice on moving investments from UK investments to Spain investment. We discussed their position, their requirements, their reasoning behind moving the money to Spain. All the reasoning behind the thought process was very sound. However, there were some practical aspects that I highlighted that needed addressing before making the move. The issues were taxation in Spain and their requirement for sustainable and/or responsible investments.

These people were really pleased with their investments with returns over 120% in 8 years. The increase in value in these funds had been so spectacular that there was a large capital gains tax liability in Spain if they were to sell. Also, the funds also still meet their belief in ESG values.My advice was for them to keep their investments.

ESG Investing

So what is ESG investing and why have the returns been so good? Why is it a good type of investing for the coming years? ESG is short for Environmental, Social and Governance. ESG investing is investing in the shares of companies that have good practices in these three areas.

An example of a company that would tick all three elements is a company that sells solar panels and a maintenance contract for them but does not charge for the electricity that the panels produce. Many of the established players in the market sell panels and then charge for the electricity in the same way as a normal electricity company.

This is my view, but charging for the electricity produced is wrong. The source of the power, sunlight, is free. Sunlight costs the seller of the solar panels nothing and should not therefore be charged to the panel buyer. Companies that sell solar panels without charging for the electricity meet the governance criteria. They also meet the environmental aspect because it is a renewable energy. These companies are now providing social benefit because they are setting up systems for communities, e.g. apartment blocks. They are a good example of a company that meets the ESG requirements.

Why is this good for your portfolio? When the “good” companies highlight that energy is free once you have bought their panels, sales will increase. We would all like free energy having bought the panels. Other recent ESG examples include Zoom and other companies that allow us to work from home (+400% share price increase in 12 months), Geely who owns Volvo, Lotus and other brands all converting to electric cars (+70.66%) and BlackRock Inc, the world’s largest asset manager who has just declared it is moving to ESG screening for every investment it makes (+41%).

BlackRock assets are $7.81 trillion as at 31st December 2020. They are joined, in varying degrees, by the following fund managers in ESG vetting of and investing in companies with ESG credentials.

  • Fidelity
  • JP Morgan Asset Management
  • Morgan Stanley
  • PIMCO (World’s biggest bond fund manager)
  • Vanguard $6 Trn fund manager

This is a small number of the fund managers that have declared their intentions to invest in ESG assets. Are they doing this because of a collective social consciousness? They may tell us that, but the reality is the companies that can be classed as ESG are often the companies of the future. This is where the growth is and with this much collective demand from the above managers and more the sector will be well supported.

At Spectrum we believe in the benefits of ESG investing; it goes alongside our support of a number of charities. However, we also believe in it as a method of adding future value to our clients’ investments.

If you have a question about ESG investing and would like to discover more, please feel welcome to get in touch. We are also happy to review your investments to see how you can incorporate ESG investing into your savings.

You can be an ESG investor today!

As individuals, you can join the ESG movement.