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The Rise of the Values-Driven Investor

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The Rise of the Values-Driven Investor

This infographic is available as a poster.

The Rise of the Values-Driven Investor

Many consumers today are considered to be “values-driven”, meaning they consider a company’s stance on environmental and social issues before making a purchase.

Such individuals will research a company’s reputation, boycott brands that are not aligned with their beliefs, and avoid products that negatively impact the environment. These types of concerns, however, aren’t just influencing the things people buy—they’re also changing the way people invest.

In this infographic from New York Life Investments, we profile the values-driven investor and examine the different ways their concerns can be incorporated into an investment portfolio.

What is a Values-Driven Investor?

Values-driven investors seek to align their portfolios with their personal beliefs and create a positive impact for society. Because of these goals, they are naturally driven to consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when selecting investments.

One common misconception is that this type of investing is only for millennials, but survey data proves this is far from the truth.

Age Group
% Interested in ESG Investing
24-3991%
40-5484%
55+80%

Source: New York Life Investments

Although ESG investing is the most popular amongst younger investors, older investors are not far behind, with 80% of correspondents aged 55+ demonstrating interest. This interest also extends across wealth brackets, as shown in the table below.

Personal Assets% Aware of ESG Investing% Likely to Invest in an ESG Fund, if Aware
$100K-$150K41%43%
$150K-$250K43%40%
$250K-$500K31%41%
$500K-$1MM34%37%
$1M+42%29%

Source: New York Life Investments

It’s clear that ESG investing has captured the attention of a very diverse group of people, but what kinds of issues do these values-driven investors actually care about?

ESG Priorities by Age Group

Values-driven investors are likely to prioritize issues differently depending on their age. For individuals between the ages of 25 and 39, longer-term issues such as global warming receive the highest concern. This is likely due to younger investors having more years ahead of them, and thus a greater chance of exposure to the effects of climate-related issues.

Below is a breakdown of each age group’s ESG priorities.

IssueAges 25 - 39Ages 40 - 54Age 55+ 
Global warming34%34%27%
Impact of plastic on the oceans21%30%26%
Sustainability24%23%17%
Data fraud or theft14%20%29%
Gun control13%20%22%

Source: New York Life Investments

For investors with a shorter time horizon to retirement, immediate concerns take the highest priority. For example, 29% of investors aged 55 and over were concerned with data fraud or theft, compared to just 14% among those aged 25 to 39.

How Can a Portfolio Reflect These Concerns?

Values-based investors have two primary approaches to choose from when building a portfolio tailored to their beliefs.

Approach #1: ESG Exclusionary

The first approach is ESG exclusionary investing, also known as “negative screening”. This method is well-suited for investors who want their portfolios to be completely aligned with their beliefs and values.

It involves the reduction, or avoidance, of exposure to specific industries that go against one’s values. Industries that are commonly screened out include tobacco, gambling, alcohol, and fossil fuels, the latter of which has gained significant attention in recent years.

Commonly referred to as “fossil fuel divestment”, this type of exclusionary approach focuses on freezing new investments in the sector while gradually removing existing portfolio exposure. Today, over 1,200 institutional investors representing $14.6T in assets have pledged their commitments to going fossil fuel free.

Institution TypeBreakdown of Total Assets Pledged
Faith-based organization32%
Educational institution15%
Philanthropic foundation15%
For profit corporation13%
Government13%
Pension fund13%
Non-governmental organization (NGO)4%
Healthcare institution1%

Source: Fossil Free (a project of 350.org)

Approach #2: ESG Inclusionary

The second approach is ESG inclusionary, also known as “positive screening”. This method is for investors who believe that companies with strong sustainability practices can outperform over the long term.

Instead of avoiding specific industries, an ESG inclusionary approach seeks to identify the best companies in any given industry. In practice, this involves the analysis of both traditional financial metrics and ESG factors.

Examples of Traditional Financial AnalysisExamples of ESG Factor Analysis
Analyze the company’s financial statementsExamine the company’s waste management practices
Study historical market trendsMonitor the company’s employee relations
Consider the direction of the broader economyGrade the company’s transparency & disclosure

Research on the effectiveness of ESG factor analysis has been overwhelmingly positive, and is a likely reason for the robust growth these types of strategies have seen in recent years. In fact, ESG leaders (companies with strong ESG practices) even outperformed their respective indices during the COVID-19 selloff in Q1 2020.

Building a Well-Aligned Portfolio

Despite several myths surrounding sustainable investment, there is an incredibly diverse group of individuals who want their portfolios to reflect their personal beliefs.

The typical values-driven investor is 48 years old, which means they’re likely in their peak earning years and are able to make larger portfolio contributions. Thus, this growing demographic is one that the investment industry should not ignore.

The types of issues these investors care about, however, can vary depending on age and other metrics. Thus, it’s important for them to learn about the different investment approaches available. Armed with this knowledge, investors can take better control of their finances and feel more confident in their decisions.

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Visualized: The Economic Benefits of a Green Recovery

A green recovery is projected to boost global GDP by 1.1% annually, along with saving 9 million jobs. What opportunities does this present for investors?

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Visualized: The Economic Benefits of a Green Recovery

After years of technological advancement, many renewable energy sources are now more efficient than traditional sources of energy.

Thanks to their falling prices and scalability, a green recovery, which centers on worldwide funding and policy support for green energy alternatives, is gaining strong momentum.

This infographic from New York Life Investments unpacks how a green recovery will benefit both the economy and investor portfolios.

What is a Green Recovery?

A green recovery is the intention of allocating the unprecedented global wave of public spending, pent up over the course of the 2020 pandemic, exclusively towards investment in sustainable systems to support:

  • The creation of millions of jobs
  • Improved productivity
  • A structural decline in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)

Green Recovery: The Economic Benefits

It is projected that nine million jobs per year will be created or saved over the next three years in a green recovery, along with 1.1% added in global economic growth annually.

Let’s look at two reasons why a sustainable recovery is gaining traction:

  1. Lower costs in energy spending
  2. More jobs created

To start, a sustainable recovery would involve 2% of U.S. GDP invested in low carbon energy. Compare this to current U.S. energy spending, which stands at roughly 6% of GDP—sitting at near lows. In fact, in the past, energy spending in the U.S. has reached as high as 13% of GDP.

Secondly, for every $1 million investment in renewable energy, more than twice as many jobs are created per category than in traditional energy. For instance, 7.5 jobs are created in the wind energy industry versus 2.2 in oil & gas.

Per $1 Million InvestmentTypeJobs Created
Renewable EnergyEnergy Efficiency7.7
Wind7.5
Solar7.2
Traditional EnergyCoal3.1
Oil & Gas2.2

Source: World Resources Institute, 07/28/20

With this in mind, let’s take a look at how investors can take advantage of a sustainable recovery across three industries.

1. Renewable Energy

Historically, energy demand has sharply rebounded after major economic shocks.

Following the Spanish Flu, energy demand plummeted over 15%—but rebounded by almost 25% the year after. Similarly, in the years that followed the Great Depression, World War II and the Global Financial Crisis, energy demand spiked.

In 2020, energy demand growth hit a 70-year low, created by the largest absolute decline ever. If history repeats itself, energy may be poised for a substantial demand increase.

On top of this, renewables have become significantly cheaper and scalable in recent years. Solar energy is a prime example. It is now one of the most affordable sources of electricity. In fact, the price of energy from new power plants—vital sources that generate energy for society—has changed significantly over the last decade.

Energy TypePrice per MWh (2009)Price per MWh (2019)Price % Change
Coal$111$109-2%
Solar Photovoltaic$359$40-89%
Onshore Wind$135$41-70%
Gas (combined cycle)$83$56-32%

Source: Lazard Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis via Our World in Data, 01/12/20

In 2019, over 50% of new global power capacity came from solar photovoltaic and wind power.

2. Transportation

Globally, as electric vehicle (EV) sales have accelerated, so have public chargers, illustrating a new infrastructure opportunity for investors. In 2019, there were 1 million public chargers built worldwide. Since 2014, public chargers in Europe specifically have more than doubled to over 200,000.

Year# of Global Electric Vehicles
2012110,000
2013220,000
2014400,000
2015720,000
20161.2M
20171.9M
20183.3M
20194.8M

At the same time, economies are planning for a wave of green transport investments.

Italy, for instance, plans to invest $33 billion in sustainable mobility as part of its $231 billion green recovery plan. Meanwhile, Germany is investing $6 billion in the electrification and modernization of its rail and bus system. Interestingly, high-speed rail uses 12 times less energy per passenger than airplanes or road transport trips under 500 miles.

Like renewable energy, electric vehicles, high-speed rail, and modern transport infrastructure are all central to the new chapter in sustainable investment.

3. Low-carbon Technology

Finally, you can’t talk about a sustainable recovery without net-zero emissions, where all emissions created are also removed from the atmosphere.

In recent months, net-zero targets have increased substantially. In January 2020, 34% of all global emissions were covered by net-zero targets. By March 2021, this reached 50%. Decarbonization will play a critical role in reaching net-zero targets.

Crucially, net-zero emissions can be achieved through the following decarbonization options:

  • Carbon capture: Chemical absorption and the injection of CO2 into depleted reserves
  • Nuclear energy: Produces energy through nuclear reactions
  • Storage & utilization: Improved electricity grid storage
  • Renewable innovation, and others: Includes hydrogen, batteries, and scaling renewables

Even in the wake of the pandemic, global investment in decarbonization topped half a trillion dollars in 2020, 9% higher than in 2019.

New Turning Point

COVID-19 is radically reshaping the sustainable investment landscape.

In 2020, nearly 25% of all U.S. stock and bond mutual fund net inflows went into sustainable funds. By 2025, as many as half of all investments are projected to be ESG-mandated in the United States. From modern infrastructure to low-carbon tech, sustainable investments present many opportunities for investors.

Supported by lower costs and government policies, sustainable investments show potential for promising growth.

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Beyond Bonds and Bridges: How to Approach Infrastructure Investments

Global infrastructure needs amount to $94 trillion by 2040. Here’s how to take advantage of infrastructure investments in your own portfolio.

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How to Approach Infrastructure Investments

Infrastructure is essential for our transportation, utilities, and communication needs. In fact, the U.S. government has recently emphasized its key role with supportive spending plans—and infrastructure is entering an investment supercycle.

In this graphic from New York Life Investments, we highlight the growing opportunity in infrastructure investments, and how investors can take advantage through both municipal bonds and publicly-traded infrastructure companies.

Investing in Infrastructure

As infrastructure continues to evolve, there are 3 main themes driving growth.

  • Data growth: Wide-scale tech adoption is increasing our need for digital infrastructure
  • Aging assets: Existing infrastructure is in need of upgrading or total replacement
  • Decarbonization: Climate change is driving demand for more sustainable energy

This presents a large opportunity for investors. Between 2016 and 2040, global infrastructure needs will amount to $94T, or about $3.7T per year.

Investors can access this market through municipal bonds, which are debt securities issued by state and local governments. They can also allocate funds to listed infrastructure companies, which are publicly-traded equities that own or operate infrastructure assets.

Here’s what investors need to know about both types of infrastructure investments.

Municipal Bonds

Traditionally, U.S. infrastructure is defined as big public work projects such as bridges, roads, and schools. About three-quarters of the costs are paid for by state and local governments, with a large portion coming from municipal bonds.

Both taxable and non-taxable bonds offer many benefits:

  • High Credit Quality: While corporate bonds are spread relatively evenly between investment grade and non-investment grade, the vast majority of municipal bonds are investment grade. These ratings have held up well, even during recessions.
  • Low Equity Correlation: Correlation measures how closely the price movements of two investments are related. While other bond categories have moved more in-line with the stock market, taxable municipals have had the lowest correlation. Investors who add taxable municipals to a portfolio may increase diversification.
  • Higher Relative Yields: Taxable municipal returns have been strong relative to other high quality sectors, and comparable to that of corporates.
    Bond categoryYield to worst
    Taxable Municipals2.10%
    Investment Grade Corporates1.70%
    U.S. Aggregate1.10%
    U.S. Treasuries0.60%

    Note: Data as of December 2020. Yield to worst is the lowest potential yield that can be received on a bond without the issuer actually defaulting.

    Amid low or even negative interest rates, this is especially important.

Infrastructure Companies

After municipal bonds are issued, governments use these funds to hire both public and private companies to build, maintain, and upgrade infrastructure. These companies have distinct advantages, such as high barriers to entry and consistent demand.

Of these companies, 360 are publicly-traded with a total value of $4.1 trillion. What benefits do public (listed) infrastructure companies offer?

  • Attractive historical returns: Listed infrastructure companies had higher returns than global equities over the 20-year period from 2000-2020.
  • Income potential: Over the last 20 years, income has accounted for about half of public infrastructure’s total return. This is partly due to stable and resilient cash flows.
  • Lower volatility and downside risk: Historically, listed infrastructure has had less risk than traditional equities and other real asset classes.
    Asset classStandard deviation Downside capture ratio vs global equities
    Listed Infrastructure12.9544.8%
    Global Equities15.14100.0%
    Global REITs17.3580.9%
    Energy Master Limited Partnerships38.25209.4%

    Note: Standard deviation and downside capture ratios are in USD over a 5 year period from Jan 2016-Dec 2020 using quarter-end data.

    For example, listed infrastructure only declined 45% as much as global equities during market downturns from 2016-2020.

An allocation to global, publicly-traded infrastructure companies may help reduce portfolio swings and manage risk.

Infrastructure Investments in a Portfolio

While municipal bonds play a key role in funding infrastructure, it’s companies that build our data centers and maintain our bridges.

Investors can benefit from allocating money to both infrastructure investments.

InvestmentWhere does it fit?Benefits
Municipal bondsCore fixed income allocation- High credit quality
- Low equity correlation
- Higher yields relative to other high quality sectors
Infrastructure companiesGlobal equity or real assets allocation- Income potential
- Attractive historical returns
- Lower volatility relative to equities & other real assets

Ultimately, municipal bonds and infrastructure companies can help investors build a stronger portfolio.

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