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Which ESG Risks Are Affecting Your Portfolio?

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This Markets in a Minute Chart is available as a poster.

ESG Risk by Industry

Visualizing ESG Risk by Industry

Aging populations, climate change, and data security are some of the world’s most pressing issues, but what theme do they all share? For investors, the answer is certain: sustainability.

Sustainability is a concept that’s quickly moved into the mainstream, and is best described as the consideration of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when analyzing companies. Combining these non-financial metrics with traditional analysis has been proven to have a positive influence on long-term returns.

In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we’ve mapped the ESG risk profiles of four prominent industries to gain a better understanding of the sustainability issues they’re likely facing.

Fossil Fuels

Investors in this sector have substantial exposure to all three ESG risks, with environmental issues being the most significant.

RiskImportanceIssues to Consider

Environmental

High
  • The global transition to green energy
  • Stricter environmental regulations
  • Harm from spills and other accidents

Social

Medium
  • Strained community relations
  • Shifting consumer attitudes

Governance

Medium
  • Shareholder transparency
  • Risk management structure

The global transition to renewable energy paints a complex future for the sector, though it’s uncertain when oil demand will peak—predictions range from 2025 all the way to 2040. Nevertheless, market participants are taking action. To date, over 1,200 institutional investors representing $14 trillion in assets have made commitments to divest from fossil fuels.

Social risks are another source of uncertainty, especially as public awareness around climate change increases. A planned expansion of the Keystone Pipeline System, referred to as Keystone XL, has faced nearly a decade of public resistance and currently remains blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last but not least are governance risks. With many investors considering the switch to a fossil fuel-free portfolio, shareholder transparency will be of utmost importance. The onus will be on company management to demonstrate that they have a clear understanding of the risks and opportunities ahead. Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s fourth largest oil company, has made progress on this front by announcing its strategy for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Financials

Social and governance risks are the top priorities for investors in the financial sector. Firms that finance the fossil fuel industry may have indirect exposure to environmental risks.

RiskImportanceIssues to Consider

Environmental

Low
  • Indirect exposure to the fossil fuel industry

Social

Medium
  • Aggressive or deceptive selling practices
  • Client relations


Governance

Medium
  • Corporate governance
  • Executive compensation

Underpinning the strength of the financial sector is consumer trust and client service. By using aggressive or deceptive selling practices, firms risk severe reputational damage and even financial penalties. Wells Fargo, America’s fourth largest bank, was recently fined $3 billion for its account fraud scandal that emerged in 2016.

These issues are closely related to governance risks, where weak internal structures can allow fraudulent activities like money laundering to take place. In fact, over a 15 month period ending in 2019, global banks were fined $10 billion for engaging in the activity. Experts believe that 60% of laundering fines resulted from criminals slipping past screening systems.

Healthcare

Social risks are the top concern for healthcare investors, given the sector’s important role in public health and well-being.

RiskImportanceIssues to Consider

Environmental

Low
  • Chemical activities

Social

Medium
  • Product safety and recalls
  • Inappropriate or misleading marketing

Governance

Low
  • Patient privacy

Unsafe products are one the most clear-cut issues because they directly harm society and shareholders. Johnson & Johnson, one of the world’s largest healthcare companies, has faced thousands of lawsuits for failing to warn consumers about asbestos in its baby powder products. The company was recently ordered to pay $2.1 billion in damages by a Missouri appeals court.

The use of inappropriate advertising is another issue that investors may want to watch out for. In 2019, Mundipharma was fined by the Australian government for making inaccurate statements in its marketing materials for opioids.

Software & IT Services

Companies in this sector are exposed to various social and governance risks, but are not known to be large polluters.

RiskImportanceIssues to Consider

Environmental

Low
  • Operation of data centers

Social

High
  • User privacy
  • Data security

Governance

Medium
  • Shareholder structure
  • Antitrust disputes

Many firms in this industry collect and monetize user data, exposing their shareholders to data privacy and security risks. Facebook has been at the center of numerous controversies in recent years, including the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw the unconsented collection of personal data from 87 million users. Polls found that 44% of Facebook users viewed the platform more negatively after the scandal.

These risks are likely to be amplified as governments take a firmer stance on data regulation. In 2018, the EU implemented its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), one of the world’s toughest privacy and security laws. In certain cases, noncompliance with the GDPR can result in fines equal to 4% of a company’s global revenues.

Navigating an Uncertain Future

Global sustainability issues are creating a more challenging environment for businesses in all types of industries. To hedge these risks, investors are turning to ESG in massive numbers—the value of sustainably managed assets now sits at $40.5 trillion, nearly double the amount from four years ago.

It’s important to remember, however, that businesses are unique. A social issue affecting one industry may not be as relevant for another. When armed with this knowledge, investors will be able to make more informed decisions that strengthen the long-term resiliency of their portfolios.

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Markets in a Minute

Infrastructure Megatrends: The Clean Energy Transition

Governments are keen to make the transition to clean energy, but what will it take to get there? In this chart, we examine two scenarios through 2050.

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Infrastructure Megatrends: The Clean Energy Transition

Demand for clean energy is ramping up as a majority of countries target 2050 as the year to achieve net-zero emissions. But how much will this all cost?

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), upwards of $100 trillion is needed to build a system capable of keeping global temperatures from rising above 2C° (3.6F°).

In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we take a closer look at the outcomes of such a massive endeavor.

Investment Required to Reshape Global Energy Markets

The IRENA believes there are two scenarios for how the clean energy transition plays out by 2050.

Their first scenario involves a total investment of $95 trillion (112% of global GDP in 2020) and is based on current policies and targets. Despite the lofty amount, this scenario is expected to fall short in achieving the goals set by the Paris Agreement.

Their second scenario involves a more ambitious set of targets, as well as a 16% larger investment of $110 trillion. Thanks to economies of scale, this scenario will reduce carbon emissions much further and keep the global temperature rise below 2C° (3.6F°).

The estimates behind these two scenarios are outlined in the table below.

 Current SituationScenario 1 ($95T in investment)Scenario 2 ($110T in investment)
Renewable Share in Electricity Generation26%55%86%
Electrification Share of Final Energy20%30%49%
Energy-Related CO2 Emissions (gigatonnes)34gt 33gt
9.5gt

How Do We Get There?

For scenario 2 to become reality, significant changes would need to be made across the entire economy.

For starters, the IRENA estimates that 1.1 billion electric vehicles will be on the road by 2050, up from 8 million in 2019. The resulting need for charging infrastructure is reflected by Scenario 2’s higher share of electrification (49% vs 30%).

Government subsidies around the world would also need to be adjusted, with much less money flowing to fossil fuels. The chart below provides a roadmap for these adjustments—on the left is the dollar value of subsidies, and on the right is each segment’s share of the total.

Government energy subsidies

Fossil fuel subsidies in the U.S. are facilitated through tax cuts, and are estimated to be worth around $20 billion per year. This may change very soon, as the Biden administration has signaled its intention to eliminate these subsidies as part of its 2021 tax plan.

With Great Change Comes Great Opportunity

The demand for clean energy is expected to kick-off a monumental transformation of the world’s infrastructure.

For investors, gaining exposure to this megatrend may combine attractive return potential with positive environmental impact. In fact, many listed companies in the utilities sector are establishing themselves as leaders in this regard.

Consider Enel, an Italian multinational with activities in Europe and the U.S. The firm has directed capital towards renewable energy since 2015 and is now the world’s largest player in renewables with 46GW of installed capacity across solar, wind, and hydro.

Further developments are planned, and Enel expects to grow its earnings (represented by EBITDA) at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5%-6% over the next decade.

To learn more about the opportunities surrounding clean energy, consider this infographic on the global sustainable recovery.

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Can Foreign Currencies Act as an Inflation Hedge?

To determine if foreign currencies were a good inflation hedge, we looked at their performance relative to U.S. inflation over the last four decades.

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Inflation Hedge

This infographic is available as a poster.

Can Foreign Currencies Act as an Inflation Hedge?

Inflation is like corrosion. Initially, it can make investment returns less attractive. Over time, it can significantly eat away at an investment’s value. For U.S. investors looking for an inflation hedge, holding foreign currencies may be one option.

But just how effective are they at managing inflation risk? In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we look at how the performance of foreign currencies compared to U.S. inflation rates over the last four decades.

How to Hedge Against Inflation

Inflation reduces the value of a dollar over time. To manage this risk, investors look for returns that are higher than the inflation rate. For example, a currency that appreciates 6% during 2% inflation may be considered a relatively good inflation hedge.

What makes a currency appreciate? A currency will perform well against the U.S. dollar if investors consider the issuing economy to be strong. This is because foreign investors will look to purchase investments in the applicable currency, driving up its demand.

Foreign Currency Appreciation vs. U.S. Inflation

Here is how the four largest non-U.S. reserve currencies have performed from 1981-2020. We measured a foreign currency’s appreciation against the U.S. dollar using annual exchange rates. U.S. inflation was measured by the percentage change in the average consumer price index for all urban consumers. Neither metric was seasonally adjusted.

YearAverage U.S. InflationEuropean euroChinese yuanJapanese yenBritish pound
20201.2%1.9%0.1%2.1%0.5%
20191.8%-5.6%-4.5%1.3%-4.7%
20182.4%4.4%2.2%1.5%3.5%
20172.1%2.0%-1.8%-3.2%-5.2%
20161.3%-0.2%-5.7%10.2%-12.8%
20150.1%-19.8%-2.0%-14.5%-7.9%
20141.6%0.1%-0.2%-8.3%5.1%
20131.5%3.2%2.6%-22.3%-1.4%
20122.1%-8.3%2.4%-0.2%-1.2%
20113.1%4.8%4.5%9.2%3.7%
20101.6%-5.1%0.9%6.3%-1.4%
2009-0.3%-5.7%1.7%9.4%-18.4%
20083.8%6.9%8.7%12.2%-8.0%
20072.9%8.4%4.6%-1.3%7.9%
20063.2%0.9%2.7%-5.6%1.3%
20053.4%0.1%1.0%-1.8%-0.7%
20042.7%9.0%0.0%6.7%10.8%
20032.3%16.5%0.0%7.4%8.1%
20021.6%5.3%0.0%-3.0%4.2%
20012.8%-3.1%0.0%-12.8%-5.3%
20003.4%-15.4%0.0%5.2%-6.7%
19992.2%N/A0.3%13.2%-2.5%
19981.5%N/A0.2%-8.2%1.2%
19972.3%N/A0.2%-11.3%4.7%
19962.9%N/A0.4%-15.8%-1.1%
19952.8%N/A3.1%8.0%3.0%
19942.6%N/A-49.5%8.0%2.0%
19933.0%N/A-4.7%12.4%-17.6%
19923.0%N/A-3.5%5.8%-0.1%
19914.2%N/A-11.3%7.2%-0.9%
19905.4%N/A-27.2%-5.0%8.2%
19894.8%N/A-1.0%-7.7%-8.7%
19884.1%N/A0.0%11.4%7.9%
19873.6%N/A-7.8%14.1%10.5%
19861.9%N/A-17.6%29.4%11.6%
19853.5%N/A-26.3%-0.4%-3.0%
19844.4%N/A-17.6%0.0%-13.4%
19833.2%N/A-4.4%4.6%-15.3%
19826.2%N/A-11.0%-12.9%-15.8%
198110.4%N/A--2.7%-14.8%

Note: The euro was created in 1999, which is why annual appreciation data against the U.S. dollar is not applicable prior to 2000. The Chinese yuan / U.S. dollar foreign exchange rate was not available for 1980, which is why annual appreciation for 1981 is unavailable.

The Best and Worst Inflation Hedges, Historically

Based on available data, here is the percentage of time each currency’s annual appreciation was greater than the U.S. inflation rate.

European euroChinese yuanJapanese yenBritish pound
43%18%48%33%

The Japanese yen acted as the best inflation hedge, with its annual appreciation beating U.S. inflation 48% of the time. Demand for the safe haven currency has historically been strong for three main reasons:

  • After the Japanese banking crisis of the late 1990s, the government introduced a number of policy measures. This helped Japan enter the global financial crisis with a relatively stable banking system.
  • Japan is the largest creditor nation, meaning the value of foreign assets held by Japanese investors is higher than the value of Japanese assets owned by foreign investors. In times of market uncertainty, the money of Japanese investors tends to return home—driving up demand for the yen.
  • To take advantage of near-zero interest rates in Japan, investors conduct “carry trades” where they borrow funds in Japan and lend or invest in countries where returns are higher. During turbulent markets, investors may unwind these trades, furthering demand for the yen.

The Chinese yuan has been the worst inflation hedge, with the yuan’s appreciation beating U.S. inflation only 18% of the time since 1982. This is perhaps not surprising, given that the yuan was pegged against the U.S. dollar in 1994 to keep the yuan low and make China’s exports competitive.

In 2005, China moved to a “managed float” system where the price of the yuan is allowed to fluctuate in a narrow band relative to a basket of foreign currencies. This shift led to the yuan appreciating against the U.S. dollar in some years.

The Risks of Currency as an Inflation Hedge

As the chart makes clear, investing in foreign currencies can be very volatile. Not only can currency depreciation lead to losses, there are additional factors for investors to consider such as geopolitical risks.

Of course, the effectiveness of foreign currencies as an inflation hedge depends on their attractiveness relative to the U.S. dollar. If a country is also affected by the factors causing U.S. inflation—such as an increase in the money supply—its currency could be negatively affected.

Given the uncertainties associated with this strategy, investors may want to consider foreign currencies alongside other asset classes to help manage inflation risk.

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