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Which ESG Risks Are Affecting Your Portfolio?

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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

Explainer: A Visual Introduction to Fed Tapering

Broadly speaking, Fed tapering is the reversal of quantitative easing. We show the history of Federal Reserve bond tapering and how it works.

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Fed Tapering

Explainer: A Visual Introduction to Fed Tapering

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The Federal Reserve began tapering its large-scale asset purchases in November 2021, a move likely influenced by:

  • Rising inflation
  • Improving unemployment
  • Strong U.S. GDP growth

More than $4 trillion in capital was injected into the economy through quantitative easing (QE), over the course of the pandemic, inflation is at 40-year highs, and unemployment levels hover below 4%.

As Fed policy responds to a recovering U.S. economy, this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows how Fed tapering works, and its impact on the economy.

How Fed Tapering Works

Fed tapering is the unwinding of the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchases.

After the 2008 financial crisis, large scale asset purchases were introduced for the first time to inject liquidity into the market and help restore confidence. During the pandemic, they were introduced once more, at a rate of $120 billion per month.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The U.S. central bank buys government bonds typically in the form of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS).
  2. This influx of demand leads to a rise in these bond prices and their yields (interest rates) fall.
  3. As this lowers the interest rate on the government bonds, what often follows is lower interest rates on loans for households and businesses.
  4. Lower rates stimulate spending.
  5. When the economy is running well, the bank may unwind asset purchases to help keep inflation low, otherwise known as Fed tapering.
  6. Notably, Fed tapering and QE is hotly debated among economists. Those in favor say QE is a critical tool for stimulating the economy. Those against say that it inflates asset prices and contributes to inequality.

    Inflation Levels

    The consumer price index (CPI) rose 7% in December, the highest rise since 1982.
    Fed Tapering

    Given this increase, Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Jason Furman, former chief economist for President Obama say that the Fed didn’t taper soon enough. Other financial heavyweights suggest this is just the beginning of a hawkish approach to inflation.

    So how does Fed tapering impact inflation?

    By tapering asset purchases, the amount of money circulating in the economy that can be used to borrow to buy a house or car is reduced. According to this theory, when there is less spending, inflation will gradually cool down.

    Fed Tapering and Interest Rates

    The Federal Reserve has outlined that it will taper asset purchases before it increases targets on short-term interest rates. By current estimates, interest rates could rise in March.

    However, if the pandemic takes a turn for the worse, the Federal Reserve can shift direction. This gives the Fed time to assess how the market and economy will react before it raises rates.

    To prevent the taper tantrum of 2013, which led to market volatility and U.S. dollar appreciation, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has stated that the Fed must carefully communicate the sequence of QE and tapering to prevent any fear in the market.

    When Doves Cry

    Like the 1940s, the rise in money growth over the pandemic has been driven by government deficits. By contrast, leading up to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis or during the 1950s and 60s, the private sector spurred loan growth.

    Monetary inflation can impact consumer prices and financial asset inflation.

    As CPI and financial markets have soared over the pandemic, investors will be watching closely to see how Fed tapering impacts future monetary policy.

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Markets in a Minute

Ranked: Real Estate Returns by Property Sector (2012-2021)

From residential to retail, are there patterns in real estate return on investment? We rank them by sector over the last decade to find out.

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Real Estate Return on Investment by Sector

For the ninth year in a row, Americans say real estate is the best long-term investment.

However, what might be less clear to the average investor are the different types of investments available within the real estate sector, and how they compare. Real estate return on investment within property sectors has historically been uneven, and 2021 was no exception. While residential property soared, office real estate has performed relatively poorly.

Are there any patterns in the top performers over time?

This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments ranks real estate return on investment by sector over the last decade.

Sector Returns Over Time

We used data from the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts to show real estate return on investment by year. A real estate investment trust is a company that owns, operates, or finances income-producing real estate.

Here’s how total returns stack up by property sector, sorted from highest to lowest return in 2021.

 2012201320142015201620172018201920202021
Self Storage19.9%9.5%31.4%40.7%-8.1%3.7%2.9%13.7%12.9%57.6%
Residential6.9%-5.4%40.0%17.1%4.5%6.6%3.1%30.9%-10.7%45.8%
Industrial31.3%7.4%21.0%2.6%30.7%20.6%-2.5%48.7%12.2%45.4%
Retail26.7%1.9%27.6%4.6%1.0%-4.8%-5.0%10.7%-25.2%41.9%
Diversified12.2%4.3%27.2%-0.5%10.3%-0.1%-12.5%24.1%-21.8%20.5%
Infrastructure29.9%4.8%20.2%3.7%10.0%35.4%7.0%42.0%7.3%18.6%
Timber37.1%7.9%8.6%-7.0%8.3%21.9%-32.0%42.0%10.3%16.4%
Mortgage19.9%-2.0%17.9%-8.9%22.9%19.8%-2.5%21.3%-18.8%14.7%
Office14.2%5.6%25.9%0.3%13.2%5.3%-14.5%31.4%-18.4%13.4%
Healthcare20.4%-7.1%33.3%-7.3%6.4%0.9%7.6%21.2%-9.9%7.7%
Lodging/Resorts12.5%27.2%32.5%-24.4%24.3%7.2%-12.8%15.7%-23.6%6.3%

Data for 2021 is as of November 30. Specialty and data center sectors are excluded as this data was only available from 2015 onwards.

Self Storage real estate was the best performing sector for the last two years, and also performed well during the 2015 market correction. It tends to perform well when people’s lives are disrupted, such as when they’re moving for a new job, schooling, or due to marriage or divorce. In the case of COVID-19, self storage got an extra boost from people wanting more space in their home amid remote work.

Timber and Industrial real estate have been in the top three performing sectors for at least half of the last decade. Industrial real estate, a category including properties that enable the production, storage, and distribution of goods, has seen increased demand due to the rise of e-commerce. One estimate says the U.S. could require an extra billion square feet of warehouse space by 2025.

On the other hand, the Lodging/Resort sector has frequently been one of the bottom performers. A form of discretionary spending, hotel stays may be one of the first expenses people cut when the economy is in a downturn. This weakness was compounded by lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is a Good Return on Investment in Real Estate?

In light of the above data, investors may be wondering which sectors are “the best” to invest in.

The short answer: it depends. Here’s how real estate return on investment has varied within sectors, using the minimum, median, and maximum returns. We’ve sorted the data from the highest to lowest standard deviation, a measure of risk.

Real Estate Return on Investment

While Timber and Self Storage have delivered strong returns, they have also been relatively risky, with some of the widest variations in returns.

Industrials have seen the highest median return, and their risk is about middle of the pack. The second highest median return goes to the Mortgage sector, which earns income from the interest on mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. The mortgage sector has seen less risk than most other real estate categories, at least in the last decade.

For investors with a lower risk tolerance, Infrastructure may be a sector to consider. These properties had a positive return on investment for all of the last 10 years, and had the lowest risk of any property sector.

Patterns Within Real Estate Return on Investment

By looking at historical patterns, investors can consider how economic conditions may affect real estate return on investment.

Sectors associated with discretionary spending, such as Retail and Lodging, have tended to perform poorly during downturns. On the other hand, Self Storage and Residential properties have historically been more resilient during the 2015 selloff and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Future trends may also offer food for thought. For example, as the population ages and the government puts an increased focus on critical facilities, could the Healthcare and Infrastructure sectors be poised for growth?

Whichever sector(s) an investor focuses in on, real estate serves as an alternative investment that can help diversify any portfolio.

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