KiwiSaver and OECD Pension Scheme Recommendations

The OECD has identified for some time the growing importance of Defined Contribution (DC) pension schemes.

There has been a major shift globally away from Defined Benefit (DB) schemes to DC, such as KiwiSaver here in New Zealand.

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.   This has been likened to a “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum

The OECD has undertaken a review of DC potential drawbacks and how to incorporate them into regulatory frameworks to protect members. This led to the formation of a Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation.

In addition, the OECD Roadmap for the Good Design of DC Pension Plan made several recommendations.

 

Off interest to me, from the perspective of designing investment solutions, were the following:

  • Ensure the design of DC pension plans is internally coherent between the accumulation and pay-out phases and with the overall pension system. 

 

  • Consider establishing default life-cycle investment strategies as a default option to protect people close to retirement against extreme negative outcomes. 

 

  • For the pay-out phase, encourage annuitisation as a protection against longevity risk.

 

The OECD made a number of other recommendations which also have merit and they are provided below.

 

The OECD Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation emphasised that the objective is to generate retirement income.

Importantly, investment strategies should be aligned with this objective and implement sound risk management practices such as diversification and asset-liability matching.

“These should be appropriately employed in order to achieve the best outcome for the plan members and beneficiaries” (Guidelines 4.1).

Interestingly, these principles should apply not only to KiwiSaver, but to any forms of voluntary savings plans and mandatory arrangements.

 

The emphasis on generating retirement income and coherency between accumulation and pay-out phase (de-cumulation) are important concepts.

 

In my mind, a greater focus should be placed on generating income in retirement at the later stages of the retirement accumulation phase i.e. at least 10-15 years out from retirement. This is achieved by using asset-liability matching techniques as recommended by the OECD. The investment knowledge is available now to achieve this.

This reflects that the goal of most modern investment Products is to accumulate wealth and risk is defined as volatility of capital. Although these are important concepts, and depending on the size of the Pool, the focus on accumulated wealth my not lead to the generation of a stable and sufficient level of income in retirement.

This is a key learning out of Australia as they near the end of the “accumulation” phase of their superannuation system.

The central point is, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

 

Therefore, it is important to have coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

 

I have Posted previously on the concept of placing a greater focus on retirement income as the investment goal (as recommended by the OECD). The argument for such a goal is well presented by Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Professor Robert Merton.

Professor Merton highlights that for retirement, income matters, and not the value of Accumulated Wealth.

He also argues that variability of retirement income is a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital.

 

It is appropriate to consider the OCED recommendations at a time that the New Zealand Government are reviewing the Kiwisaver Default Provider arrangements.

This Review is being undertaken by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) and submissions are due 18 September 2019.

This GoodReturns article provides some context.

 

It is also important to note that there is a paradigm shift underway within the wealth management industry. The industry is evolving, new and improved products are being introduced to the markets in other jurisdictions.

New and innovative financial products are disrupting traditional markets by offering alternative ways to receive retirement income. The new approaches combine existing products in new and different ways. While they do not always provide guaranteed lifetime income, the innovations nevertheless can give savers options and features that annuities do not provide.

For example, Managed Payout Funds in the USA are a major alternative to an annuity. These Funds are designed to produce a relatively consistent level of annual income but that does not guarantee that outcome. They are similar in some respects to Target Date Funds (TDFs) but have a different objective.

 

More robust investment solutions are being developed to meet the retirement income challenge, they also display Flexicurity.   EDHEC Risk Institute provides a sound framework for the development of Robust Investment Solution and the need for more appropriate investment solutions.

Increasingly the robust solution is a Goal-Based investment solution coupled with longevity annuities that begin to make payments when the owner reaches an advanced age (e.g. 80) as a means to manage longevity risk.

 

The future also entails an increasing level of customisation. This reflects that saving for retirement is an individual experience requiring much more tailoring of the investment solution than is commonly available now. Different investors have different goals.

The investment techniques and approaches are available now to better customise investment solutions in relation to the conservative allocations within ones portfolio so as to generate a level of income to meet retirement goals.

Likewise, the allocation to risky assets (e.g. equities) should also be based on individual goals and circumstances.

The risky asset allocation should not be based on age alone, other factors such as assets outside of Super, other forms of income, and tolerance for risk in meeting aspiration retirement goals for example should also be considered.

 

In summary, the retirement investment solution needs be customised and focus on generating a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income. This goal needs to be considered over the accumulation phase, such that hedging of future income requirements is undertaken prior to retirement (LDI). Focusing purely on an accumulated capital value and management of market risk alone may lead to insufficient replacement of income in retirement, greater variation of income in retirement, and/or other inefficient trade-offs are made during retirement.

Importantly the investment management focus is not on beating a market index, arguing about fees (albeit they are important), the focus is on how the Investment Solution is tracking relative to the “individuals” retirement goals.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

The OECD also recommends:

  1. Encourage people to enrol, to contribute and contribute for long periods.
  2. Improve the design of incentives to save for retirement, particularly where participation and contributions to DC pension plans are voluntary.
  3. Promote low-cost retirement savings instruments.
  4. Establish appropriate default investment strategies, while also providing choice between investment options with different risk profile and investment horizon.
  5. Promote the supply of annuities and cost-efficient competition in the annuity market.
  6. Develop appropriate information and risk-hedging instruments to facilitate dealing with longevity risk.
  7. Ensure effective communication and address financial illiteracy and lack of awareness.

 

 

Evolution within the Wealth Management Industry, the death of the Policy Portfolio

There has been a profound shift in the savings and investment industry over the last 15-20 years.

Changes to accounting rules and regulations have resulted in a large number of corporates closing their defined benefit (DB) pension schemes.

This has resulted in a major shift globally away from DB schemes and to defined contribution (DC) schemes, such as KiwiSaver here in New Zealand.

 

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.

This has been likened to a “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum.

Couple with an aging population, growing life expectations, and strains on Government sponsored pension/superannuation schemes there is an increasing need for well-designed retirement investment solution.

 

Overarching the above dynamics is the shortcomings of many financial products currently available.

Many Products currently do not provide a stable stream of income in retirement, or if they do, they lack flexibility.

As expressed by EDHEC Risk Institute robust investment solution need to display Flexicurity.

Flexicurity is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching retirement investment decisions.

Annuities, although providing security, do not provide any potential upside. They can also be costly, represent an irreversible investment decision, and rarely are able to contribute to inheritance and endowment objectives.

Likewise, modern day investment products, from which there are many to choose from, provide flexibility yet not the security of replacement income in retirement. Often these Products focus solely on managing capital risk at the expense of the objective of generating replacement income in retirement.

Therefore, a flexicure retirement solution is one that provides greater flexibility than an annuity and increased security in generating appropriate levels of replacement income in retirement than many modern day investment products.

 

Retirement Goal

The most natural way to frame an investor’s retirement goal is in terms of how much lifetime replacement income they can afford in retirement.

The goal of most modern investment Products is to accumulate wealth, with the management of market volatility, where risk is defined as volatility of capital. Although these are important concepts, and depending on the size of the Pool, the focus on accumulated wealth my not provide a sufficient level of income in retirement.

This is a key learning from Australia as they near the end of the “accumulation” phase of their superannuation system. After a long period of accumulating capital a growing number of people are now entering retirement and “de-cumulating” their retirement savings.

A simple example of why there should be a greater focus on generating retirement income in the accumulation phase of saving for retirement is as follows:

A New Zealander who retired in 2008 with a million dollars, would have been able to generate an annual income of $80k by investing in retail term deposits. Current income on a million dollars would be approximately $32k if they had remained invested in term deposits. That’s a big drop in income, and it will continue to fall as the Reserve Bank undertakes further interest rate reductions over the course of 2019.

This also does not take into account the erosion of buying power from inflation.

Of course, retirees can draw down capital, the rules of thumb are, ………… well, ………..less than robust.

The central point, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase there will likely be a higher level of variation of Income in retirement.

 

The concept of placing a greater focus on retirement income as the investment goal is well presented by Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Professor Robert Merton  in this Posdcast with Steve Chen, of NewRetirement.

Professor Merton highlights that for retirement, income matters, and not the value of Accumulated Wealth.

He also argues that variability of retirement income is a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital.

More robust investment solutions are being developed to address these issues.

 

Lastly, it is encouraging that KiwiSaver providers are required to include retirement savings and income projections in annual statements sent to KiwiSaver members from 2020 onwards.

 

The death of the Policy Portfolio

Another important consideration is that investment practices and approaches are evolving. Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT), the bedrock of most current portfolios, was developed in the 1950s. It is no longer that modern!

Although key learnings can be taken from MPT, particularly the benefits of diversification, enhancements can be made based on the ongoing academic and practitioner research into building more robust investment solutions.

The momentous shift is the move away from the old paradigm of the Policy Portfolio. The Policy Portfolio is the strategic asset allocation of a portfolio to several different asset classes deemed to be most appropriate for the investor.

It is a single Portfolio solution.

Over the last 15-20 years there has been several potential enhancements to the Policy Portfolio approach, including the move away from asset classes and greater focus on underlying “factors” that drive investment returns (Although a separate Post will be published on this development, an introduction to factor investing and its implementation have been covered in previous Posts).

This interview with Andrew Ang on Factor Investing might also be of interest.

 

The focus of this Post, and probably the most significant shift away from the old paradigm, is the realisation that investments should not be framed in terms of one all-encompassing Policy Portfolio, but instead in terms of two distinct reference Portfolios.

The two portfolios as expressed by EDHEC-Risk Institute and explained in the context of a wealth Management solution are:

  1. Liability-hedging portfolio, this is a portfolio of fixed interest securities, that seeks to match future income requirements of the individual in retirement
  2. Performance Seeking Portfolio, this is a portfolio that seeks growth in asset value.

The concept of two separate portfolios is not new, it dates back to finance studies in the 1950s on fund separation theorems (which is an area of research separate to the MPT).

The idea of two portfolios was also recently endorsed by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize-winning behavioural economist, a “regret-proof” investment solution would involve having two portfolios: a risky portfolio and a safer portfolio.

Kahneman, discussed the idea of a “regret-proof policy” at a recent Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago.

 

The death of the Policy Portfolio was first raised by Peter Bernstein in 2003.

Reasons for the death of Policy Portfolio include that there is no such thing as a meaningful Policy Portfolio. Individual circumstances are different.

Furthermore, Investors should be dynamic, they need to react to changing market conditions and the likelihood of meeting their investment goals – a portfolio should not be held constant for a long period of time.

Therefore, institutional investors are moving toward more liability driven investment solutions, separating out the hedging of future liabilities and building another portfolio component that is return seeking.

The allocation between the two portfolios is seen as a dynamic process, which responds to the market environment and the changing likelihood of meeting investment goals.

 

Evolution of Wealth Management – the new Paradigm

These “institutional” investment approaches, liability driven investing, portfolio separation, and being more dynamic are finding their way into wealth management solutions.

Likewise, there is a growing acceptance the goal, as outlined above, is to focus on delivering income in retirement. Certainly a greater emphasis should be place on Retirement Income than previously.

Specifically, the goal is to meet with a high level of probability consumption goals in the first instance, and then aspirational goals, including healthcare, old age care and/or bequests.

Therefore, the investment solution should be designed to meet investment goals, as opposed to purely focusing on market risks as a whole, as is the case with the Policy Portfolio.

 

Goal-Based Investing

This new paradigm has led to Goal-Based investing (GBI) for individuals. Under GBI the focus is on meeting investor’s goals, much like liability-driven investing (LDI) is for institutional investors.

As explained by EDHEC Risk Goal-Based Investing involves:

  1. Disaggregation of investor preferences into a hierarchical list of goals, with a key distinction between essential and aspirational goals, and the mapping of these groups to hedging portfolios possessing corresponding risk characteristics (Liability Hedging Portfolio).
  2. On the other hand it involves an efficient dynamic allocation to these dedicated hedging portfolios and a common performance seeking portfolio.

 

GBI is consistent with two portfolio approach, fund separation, liability driven investing, and undertaking a dynamic investment approach.

The first portfolio is the Liability Hedging Portfolio to meet future income requirements, encompassing all essential goals.

The objective of this Portfolio is to secure with some certainty future income requirements. It is typically made up of longer dated high quality fixed income securities, including inflation linked securities.

The second portfolio is the Growth portfolio, or return seeking portfolio. This is used to attain aspirational goals, objectives above essential goals. It is also required if the investor needs to take on more risk to achieve their essential goals in retirement i.e. a younger investor would have a higher allocation to the Return Seeking Portfolio.

The Growth Portfolio would be exposed to a diversified array of risk exposures, including equities, developed and emerging markets, factor exposures, and unlisted assets e.g. unlisted infrastructure, direct property and Private Equity.

Allocations between Hedging Portfolio and the Growth Portfolio would depend on an individual’s circumstances e.g. how far away they are from reaching their desired standard of living in retirement.

This provides a fantastic framework for determining the level of risk to take in meeting essential goals and how much risk is involved in potentially attaining aspirational goals. It will lead to a more efficient use of invested capital and a better assessment of the investment risks involved.

Importantly, the framework will help facilitate a more meaningful dialogue between the investor and his/her Advisor. Discussions can be had on how the individual’s portfolios are tracking relative to their retirement goals and if there are any expected shortfalls. If there are expected shortfalls, the framework also helps in assessing what is the best course of action and trade-offs involved.

 

Industry Challenge

The Industry challenge, as so eloquently defined by EDHEC Risk, as a means to address the Pension Crisis as outlined at the beginning of this Post:

“investment managers must focus on the launch of meaningful mass-customized retirement solutions with a focus on generating replacement income in retirement, as opposed to keeping busy with launching financial products ill-suited to the problem at hand”

“……..The true challenge is indeed to find a way to provide a large number of individual investors with meaningful dedicated investment solutions.”

 

As expressed above, saving for retirement is an individual experience requiring much more tailoring of the investment solution than is commonly available now. Different investors have different goals.

Mass-production of Products, rather than Mass-Customisation of Investment Solutions, has been around for many years with the introduction of Unit Trusts/Mutual Funds, and more recently Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).

Mass-production, and MPT, down play the importance of customisation by assuming investment problems can be portrayed within a simple risk and return framework.

Although the Growth Portfolio would be the same for all investors, the Liability Hedge Portfolio requires a greater level of customisation, it needs to be more “custom-made”.

 

Conclusion

Encouragingly, the limitation of “one size fits all” approach has been known for some time. The investment techniques and approaches are available now to better customise investment solutions.

The challenge, is scalability, and the good news is advancements have been made in this area as well.

This is leading to changes within funds management organisations involving the greater use of technology and new and improved risk management techniques.  New skills sets have been developed.

The important point is that the knowledge is available now and it is expected that such investment solutions will be a growing presence on the investment landscape.

This will lead to better investment outcomes for many and have a very real social benefit.

 

The inspiration for this Post comes from EDHEC Risks short paper: Mass Customization versus Mass Production – How An Industrial Revolution is about to Take Place in Money Management and Why it Involves a Shift from Investment Products to Investment Solutions  (see: EDHEC-Whitepaper-JOIM)

A more technical review of these issues has also been undertaken by EDHEC.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Optimal Private Equity Allocation

TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Associations of America Endowment & Philanthropic Services) has published a paper offering insights into the optimal way of building an allocation to Private Equity (PE).

“Private equity is an important part of institutional portfolios. It provides attractive opportunities for long-term investors to harvest the illiquidity premium over time and extract the value created by hands-on private equity managers.”

 

Private equity is by its nature is illiquid. This in turn makes rebalancing a challenge. That is why a PE allocation that is too large endangers the entire portfolio, especially in times of crisis when secondary markets seize up.

 

According to recent analysis by Prequin, the popularity and growth of PE, and other alternative investments, is expected to continue.

Furthermore, recent Cambridge Associates analysis on those Endowments and Foundations with the better long-term performance records had “one thing in common: a minimum allocation of 15% to private investments.

 

We all know, a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns. Increasingly institutional investors are accepting that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. This has diminishing diversification benefits.

True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors, for which illiquidity is one factor.

In my mind, direct private investments, such as Private Equity, Direct Property, and Unlisted Infrastructure have a place in a genuinely diversified and robust Portfolio.

 

From this perspective, the TIAA paper is very useful as it considers how to build and maintain an allocation to PE within a well-diversified portfolio.  They assume building out the PE allocation over time to an equilibrium allocation.

The Paper provides valuable insights into the asset allocation process of what is a complicated asset to model given cash commitments (capital calls) are made overtime and there is uncertainty as to when invested capital will be returned (distributions). TIAA model for both of these variables, in a relatively conservative manner.

The TIAA Paper notes that investors have no control over the rate and timing of capital calls and distributions. Therefore, the paper focuses on two key variables Investors can control for: an annual commitment rate and the risk profile of the assets waiting to be invested in private equity assets i.e. where to invest the cash committed to PE but not yet called.

 

TIAA propose a robust process to determine an appropriate allocation to PE to ensure the allocation can be maintained and the benefits of PE are captured over time.

“Obtaining the benefits of an allocation to private equity, while also avoiding its inherent illiquidity pitfalls, can only occur through an effective, risk-based strategy for executing the build-out to the long-term equilibrium state.”

The goal of the paper is to develop a framework and a sound approach.

 

The results:

TIAA’s modelling suggests that a target allocation to private equity strategies in the range of 30% to 40% presents minimal liability and liquidity risks.

TIAA also suggest, that for long term investors, such as Endowments, capital awaiting investment in private equity should be invested in risk assets with higher expected returns, such as public equities (sharemarkets).

 

This level of allocation is probably high for most, and particularly KiwiSaver Funds.

Nevertheless, KiwiSaver Funds are underweight Private investments and Alternatives, particularly relative to the Superannuation industry in Australia.

Given the overall lack of allocation to private investments, including PE, Direct Property, and Unlisted Infrastructure, many KiwiSaver providers are most likely over estimating their liquidity needs to the detriment of investment performance over the longer term.

For those wanting a discussion on fees and alternatives, please see my previous post Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2.

 

TIAA Analysis

With regards to the TIAA paper, they develop a simple three asset portfolio of Fixed Income, Public equities, and Private equities. TIAA use sophisticated modelling techniques looking at a number of variables, including:

  1. the annual commitment rate; and
  2. Risk profile of the assets waiting to be invested in private equity.

The annual commitment is defined as the new commitment to private equity every year as a percentage of last year’s total portfolio value.

“An annual commitment rate results in a long-term equilibrium percentage of the portfolio in private equity assets, as well as the portfolio’s corresponding unfunded commitment level. The unfunded commitment level is important from a risk perspective as it represents a nominal liability to fund future capital calls, regardless of the prevailing market environment at the time of capital calls.”

TIAA note that at low rates of annual commitment the equilibrium rate of PE is about twice the unfunded ratio. Therefore, a 6% annual commitment rate will result in a base case unfunded ratio of around 15%, and a PE allocation of around 30% at equilibrium.

For those wanting a brief overview of the methodology, All About Alpha provides a great summary.

 

There is no doubt that Alternatives are, and will continue to be, a large allocation within more sophisticated investment portfolios globally.

As Prequin note in this report, investor’s motivation for investing in alternatives are quite distinctive:

    • Private equity and venture capital = high absolute and risk-adjusted returns
    • Infrastructure and real estate = an inflation hedge and reliable income stream
    • Private debt = high risk-adjusted returns and an income stream
    • Hedge Funds = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes
    • Natural Resources = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes

A well diversified and robust portfolio will be able to meet these motivations.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Exclusions no lay down misere

This the first of a series of Posts covering the seven broadly recognised Responsible Investment Strategies.

Exclusions, also referred to as negative screens, is the most dominant responsible investment strategy in New Zealand according to the Responsible Investment Association Australasia’s (RIAA) Responsible Investment Benchmark Report NZ 2019.  Based on RIAA’s report 44% of Funds Under Management in New Zealand employ a negative screening approach.

Exclusions is the oldest form of sustainability investing and has been associated with those investors looking to manage their reputation risk.  Modern forms of negative screening have been around since the 1960’s.  The Philosophy dates-back to the 18th century.

 

Negative screening strategies exclude certain sectors, companies, or countries from a Fund’s investment universe.

Exclusions are often subjective decisions based on an investor’s values or are undertaken to avoid commonly called controversial business practices and products.  Examples of controversial activities are, Tobacco, Alcohol, Weapons, Gambling, Adult entertainment.

Other areas frequently excluded are animal testing, nuclear energy, genetically modified organisms, with the latter two often barred in Europe.  In recent years, it has become more common to exclude the worst climate offenders, including thermal coal and controversial oil and gas companies.

Exclusions can also be based on behaviour that is incompatible with sustainability standards or severe environmental or human rights violations. The Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact are often used as a guide in deciding which areas warrant exclusion.

 

Implementation Issues

Although Negative Screening appears to be a relatively straightforward strategy to implement, investors must ask themselves some difficult questions.

The devil is in the detail, and exclusions are no lay down misere.  There is a high degree of ambiguity.

 

Exclusion lists force investors to make absolute yes or no decisions, which can often mask the subtleties of some corporate activities. For example, a common industry excluded in ESG portfolios is tobacco. However, where does one draw the line with industries such as weapons manufacturing? Should only nuclear weapons manufacturers be excluded? What about handgun manufacturers?

The Exclusion process broadly involves the following steps.  Investors need to determine:

  1. Activities to avoid
  2. Materiality thresholds or the said activities (e.g. at least 5% of revenues).
  3. The investment universe is then screened, relying on a database. An immediate implementation issue is over quality of databases and variation in databases between providers (a subject of a future Post, highlighted now that subtleties and nuances excess in implementing).
  4. Companies breaching thresholds are removed from the investable universe and existing portfolios.  See below for materiality.
  5. Repeat with some frequency (e.g. quarterly or annually for Index providers and as stocks are research for active managers).

 

In my mind, a sound Responsible Investment (RI) philosophy and framework needs to be established first.  An RI Policy Document covering such should be developed and approved by the relevant Board.  Key exclusions would likely be included in the Policy.

I personally believe RI starts with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) integration (ESG integration is another RI investment strategy which will be covered in a future Post).

An exclusion list is then developed based on the RI Philosophy (set of values) in the first instance and overtime based on the ongoing ESG research.

Exclusions without a philosophy or ESG research is management of reputation risk only, it has no solid foundation.  A wide sweeping corporate marketing statement does not constitute a RI Policy.

 

Materiality and Business Activities

Exclusion lists not only forces one to make absolute decisions on industries, they also force one to make absolute decisions on companies that have diversified businesses.

Therefore, a key question to answer before applying negative screening to a portfolio is where to draw the line. This entails two aspects: materiality thresholds and the nature of business involvement.

Materiality is relatively straightforward. Does an investor wish to eliminate issuers with any involvement at all in the excluded activities, or is there a tolerance for a small portion of revenues (e.g. no more than 5%) to arise from these areas?

The answer is personal.  There is a trade-off involved between the strictness of the threshold and the financial impact that may result from the exclusions.

 

The second point to consider is the nature of involvement in a given business activity.

A key distinction is between manufacturing and distribution.

In the case of alcohol, for example, should investors only exclude companies that produce alcohol or also those that derive a substantial portion of their revenues from it? And if they choose the latter, how exactly should they define a ‘substantial portion’? And if they are excluding alcohol manufacturers from their universe, what about the firms selling it, such as major retailers? Hotel Chains?

 

Therefore, it is important to understand what an exclusion will imply in practice.  Investors need to be comfortable with the results.  This can be challenging where there is a wide range of stakeholders.  Understanding the trade-offs involved is critical to avoiding surprises later.

 

The devil also lies in the detail when it comes to implementation.

This article by Man Numeric highlights the complexity of issues to consider in applying exclusions to the controversial weapons sector.  Providing a good discussion in relation to materiality and business activities.

 

Outcomes

Excluding a company rarely leads to its product being removed from the market. And excluding entire sectors for non-financial reasons can have a meaningful impact on the risk/return characteristics of a portfolio.

Exclusions are most suitable for investors with a clear vision and set of values on which products or behaviours they and their stakeholders wish to avoid. For example, charities with well-defined values and beliefs and health insurers that wish to exclude companies making products that are detrimental to general health.

 

Best in Class

While exclusion strategies adopt a negative approach, best-in-class strategies adopt a more positive stance, choosing to invest in the firms with the best ESG practices in a sector rather than deliberately avoiding certain areas. These strategies are based on the premise that firms with the best ESG practices are likely to outperform over the long term.  Best in Class will be the subject of a future Post.

 

ESG investing is a broad field with many different investment approaches addressing various investment objectives.

At a higher level ESG investing can be broken down to three main areas that each have their own investment objective:

  1. ESG integration, in which the key objective is to improve the risk–return characteristics of a portfolio.
  2. Values-based investing, in which the investor seeks to align their portfolio with their norms and beliefs. (i.e. Exclusions)
  3. Impact investing, investors use their capital to trigger change for social or environmental purposes e.g.to accelerate the decarbonisation of the economy.

 

Best practice includes exclusions, ESG integration with a focus on best-in-class, and Impact investing, a full array of Sustainable Investing strategies.

Crucially it requires an understanding of how to integrate ESG criteria into the investment process to capture the full value of ESG.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Changing the Conversation on Management Fees

Bloomberg report:

“BlackRock Inc. is tired of the conversation about costs. The world’s largest asset manager, which runs some of the cheapest investment products available, plans to place a greater focus on the quality of the engineering, construction and management of its funds going forward, …… “

“There’s too much emphasis purely on cost,” said Senra, ……….. “We don’t talk enough about quality. That’s not to say we’re not going to be competitive — we have to be competitive, this is a competitive industry — but I would move away from just a low-cost conversation.”

 

I agree, “too much emphasis purely on cost”, investment management fees, there should be a “greater focus on the quality of engineering, construction, and management”, and “we don’t talk enough about quality”.

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I think investment management fees are important.  I also think we should have a mature discussion about fees.  

The cheapest solution may not be the best, a race to bottom is not helpful.  And I’d say, not necessarily in the best interest of investors.

 

There are many reasons why you might consider paying more for something.  In an investing context this could be for greater levels of true portfolio diversification to manage portfolio volatility and return outcomes, for example the model followed by US Endowment Funds which has been very successful.

 

I appreciate BlackRock is making comment in relation to gaining access to certain areas of the market that they believe will deliver greater return outcomes overtime. 

 

I think this is an interesting issue when framed in the context of Responsible Investing.  Particularly in relation to quality of data, portfolio construction, and portfolio management.   From a more broader perspective, it also  helps highlight issues beyond just a headline investment management fee.

 

The evidence is compelling, Environmental, Governance and Social (ESG) investing can be a clear win for companies.  It can also be a clear winner for investors, yet it is not easy to capture this value.

For a start the ESG data is not consistent across providers.  At the company level this creates a diversity of opinion amongst providers.  Several studies have highlighted the contrasting conclusions of ESG data providers. (See this article on ESG Scoring, sourced over LinkedIn and published by RBC GAM.) 

Studies highlight the low level of correlation between ESG data.  This can result from different weighting systems that generate an ESG score and that there is a level of subjectivity in determining the materiality of ESG input.

 

Let’s consider this from a New Zealand perspective.

As the recent RIAA Benchmark Report  highlights:

“When primary and secondary RI strategies are taken into account, the dominant responsible investment strategy is negative screening, which represents 44% of AUM. Where ESG integration was nominated as the primary strategy, it was usually paired with either corporate engagement and shareholder action, or negative screening, as secondary strategies.”

Negative Screening is the dominant Sustainable Investing approach in New Zealand, to move beyond this will take an increasing level of resources and time.

There is a lot more to RI than negative screening.  The implementation of negative screening is not straight forward i.e. coming up with the investment philosophy, approach, and framework takes time and consideration, trading on the exclusion list is relatively straight forward.

 

As the RIAA Report covers, there are seven broad RI strategies as detailed by the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) and applied in the Global Sustainable Investment Review 2018, which maps the growth and size of the global responsible investment market.

The Broad RI strategies are:

  1. ESG integration
  2. Corporate engagement and shareholder action
  3. Negative/exclusionary screening
  4. Norms-based screening
  5. Positive/best-in-class screening
  6. Sustainability-themed investing
  7.  Impact investing and community investing

 

Best practice RI involves the full spectrum of these strategies, negative screening, ESG integration, Best-in-class and impact investing, at the very least.  This includes corporate governance and shareholder action.

 

So how do New Zealand’s leading investment managers compare to best practice.  The RIAA report makes the following comment in relation to New Zealand managers:

“There’s a growing number of investment managers applying leading practice ESG integration, but the overall number remains small. Of the 25 investment managers assessed, just eight (32%) are applying a leading approach to ESG integration (score >80%). That said, the number of leading ESG integration practitioners has risen from four last year, with some employing other responsible investment strategies as their primary strategy.”

 

It is great to see ongoing progress.

To implement leading ESG integration practices, let alone capture the full value of the ESG factors, takes time and resources.  Those managers making this commitment are to be commended.  It takes a lot of hard work.

The market leading managers are applying a wide range of sustainable investing approaches and resources.  This comes at a cost.

 

Therefore, some thought must be given to quality of RI outcomes being delivered and are they in line with best practice and is there continuous improvement in place.  Do they meet customers expectations?

 

Accordingly, I agree, let’s change the conversation about investment management fees, there are a lot of issues to consider other than investment management fees alone.

There is a lot to consider in delivering robust outcomes to investors.

Happy investing.

 Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Unscrambling the Sustainable Investing Return Puzzle

“The evidence is compelling: Sustainable investing can be a clear win for investors and for companies. However, many SRI fund managers, who have tended to use exclusionary screens, have historically struggled to capture this. We believe that ESG analysis should be built into the investment processes of every serious investor, and into the corporate strategy of every company that cares about shareholder value. ESG best-in-class focussed funds should be able to capture superior risk-adjusted return if well executed.”

This is the key finding of a Deutsche Bank Group (DB) report published in 2012, Sustainable Investing, Establishing Long-Term Value and Performance

The DB report looked at more than 100 academic studies of sustainable investing around the world, and then closely examined and categorized 56 research papers, as well as 2 literature reviews and 4 meta studies.

To the point, they comment “… most importantly, “Environmental, Social and Governance” (ESG) factors are correlated with superior risk-adjusted returns at the securities level…..”

DB were surprised by the clarity of results. Which are as follows:

  • 100% of academic studies agree that companies with high ratings for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and most importantly ESG factors have a lower cost of capital, for debt and equity. The market recognises them as having lower levels of risk.
  • 80% of studies show that companies with high ESG ratings exhibit market-based outperformance. The market is showing correlation between financial performance and what is perceived as the advantages of ESG strategies.
  • The single most important factor is Governance, Environment is next, closely followed by Social.

 

The study shows quite clearly that ESG factors matter at the security level, with consistent evidence of better financial performance.

The key for investors and fund managers is the ability to identify and capture these factors. This is a key issue as it comes down to the ESG scoring approach (whether active or index based) implemented, level and definition of portfolio exclusions.

It comes down to how ESG is integrated into the investment process.

 

Unscrambling Fund performance

A common perception is that Sustainable Investing is hard to define and provides mixed results – there is no really clear evidence it leads to a superior risk-adjusted return.

A key conclusion from DB is that “Sustainable investing has been too closely associated for too long with the performance of SRI Funds. These funds are not only an extremely broad category (i.e. in terms of investment mandate), but historically were based more exclusionary (or negative) – as opposed to positive best-in-class-screening.”

DB note that the Academic studies have not been aggregated and classified into appropriate categories, but have been mixed together, thus providing mixed results.

DB: “ By “unscrambling” them – as we do in this paper – a clearer picture emerges.”

 

“Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) in the academic literature have tended to rely on exclusionary screens – show SRI adds little upside, although it does not underperform either. Exclusion, in many senses, is essentially a value-based or ethical consideration for investors.”

With regards to the SRI Funds, the results are mixed, largely support they do not underperform, and there is no significant difference in performance.   Neutral to mixed results.

These results are limited to the review of SRI Funds only, they did not look at categories of ESG Funds.

 

DB found that ESG factors are correlated to superior performance at the security level, as highlighted above.

The real issue is how Managers are attempting to capture the superior performance from ESG factors at the security level in their portfolios.

Therefore, implementation and the approach taken to integrate ESG into the investment process is key in capturing the excess returns available from Sustainable investing as identified by the DB.

 

Increasingly, positive ESG investing, commonly referred to best-in-class, approach is being employed.

Best-in-class is an investment approach that focuses on companies that have historically performed better than their peers within a particular industry or sector on measures of environmental, social, and corporate governance issues. This typically involves positive or negative screening or portfolio tilting.

Best-in-class compares to exclusion, also called negative screening, where companies involved in certain “controversial” activities, such as tobacco or weapons are removed or excluded from an investor’s portfolio.

Best practice includes exclusions, ESG integration with a focus on best-in-class, and Impact investing, the full array of Sustainable Investing.

Crucially it requires an understanding of how to integrate ESG criteria in to the investment process, so as to capture the full value of the ESG factors.

 

Summary

DB note that the analysis on SRI performance goes a long way towards explaining why the concept of sustainable investing has taken so long to gain acceptance, it has been too closely associated for too long with the SRI fund manager results, which is a very broad category and has historically been based on exclusions, as opposed to a best-in-class screening.

They note that ESG investing, by contrast takes a best-in-class approach. DB have analysed the various categories within the universe of sustainable investing, they confidently say that the ESG approach, at an analytical level, works for investors and companies (in terms of lower cost of capital).

“It is now a question of ESG best-in-class funds capturing the available returns.” This is a key point.

So while Sustainable investing is the term use to refer to all form of investment, DB believe using ESG factors in a best-in-class approach is emerging as the key investment methodology. It is worth noting this was forecast in 2012 and is coming into fruition now.

DB note: “Investors should seek out investment managers who understand the ESG advantages and can leverage the information arbitrage that exists in the studies we examined. Sustainable Investing can pay dividends, but it requires managers who have internalised this information into their investment process and can also create appropriate strategies to help capture the upside that undoubtedly exists in this approach.”

Or put another way: “In effect, the conclusion is that there are superior risk-adjusted returns for investors, but managers need to take the right approach toward sustainable investing in order to capture these. For corporations, these are important results but the implication of lower cost of debt and equity capital must surely make this a key issue for any CFO, not just the CEO and Sustainability Officer.”

As an aside, this has implications in relation to the fee debate and manager selection. This will be covered in a future Post.

 

Another Comprehensive Study

A more recent study, ESG and financial Performance: aggregated evidence from more than 200 empirical studies, published in 2015 came up with similar conclusions.

They too found clear evidence in support of ESG investing. Their central conclusions was: “the orientation toward long term responsible investing should be important for all kinds of rational investors in order to fulfil their fiduciary duties and may better align investors’ interests with the broader objectives of society. This requires a detailed and profound understanding of how to integrate ESG criteria into investment processes in order to harvest the full potential of value-enhancing ESG factors……..”

As  mentioned, implementation is key. Therefore, when selecting an index provider or/and active manager, their integration of ESG factors into the investment process and strategy is very important, as also highlighted by the DB study.

The full conclusion of the 2015 study:

“Through a second-level review of 60 review studies – including both, vote-count studies and meta-analyses – on the ESG–CFP relation, we are able to combine more than 3700 study results from more than 2200 unique primary studies. Based on this sample, we clearly find evidence for the business case for ESG investing. This finding contrasts with the common perception among investors. The contrary perception of investors may be biased due to findings of portfolio studies, which exhibit, on average, a neutral/mixed ESG–CFP performance relation. It is important to be aware that the results of these (to date about 150 studies) are overlaid by various systematic and idiosyncratic risks in portfolios and, in the case of mutual funds, by implementation costs. Still more than 2100 other – in particular company-focused – empiric studies suggest a positive ESG relation. ESG outperformance opportunities exist in many areas of the market. In particular, we find that this holds true for North America, Emerging Markets, and in non-equity asset classes. Our results propose that capital markets so far demonstrate no consistent learning effects regarding the ESG–CFP relation: Since the mid-1990s, the positive correlation patterns in primary studies have been stable over time.

 Based on this exhaustive review effort, our main conclusion is: the orientation toward long-term responsible investing should be important for all kinds of rational investors in order to fulfil their fiduciary duties and may better align investors’ interests with the broader objectives of society. This requires a detailed and profound understanding of how to integrate ESG criteria into investment processes in order to harvest the full potential of value-enhancing ESG factors. A key area for future research is to better understand the interaction of different ESG criteria in portfolios and the relevance of specific ESG sub-criteria for CFP. These insights will shed further light on the ESG determinants for long-term positive performance impacts.”

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Not Investing Responsibly

The United Nation’s responsible investing body, Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), could delist up to 50 groups next year, as reported by the FT.

Seemingly, almost a third of the PRI signatories placed on a watchlist by the PRI are at risk of being booted out of the body next year.

Last year the PRI put 180 of its signatories on notice after an annual audit suggested they had not demonstrated a minimum standard of responsible investment activity.

 

Signatories to the PRI, which include asset owners and managers, commit to six principles (See below) designed to embed environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into mainstream investing and holding companies they invest in to account on ESG failures.

Signatories must file an annual report to the PRI detailing their progress. And continuing to make progress is key. An organisation has to do more each year. You are either in or you are out!

 

According to the FT article, the PRI last year gave those on the list two years too lift their game. The responsible investment body said 88 on the watchlist made improvements and met the minimum requirements this year. It is also working with 42 signatories who are on track to do so by 2020.

However 50 groups with $1tn in assets have failed to engage with efforts to get them to shape up and are at risk of being delisted. The PRI refused to name names.

As the article highlights “The move comes at a time of greater scrutiny of whether investors are practising what they preach when it comes to responsible investment. “We still have some where they haven’t met with us,” said Fiona Reynolds, chief executive of the PRI, who said it was hard to know why they have not done so. “The aim was always to get people moving, not to delist people.” The PRI also requires that at least half a fund manager’s assets be covered by a responsible investing policy and for there to be explicit commitment to the issue by senior managers.”

 

Raising the Bar on free riders

This comes after the PRI signalled last year they were raising the bar by introducing new minimum hurdles. PRI is also pushing its 1900-plus members to be more active on issues like climate change, human rights and corruption. The SMH reported that collectively this group has US$70 trillion in assets under management.

As outlined by the SMH “The PRI put in place minimum requirements, a move it hopes will strip out free-riders in its ranks while bolstering its relevance, more than 10 years after the PRI’s launch by then-United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan and a group of major institutions……….. “And it wants its members to be more active in holding companies to account on so-called ESG – environmental, social and governance – issues, with climate change risks, fracking, corruption, water rights, modern slavery and child labour among its current areas of focus.”

 

As noted in the SMH article many PRI signatories proudly tout their membership, sustainability reports and marketing materials, but about 10 per cent would not currently meet the proposed new hurdles.

 

Responsible investing is more than establishing portfolio exclusions.

Being a PRI signatory takes a real commitment. Increasingly the PRI is asking signatories to be more active. This includes investors wield their proxy votes against company management when more gentle forms of engagement – like letters to boards and meetings – fail to get results.

Collaborating with the industry is also a key component of being a signatory, e.g. PRI members have collectively pushed for more disclosure on issues like water quality, air emissions, and community consultation and consent by fracking companies, and for improved labour practices in agricultural supply chains.

Also, late last year, the PRI backed the Climate Action 100+ campaign, launched by 200 institutional investors with US$26 trillion in assets under management, which aims to push 100 high-emitting companies including BHP, Rio Tinto and Wesfarmers to curb emissions and boost climate risk disclosure.

 

As outlined in a previous post, increasingly best practice involves incorporating ESG Integration, Exclusions, and Impact Investing into the investment process and implementing across a variety of asset classes i.e. not just equities.

Furthermore, while exclusions adopt a negative approach, increasingly the ESG research is being applied in a positive way i.e. investing in companies with the best ESG practices rather than just avoiding those with the worst practices.

 

Signatory Requirements

PRI signatories are required to report once a year on their activities, pay their fees and declare their intention to invest responsibly via the six voluntary and aspirational principles.

They also have to:

  • have a responsible investment policy that covers at least 50 per cent of their assets under management,
  • name a person within the organisation that is responsible for carrying it out, and
  • spell out who in their group’s senior ranks is accountable for it.

 

As the SMH records they are not particularly high hurdles.

It is not that onerous and it is amazing what can be achieved with steady incremental improvements.

 

How to avoid being on the PRI Black List?

A recent UBS Survey highlighted that a lack of internal resources was one of the most important barriers to ESG related thinking. Unclear terminology was another, along with a fear it will hurt financial performance (I hope to blog on this barrier later).

A lack of internal ESG implementation knowledge, particularly on Boards and Trustees can not only be a barrier to taking the first steps toward being a Responsible Investor, it is also a barrier for the advancement and continuous improvement of the Responsible Investing approach the PRI is looking for.

Terminology is a barrier but can be easily overcome.

Furthermore, from this perspective, the first step an organisation should take when adopting ESG and a Responsible Investing approach is to formulate a Policy. This signals a genuine intent to start integrating ESG. The Policy should be Board approved.

Therefore, very surprisingly, the USB Survey found that only a minority of ESG adopters (7%) had established a Policy. This is staggering. 40% of the survey respondents said no – but would like to do this! wow. 30% just said no.

The UBS ESG Survey, Do you or don’t you? Received 613 responses from asset owners, across 46 countries representing EUR19 Trillion in assets.  Not all the respondents were PRI Signatories.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

PRI Principles

Principle 1: We will incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.

Principle 2: We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices.

Principle 3: We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest.

Principle 4: We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.

Principle 5: We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.

Principle 6: We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.

Could Buffett be wrong?

As has been widely reported Warren Buffett frequently comments on the benefits of investing in low-cost index funds.

He’s reportedly instructed the trustee of his estate to invest in index funds. “My advice to the trustee couldn’t be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund,” he noted in the Berkshire Hathaway’s 2013 annual letter to shareholders.

 

Not that I want to disagree with Buffett, I have enormous respect for him, incorporate many of his investment insights and philosophies into my own investment approaches. Albeit, I think he might be wrong on this account.

And this is not to say Index Funds do not have a part to play in a portfolio, nor that investment fees are not important. They are. I do think more portfolios should be invested along the lines of Endowments. Broad diversification is the key.

 

Following Buffett could be the right advice for a young person starting out with many years until retirement.  Such an investor would need to weather the volatility of being largely invested in equities, which is no mean achievement when equity markets can suffer falls of over 40%. A high equity strategy can become horribly undone.

Nevertheless, as one gets closer to retirement and is in retirement Buffett’s strategy is unsuitable.

Similarly Buffett’s strategy is not appropriate for a Pension Fund or Endowment. These Funds are in a similar position to those in retirement. Meanwhile, the equity allocation should be reduced as one gets closer to retirement.

The short comings of a higher equity allocation was highlighted in a recent article  by Charles E.F. Millard, who is a consultant to AQR Capital Management, LLC.

 

Once an investor needs to take capital or income from a portfolio volatility of the equity markets can wreak havoc on a Portfolio’s value, and ultimately the ability of a portfolio to meet its investment objectives.

The key point that Millard makes is that Pension Funds and Endowments are required to make periodic payment obligations. So do those in retirement, they either draw capital or income from the portfolio to sustain a desired standard of living.

 

Ultimately, it the drawing of an income or the payments by Endowments that consume most of the investment returns. “This is why assets don’t just mushroom over time.”

As Millard explains, “each year endowments usually pay out at least 5% of their holdings, and the institutions they support tend to count on those funds. That changes the situation an awful lot.”

Let’s look at the math. Millard explains”

and assume that each year the endowment pays out 5% of its assets. In that case, starting at $1 million, the endowment would not have the $5.3 billion Buffett imagines. Rather, after having paid out almost $145 million along the way, the endowment would have less than $150 million remaining”

Still a great result, but far from the billions assumed by Buffett.

It is also worth noting that a Pension’s obligation (liability) can continue to grow as employees retire and live longer. The Pension Fund has no ability to reduce its payouts and must manage this risk.

 

This is where market volatility comes into play, particularly drawdowns – a large fall in the value of the market.

“In a prolonged stock market drawdown, those growing benefit payments will consume a larger share of the shrunken plan assets.  So, they can’t take too much solace in long-run optimism when in the intermediate run they’re already paying out much of their capital.”

 

This is a key point. You can’t take comfort in the long-term returns from equities when you are running out of money!

Equity markets do fall in value and this is why institutions with meaningful annual pay-out obligations are not invested only in equities.

 

No argument that equities will not outperform over the longer term, this is highly likely. Yet this observation fails to recognise the volatility inherent in equities.

Millard:

“Over Buffett’s 77 years investing, the endowment CIO would see fund assets decline in 23 out of 77 years (when equity returns didn’t cover the 5% distribution), and in the average bad year, the fund would shrink by -12%. But at least an endowment may be able to reduce its spending; a pension fund can’t, so in a bad year, the fraction of pension assets that must be paid out increases substantially. This is why most institutional investors subscribe to a concept that Buffett seems to hate – diversification. He’s said it’s “a protection against ignorance.” We think it is more a protection against hubris.”

Diversification is key.

“It is worth noting that Institutions do not seek to maximize potential long-term returns, without regard to risks. They often seek to maximize the likelihood that they can meet their payout obligations. They seek to be reliable payers of those obligations. And in the case of pensions, they also seek to make it possible for the employer to have somewhat predictable and affordable contribution obligations. A portfolio of stocks alone doesn’t do that. That’s why asset class diversification is a bedrock principle of modern investing.

 

In short, institutional investors have different goals and obligations to Buffett.

For those in retirement, their goals and obligations are more closely aligned with the Pension Fund and Endowment, than Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. Those closer to retirement need to make sure that market volatility does not impact them and their ability to sustain the standard of level they wish to maintain in retirement.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Sustainable Responsible Investing Spectrum

The terminology used in relation to Responsible Investing can be confusing. For example, often the terminology Responsible Investing gets confused by some to mean exclusively Ethical Investing or Social Responsible Investing (SRI).  Both of which have been shown to deliver below market returns.  They are separate activities along the Responsible Investing continuum.

At an institutional Funds Management level Responsible Investing (RI) has been associated with the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investing (PRI).  PRI has six principles, see below.

Often sector/stock exclusions are implemented and/or an overlay or integration of taking into consideration Environmental, Social and Environmental (ESG) criteria is employed.

This approach to RI has been around for some time, particularly in Europe and Australia.

It is now well established that considering or integrating ESG information leads to better-informed investment decisions.

 

However, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are an important recent development. The SDG are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030.

The SDG take Responsible Investing, sustainability, to the next level by making it more tangible and measurable.

 

As a result, there is a growing and important change in the approach toward RI, from just avoiding those companies with a negative impact on the environment to investing in companies that have a positive way.

Therefore, SDG have impacted RI in a couple of important ways:

  • The RI continuum has become more defined with the increased focus on Impact Investing.  As presented in the Table below, the RI continuum moves from “Financial Only” to “Impact Only”
  • Industry terminology is moving on from RI to Sustainable Investing.

 

The Continuum of “Responsible Investing”

Financial Only Limited or no regard for environmental, social or governance practices
Responsible (ESG) Mitigate risky environmental, social or governance practices in order to protect value
Sustainable Adopt progressive environmental, social or governance practices that may enhance value
Impact (a)

Financial

Address societal challenges that generate competitive financial returns for investors
Impact (b)

Likely below market Returns

 

Address societal challenges which may generate a below-market financial return for investors

Impact (c)

Require below Market Returns

Address societal challenges that require a below market financial return for investors
Impact Only Address societal challenges that cannot generate financial return for investors

The information in the above Table is sourced from: Lessons from Social Impact Investment Taskforce: Asset Allocation Working Group, 12 December 2014.

 

Using the Table above, the RI continuum starts at “Financial Only” considerations and ends at “Impact Only” considerations.  Using this continuum the following observations can be made in relation to the objective(s) each RI category is focusing on achieving, there is an overlapping nature:

  1. Generating competitive financial returns are an object starting from Financial Only and persisting to Impact (b).
  2. The objective of mitigating Environmental, social and governance risks starts from Responsible (ESG) and continues right through to Impact Only
  3. The Pursuit of environmental, social, and governance “opportunities” starts at Sustainable and is maintained through to Impact Only
  4. The goal of focusing on measureable high-impact solution obvious begins with Impact (a) and until Impact Only.

 

Therefore, as mentioned, RI is increasingly encompassing sustainability. Sustainable Investing.

The UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment explains sustainability investing as follows: “We believe that an economically efficient, sustainable global financial system is a necessity for long-term value creation. Such a system will reward long-term, responsible investment and benefit the environment and society as a whole.”

Fund managers, such as RobecoSAM, would use the term sustainability investing to mean “the pursuit of superior financial returns coupled with positive environmental, social and corporate governance outcomes”.

Sustainable Investing can be thought of as having three main components:

Integration

Using ESG information to improve the risk and return profile.

Exclusions

Avoiding investment in areas of controversial products or business practices.

Impact

Investing for socioeconomic impact alongside the financial returns.

 

Each of these components could be done in isolation or in combination with each other.

Increasingly best practice is incorporating all three components into the investment process and implementing across a variety of asset classes i.e. not just equities.

Furthermore, while exclusions adopt a negative approach, increasingly the ESG research is being applied in a positive way i.e. investing in companies with the best ESG practices rather than just avoiding those with the worst practices.

 

Overtime, I hope to cover off each of the Sustainable Investing components outlined above in separate posts and will provide links.

 

I will leave the final thoughts to RobecoSam, where they quite rightly draw the link between sustainable investing and delivering competitive financial returns from investing.

Finance has a role to play!

“Financial materiality is the critical link at the intersection of sustainability and business performance. More specifically, investors should focus on identifying the most important intangible factors (sustainability factors) that relate to companies’ ability to create long-term value. For instance, lowering energy consumption in manufacturing processes results in significant cost-saving opportunities and has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. Going a bit deeper, financial materiality is defined as any intangible factor that can have an impact on a company’s core business values. These are the critical competencies that produce growth, profitability, capital efficiency and risk exposure. In addition, financial materiality includes other economic, social and environmental factors such as a company’s ability to innovate, attract and retain talent, or anticipate regulatory changes.

These matters to investor because they can have significant impacts on a company’s competitive position and long-term financial performance. “

 

These sentiments were echoed in a recent FT article.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

UNPRI Principles

 

Principle 1: We will incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.

Principle 2: We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices.

Principle 3: We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest.

Principle 4: We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.

Principle 5: We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.

Principle 6: We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.

The balancing act of the least liked investment activity

A recent Research Affiliates article on rebalancing noted: “Regularly rebalancing a portfolio to its target asset mix is necessary to maintain desired risk exposure over the portfolio’s lifetime. But getting investors to do it is another matter entirely—many would rather sit in rush-hour traffic! “

“A systematic rebalancing approach can be effective in keeping investors on the road of timely rebalancing, headed toward their destination of achieving their financial goals and improving long-term risk-adjusted returns.”

Research Affiliates are referencing a Wells Fargo/ Gallup Survey, based on this survey “31% of investors would opt to spend an hour stuck in traffic rather than spend that time rebalancing their portfolios. Why would we subject ourselves to gridlock instead of performing a simple task such as rebalancing a portfolio?

 

I can’t understand why rebalancing of an investment portfolio is one of least liked investment activity, it adds value to a portfolio overtime, is a simple risk management exercise, and is easy to implement.

It is important to regularly rebalance a Portfolio so that it continues to be invested as intended to be.

 

A recent article in Plansponsor highlighted the importance of rebalancing. This article also noted the reluctance of investors to rebalance their portfolio.

As the article noted, once an appropriate asset allocation (investment strategy) has been determined, based on achieving certain investment goals, the portfolio needs to be regularly rebalanced to remain aligned with these goals.

By not rebalancing, risks within the Portfolio will develop that may not be consistent with achieving desired investment goals. As expressed in the article “Participants need to make sure the risk they want to take is actually the risk they are taking,” …………..“Certain asset classes can become over- or under-weight over time.”

Based on research undertaken by BCA Research and presented in the article “Rebalancing is definitely recommended for all investors, perhaps more so for retirement plan participants than others, as they are more likely to be concerned with capital preservation than capital appreciation.”

The following observation is also made “While a portfolio that is not rebalanced will have a greater allocation to equities during a bull market and, therefore, outperform a rebalanced portfolio, all rebalanced portfolios outperformed an unbalanced portfolio during periods leading up to market corrections and recessions,” Hanafy says, citing a BCA Research study which looked at three main rebalancing scenarios of a simple 60/40 portfolio since 1973.

The potential risks outlined above is very relevant for New Zealand and USA investors currently given the great run in the respective sharemarkets over the last 10 years.

When was last time your investment fiduciary rebalanced your investment portfolio?

 

Rebalancing becomes more important as you get closer to retirement and once in retirement:

“There are two main components to retirement plans: returns and the risk you take,” …… “When you do not rebalance your portfolio, a participant could inadvertently take on too much risk, which would expose them to a market correction. This is important because, statistically, as participants reach age 40 to 45, how much risk they take on is far more important than how much they save. When you are young, the most important thing is how much you save.”

Rebalancing Policy

As the article notes, you can systematically set up a Portfolio rebalancing approach based on time e.g. rebalance the portfolio every Quarter, six-months or yearly intervals.

It is not difficult!

Alternatively, investment ranges could be set up which trigger a rebalancing of the portfolio e.g. +/- 3% of a target portfolio allocation.

Higher level issues to consider when developing a rebalancing policy include:

  • Cost, the more regularly the portfolio is rebalanced the higher the cost on the portfolio and the drag on performance. This especially needs to be considered where less liquid markets are involved;
  • Tax may also be a consideration;
  • The volatility of the asset involved;
  • Rebalancing Policy allows for market momentum. This is about letting the winners run and not buying into falling markets too soon. To be clear this is not about market timing. For example, it could include a mechanism such as not rebalancing all the way back to target when trimming market exposures.

 

My preference is to use rebalancing ranges and develop an approach that takes into consideration the above higher level issues. As with many activities in investing, trade-offs will need to be made, this requires judgement.

 

As noted above, it appears that rebalancing is an un-liked investment activity, if not an over looked and underappreciated investment activity. This seems crazy to me as there is plenty of evidence that a rebalancing policy can add value to a naïve monitoring and “wait and see” approach.

I think the key point is to have a documented Rebalancing Policy and be disciplined in implementing the Policy.

 

This also means that those implementing the Rebalancing Policy have the correct systems in place to efficiently carry out the Portfolio rebalancing so as to minimise transaction costs involved.

Be sure, that those responsible for your investment portfolio can efficiently and easily rebalance your portfolio. Importantly, make sure the rebalancing process is not a big expense on your portfolio e.g. trading commissions and the crossing of market spreads (e.g. difference between buy and sell price), and how close to the “market price” are the trades being undertaken?

These are all hidden costs to the unsuspecting.

 

A couple of last points:

  • It was noted in the recent Kiwi Investor Blog on Behaviour Finance that rebalancing of the portfolio was an import tool in the kit in helping to reduce the negative impact on our decision making from behavioural bias. It is difficult to implement a rebalancing policy when markets are behaving badly, discipline is required.
  • The automatic rebalancing nature of Target Date Funds is an attractive feature of these investment solutions.

 

To conclude, as Research Affiliates sums up:

  1. Systemic rebalancing raises the likelihood of improving longer-term risk-adjusted investment returns
  2. The benefits of rebalancing result from opportunistically capitalising on human behavioural tendencies and long-horizon mean reversion in asset class prices.
  3. Investors who “institutionalise contrarian investment behaviour” by relying on a systematic rebalancing approach increase their odds of reaping the rewards of rebalancing.

 

It is not hard to do.

 

Happy investing.

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Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.