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Articles: Socially Responsible Investing

Sustainable Investing Continues to Deliver Good Returns

Sustainable and fossil-fuel free investing can give investors consistently higher rates of returns than the broad market, according to two studies released this year.

 

“America’s corporations are getting more sustainable, and investors are benefiting, along with the planet and the rest of its inhabitants,” Barron’s reported on Feb. 7 in its third annual Green Growth Report. The analysis was done in conjunction with Calvert Research & Management, which is affiliated with one of the largest mutual fund companies specializing in Sustainable, Responsible and Impact (SRI) investing. [i]

 

“Shares of the 100 companies on our list returned 34.3 percent on average, in 2019, beating the S&P 500 Index’s 31.5 percent,” Barron’s reported. “More than half the honorees, 55, outperformed the mighty index, which has been nearly unbeatable for a decades.”

 

Two non-profit advocacy groups cited a similar trend in a separate report called the “Carbon Clean 200: Investing in a Clean Energy Future,” focusing on “publicly traded companies that are leading the way with solutions for the transition to a clean energy future” around the globe.

 

“Since its inception in July 2016, the Clean200™ has outperformed the S&P Global 1200 Energy Index with a return of 1.29 percent compared to -2.49 percent,” said the report, issued by the California-based As Your Sow advocacy group and a Canadian counterpart, Corporate Knights.

 

Neither the list cited by Barron’s nor the Clean200 ™ are available as specific mutual or exchange traded funds. However, many “green” financial services firms use similar screening methods in building investments based on SRI principles, also known as Environmental Governmental and Societal (ESG) criteria. [ii]

 

The authors of the Clean 200 ™ report said the performance of those companies “is lagging behind the broad-market benchmark for the S&P 1200 which had a return of 19.67 percent, mostly due to the impact of the simmering trade war between China and the U.S. If Chinese stocks are excluded from the Clean200, its return since implementation jumps to 20.4 percent, moving it ahead of the broad-market benchmark. The Clean200 therefore continues to provide evidence that market forces are driving growth for low-carbon companies across all sectors of the economy.” [iii]

 

The 100 companies cited in the Barron’s report were analyzed not only for their low carbon footprint, but also for general environmental impact, hiring and labor practices.

 

“With companies in general adopting more ambitious goals for the environmental and workplace practices, returns will keep outperforming,” Barron’s predicted. “If sustainability once seemed like a hobby for a group of eccentric business, it’s now viewed by many corporations as mission critical.”

 

One factor boosting the performance of the 100 companies on its list, Barron’s said, is that “they are better at personnel retention. Employee turnover is 25 percent to 50 percent lower at these operations, studies show …. In addition, good environmental policies, whether on water, facilities, fuel or waste – can lower costs.”

 

“Good sustainability practices are also a magnet for customers, who increasingly want to show that their partners treat the environment, workers and other stakeholders well.”

Barron’s predicted that “at this rate of adoption, it won’t be long – years not decades – before virtually every company in America will seek sustainable advantages.” [iv]


[i] https://www.barrons.com/articles/the-100-most-sustainable-companies-51581095228

[ii] Representatives of As You Sow and Corporate Knights spoke in a Webinar, featuring a PowerPoint presentation available on the As You Sow Website: https://www.asyousow.org/report-page/2020-clean200-webinar?rq=Clean%20200%20Webinar.

[iii] The full report is available at https://www.asyousow.org/clean200.

[iv] https://www.barrons.com/articles/the-100-most-sustainable-companies-51581095228

 

KEEP DOING GOOD

Rethinking Charitable Gifting – an update with information for clients who must take Required Minimum Distributions from their IRAs.

Use these when discussing your 2020 strategy with your tax advisor

Standard Deductions Rise: The standard deduction for tax year 2020 is $12,400 for individuals and $24,800 for married couples filing jointly, according to the IRS annual inflation adjustments. For those over age 65, the standard deduction is now $13,700 for individuals. If both spouses are over 65 and filing jointly, the deduction is $27,400.

What this means to taxpayers: The standard deduction may be easier, but itemizing may lower taxes for many. It could pay to make both calculations!

What this means for charitable gifting and other itemized expenses: Many taxpayers who choose to make charitable contributions may not get the additional itemized deductions that they would have in the past. However, with planning, some taxpayers can take steps to reduce taxes other ways.

If you take RMDs, consider Qualified Charitable Distributions: If you are an IRA owner over 70 ½, a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) up to $100,000 could help. To qualify as a QCD, the funds must go from your IRA directly to the charity.

Note that the Setting Up Every Community for Retirement Act (SECURE, which became law on Dec. 19, 2019), raised from 70 ½ to 72 the age at which you must take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs).

When you make a qualified charitable distribution at 72 or older, it satisfies the RMD, but the deduction is not included in taxable income on your tax return.

 

Thus you get the benefit of making a charitable contribution regardless of whether you choose to itemize your deductions. Using a QCD can benefit those who give more and are in a higher tax bracket. If your spouse is also eligible, the benefits increase. Each spouse can make up to $100,000 of QCDs, for a combined total of $200,000.

Here’s where people get confused – there is NOT a tax deduction for the contribution. Instead the amount transferred from the IRA to the charity is excluded from taxable income. While you can give more than your RMD, the gift counts toward your RMD. By excluding the QCD amount from your income, you receive a better tax benefit than if you had just gotten a deduction. That’s because it decreases your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), allowing for more AGI-based tax benefits, which results in a lower tax. A lower AGI may mean a lower tax bracket, lower tax rates on Social Security benefits, no Medicare surcharge, and 0% capital gain tax.

Whether or not you are 72, Consider Bunching:

Bunching means combining charitable gifting and other itemized deductions every other year so that you move between the standard deduction one year and itemized deductions another. The idea is to see whether bunching makes itemizing work for you every other year. For example, if you give $10,000 to charities, you would skip one year and then give twice that amount the next year, if that, along with other deductions, enables you to itemize and get a greater deduction.

Whether or not you are 72 Consider a Donor Advised Fund:

While you cannot make a QCD from your IRA into to a Donor Advised Fund, you can set up a Donor Advised Fund and gift appreciated shares of stock or other assets and get a tax deduction if you exceed the standard tax deduction.

The tax benefit of a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) is that you are able to donate assets and receive an immediate tax deduction, even though the actual funds may not be given to charities during that tax year. A DAF effectively separates the timing of when the deduction occurs from when the charity receives the money. This means you can fulfill your charitable goals while maximizing your deductions and saving money overall.

Make sure you discuss these ideas with your tax preparer in advance so that you can create a plan that works best for you each year.

Securities America and its representatives do not provide tax advice; therefore it is important to coordinate with your tax advisor regarding your specific situation.

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Electric Vehicles Attracting Attention

Super Bowl LIV watchers may have noticed an upsurge commercials for electric vehicles (EVs) – four compared to five for conventional cars. In 2019, the Super Bowl included only one EV ad, with none in the previous three years. [i]

The shareholder advocacy group Ceres is citing those ads to boost its own alliance with major companies to increase the percentage of electric vehicles in corporate fleets. [ii]

“So, why electric vehicles?” Ceres said in an announcement. “Transportation is the highest greenhouse gas-emitting sector in the U.S. And corporations own or operate a large portion of the vehicles on the road. So, if we’re going to tackle climate change and reduce transportation-related emissions at the pace and scale necessary to tackle the climate crisis, electric vehicles—including corporate fleets—must be part of our strategy.”

The Boston-based non-profit has a history of working with major corporations on environmental issues, which form the heart of contemporary Sustainable, Responsible and Impact (SRI) investing. Ceres was founded in 1989 in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill by investors seeking a new way to evaluate the role and responsibility of companies as stewards of the environment and social justice. [iii]

Major carmakers are spending billions to develop electric cars, spurred in part by strict emission standards in such states as California, but sales have lagged. In 2019, automakers sold only 300,000 EVs in the United States, a decline from the year before, and less than 2 percent of the 17 million vehicles sold nationwide. [iv]

While the Ceres campaign does not include major automobile manufacturers among its “flagship members,” the list does include several major U.S. and foreign corporations.




[i] The EV ads were from Audi, Porsche and GM, with a Ford ad in some regional markets. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/02/02/climate/super-bowl-ads-electric-car-hummer.html

[ii] https://www.ceres.org/corporate-electric-vehicle-alliance?utm_source=email&utm_medium=marketingcloud&utm_campaign=transportation&utm_content=website

[iii] https://www.ceres.org/about-us

[iv] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/02/02/climate/super-bowl-ads-electric-car-hummer.html

Kellogg’s to remove chemical linked to cancer from its cereals

Shareholder advocates have persuaded Kellogg’s to phase out by 2025 wheat and oats on which farmers have used glyphosate as a drying agent. The chemical has been linked to cancer deaths. [i]

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the Bayer-Monsanto weed killer that is the most heavily used herbicide in the United States.

“We are working with our suppliers to phase out using glyphosate as pre-harvest drying agent in our wheat and oat supply chain in our major markets,” the company said in an announcement posted on its Website. [ii] The major markets include the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Mexico and Australia.

 

“We are working with our suppliers and other stakeholders to create an action plan for 2025,” Kellogg’s chief sustainability officer Amy Senter said in the posting.

The shareholder advocacy group As You Sow, which has been pushing companies to keep glyphosate out of food products, said it would continue its campaign

“Kellogg’s commitment sets the stage for industry-wide action,” As You Sow said in an announcement. “We’ll monitor Kellogg on its progress, and at the same time ratchet up the pressure on peer companies like Quaker Oats’ parent company Pepsi.”[iii]

The independent watch-dog organization, Environmental Working Group, has cited numerous studies and court decisions in Europe and the United States linking glyphosate to cancer in in humans. [iv]

Shareholder advocacy and engagement with publically held corporations are key parts of Sustainable, Responsible and Impact investing.


[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/01/27/kelloggs-quietly-commits-reducing-widely-used-herbicide-supply-chain-only-farmers-didnt-know-about-it/

[ii] http://www.openforbreakfast.com/en_US/content/sustainability/QA-Glyphosate.html

[iii] https://www.asyousow.org/press-releases/kellogg-phase-out-glyphosate-wheat-oat

[iv] https://www.ewg.org/release/win-bayer-monsanto-trump-epa-claims-cancer-causing-weedkiller-safe


Debate over Proposed Curbs on Shareholder Advocacy

 

Controversy continues over a proposal by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would curtail the ability of shareholders to influence corporate policy. Such advocacy is central to Sustainable, Responsible and Impact (SRI) investing, especially on environmental, diversity and corporate governance issues.

A network of corporate oil and gas interests appears to be promoting the new proposals, partly by manipulative means, according to an extensive investigation by the Bloomberg News Agency.

Currently, shareholders need to own $2,000 of a company’s stock for a year to petition for all company holders to vote on an issue. The proposed SEC changes would require shareholders to own larger chunks of corporate stock and for a longer period of time. [i]

In promoting the changes, SEC chairman Jay Clayton highlighted letters from supposedly ordinary people who backed the restrictions.

“But a close look at the seven letters Clayton highlighted, and about two dozen others submitted to the SEC by supposedly regular people, shows they are the product of a misleading – and laughably clumsy -- public relations campaign by corporate interests,” Bloomberg reported. [ii]

Bloomberg reporters contacted the purported authors of the letters and discovered they either had never heard of the issue and had not sent them, or in the case of one woman had been approached by a public relations firm which asked and received permission to use her name on the letter.

The campaign, Bloomberg reported, originated with Main Street Investors Coalition, which was formed in 2018 by the National Association of Manufacturers. That association provided initial funding for the campaign to restrict shareholder rights, and represents such corporate giants as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., companies that have publicly called for new limits on shareholder proposals, the newsletter GreenBiz reported. Shareholder advocates have been petitioning fossil fuel industries in regard to climate change.

The changes, GreenBiz reported, “could undermine investors’ ability to push for better environmental performance at publicly traded companies by creating new restrictions on who is eligible to file shareholder proposals and how much support they need to make it onto the proxy statement.” [iii]

According to the SEC website, by late November the commission had received more than 18,000 comments opposing the changes, many of them apparently form letters from such SRI groups as the US Social Investment Forum, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Ceres, a Boston-based advocacy group. [iv]

Josh Zinner, CEO of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, echoed the position of many investors who oppose the revisions: “We see this unjustified action by the SEC as part of a broader move across this Administration to realign the regulatory landscape in favor of corporate interests at the expense of the public interest."[v]


[i] See SEC Website: https://www.sec.gov/rules/proposed/2019/34-87458.pdf

[ii] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-11-19/sec-chairman-cites-fishy-letters-in-support-of-policy-change

[iii] https://www.greenbiz.com/article/proposed-sec-rule-changes-could-impede-investor-activism

 

[iv] See related articles on the website of the U.S. Social Investment Forum (https://www.iccr.org/, the Interfaith Center on Social Responsibility (https://www.iccr.org/) and Ceres (www.Ceres.org).

 

[v] https://www.greenbiz.com/article/proposed-sec-rule-changes-could-impede-investor-activism

 

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Funds Flowing into Sustainable Investing at a Record Pace

Sustainable funds in the United States attracted new assets at a record pace in 2019, according to a new report from Morningstar, a global financial research firm based in Chicago.

Estimated net flows into open-end and exchange-traded sustainable funds that are available to U.S. investors totaled $20.6 billion for the year, according to the study by Jon Hale, director of Sustainability Research for Morningstar. That's almost four times the previous annual record for net flows set in 2018.

The study analyzed cash flows into “300 mutual funds that thoroughly integrate environmental, social, and governance factors into their investment processes, and/or pursue sustainability-related investment themes, and/or seek measurable sustainable impact alongside financial returns.”

The sustainable funds group does not contain funds that employ only limited exclusionary screens without a broader emphasis on environmental, social and governmental (ESG) criteria, “nor does it contain the growing number of funds that now acknowledge that they consider ESG factors in a limited way in their security selection,” Hale wrote.

For more information, read the full article[i] or contact my office.


[i] https://www.morningstar.com/articles/961765/sustainable-fund-flows-in-2019-smash-previous-records

 

 



Here are some informative articles about Progressive Asset Management and socially responsible investing. We hope you find them useful. Let us know whether there are other sources or information you would like to explore.

Your Investments Can Do More than Just Grow

Progressive Asset Management Approach to Socially Responsible Investing

Progressive Asset Management Investment Services

Community Investment


Investments held in Sustainable Funds Up 38 Percent

 

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 31, 2018 - The US SIF Foundation’s 2018 biennial Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends … found that sustainable, responsible and impact investing (SRI) assets now account for $12.0 trillion—or one in four dollars—of the $46.6 trillion in total assets under professional management in the United States. This represents a 38 percent increase over 2016.

 

The 2018 report identified $11.6 trillion in ESG incorporation assets under management at the outset of 2018 held by 496 institutional investors, 365 money managers and 1,145 community investing financial institutions. The largest percentage of money managers cited client demand as their top motivation for pursuing ESG incorporation, while the largest number of institutional investors cited fulfilling mission and pursuing social benefit as their top motivations.

For more, go to: https://www.ussif.org/files/US%20SIF%20Trends%20Report%202018%20Release.pdf

 

 

Scientific American endorses shareholder activism on Climate Change:

Investors Start to Force Companies to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

Investors are making companies act on global warming—and they can do even more

It’s … “proxy season” in the corporate world. This is the time of year when publicly traded companies hold their shareholder meetings, and investors can vote on resolutions to change corporate policies. The votes can have plenty of clout because huge private investment firms such as BlackRock and Vanguard weigh in, as do major public shareholders such as California’s and New York’s employee retirement funds with billions of dollars in stock under their control. When they want something, CEOs listen.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/investors-start-to-force-companies-to-reduce-greenhouse-gases/?redirect=1

                                       

Barron’s and Calvert pair to rate 100 most Sustainable companies

“How much of a company’s journey toward sustainability is driven by the personal passions of its CEO? Based on the conversations Barron’s had recently with several corporate chieftains, quite a lot. That’s one of the insights from our second annual sustainability ranking of public companies.

“For investors, it has paid off. In a tough 2018, in which the S&P 500 lost 4.2% and the Russell 1000 fell 4.6%, the 100 most sustainable companies on our list lost 3.2%. Calvert Research and Management, the sustainability powerhouse owned by Eaton Vance (EV), compiled Barron’s list, basing the rankings on hundreds of metrics that address environmental, social, and corporate governance, or ESG, factors. “We’re beginning to get more and more recognition from the markets,” says Calvert CEO John Streur. “Companies can be differentiated based on how well they manage their environmental and social impact, and the strength of their governance. The list shows who’s creating a better company, long term, for long-term investors.”

For more, visit: https://www.barrons.com/articles/these-stocks-are-winning-as-ceos-push-for-a-sustainable-future-51549657527?mod=barronsmktgemail

Morningstar refines system rating mutual funds by Social Responsibility

A sizeable majority, 86 percent, of U.S. investors surveyed said they were interested in sustainable investing, with 20% saying they were extremely interested.

Morningstar analysts have developed a tool that helps investors (and their advisors) understand how much they value sustainability in an investment context. Using the tool, an investor is asked to theoretically allocate money to a series of paired stocks based on their sustainability and return characteristics.

https://www.morningstar.com/videos/926634/interest-in-sustainable-investing-in-the-us-is-ris.html

 Non-Profit Group CERES works with Corporations, Investors and Government Leaders to Curb Climate Change

 Climate change is the world’s biggest sustainability challenge of our time, threatening everything from our economic systems to our political security to our very livelihood on Earth. But climate change also presents investors and companies with opportunities to lead. Solutions that promote clean energy and climate change resilience will help build a low-carbon economy while protecting our planet for current and future generations.

 For more, visit: https://globalinvestorcoalition.org/