2 New Global Warming ETFs Play It Cool

December 11, 2014

Two new carbon-targeting funds don’t tilt away from the market in a big way.

Two recently launched ETFs aim to help the global environment by allocating capital to firms with reduced emissions. Yet under the hood, the funds stand out mostly by how much they aim to blend in with the crowd. Still, I don’t see this as a bad thing, so long as investors understand what they’re buying.

Let me explain. The two funds are the SPDR MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF (LOWC) and the iShares MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF (CRBN). The two ETFs are hardly distinguishable from each other—more on that in a moment—and favor stocks issued by firms with lower carbon and greenhouse gas emissions (relative to the size of the company).

The funds speak to concerns about a warming planet and rising sea levels voiced not only by the usual suspects but also from the likes of Jeb Bush and Michael Bloomberg, former leaders of densely populated coastal areas.

Indeed, concerned institutions are already putting their money where their mouths are. The funds’ strong initial seed capital—$142 million and $22 million for CRBN and LOWC, respectively—came in part from the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, the UN body said in a press release that was quickly picked up by Chris Dieterich of Barron’s.

How Green Is Your ETF?

Still, the funds aim to achieve global goodness while hewing tightly to a broad and marketlike benchmark, the MSCI ACWI—one that makes no effort to be green. That is, the funds operate within strict constraints that ensure their portfolios align with the market with respect to sector exposure and country exposure.

Sector bounds aren’t uncommon in the world of index investments. But the tight tolerance in this case—each sector represented in the carbon funds must have an allocation within 2 percentage points of the allocation each gets in the MSCI ACWI Index—is definitely stingy.

Moreover, the funds explicitly aim to deliver marketlike performance as reflected by the MSCI ACWI—which is not the funds’ actual underlying index—within a mere 30 basis points. That’s what I meant above by blending in with the crowd.

Heck, many ETFs don’t track their own indexes as tightly as 30 basis points, much less a reference index. The point here is that the two new funds set the bar high: They have environmental screens with teeth in them (as Barrons’ Dieterich outlined today), but they also avoid big risks away from the market. Again, the latter consideration is the “blending in with the crowd” aspect I noted above.

To illustrate the tight relationship between the green-leaning funds and the market, here’s a sector breakdown and top holdings of one of the ETFs, LOWC, compared with an ETF that tracks the marketlike MSCI ACWI index, the iShares MSCI ACWI ETF (ACWI | A-96).

Sector ACWI (%) LOWC (%)
Financials 21.4 23.6
Info Tech 13.8 13.6
Health Care 12.0 12.1
Consumer Discretionary 12.0 11.3
Industrials 10.7 12.1
Consumer Staples 9.7 10.1
Energy 7.9 5.9
Materials 5.2 4.0
Telecom 3.9 4.4
Utilities 3.3 2.8








Bloomberg as of 12/9/2014; GICS sectors

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