ESG's Stealthy Spread Continues

December 27, 2017

Last year I called for ESG investing to be a big deal in the ETF space. I could split hairs like Obi-Wan claiming Luke’s father was dead “… from a certain point of view,” but the truth is, the way we tend to measure success around here is by asset flows, and in 2017, ESG-centric ETFs “only” pulled in about $830 million in assets.

So is that success? In a year where we may close in spitting distance of half a trillion dollars in net new money flooding into ETFs, no, of course not. However, I still think this has been a formative year for ESG. With some 33 dedicated ESG funds now on the market, covering international and domestic equity and fixed income, investors have a lot of choices.

And many of those choices are becoming pretty serious contenders. Consider the iShares MSCI KLD 400 Social ETF (DSI). As I write this, it’s just nudged against $1 billion in assets for the first time, having pulled in almost $100 million in new money this year.

This is core, large/midcap exposure that is a decent, slightly low-beta way of playing the U.S. market that consistently ranks the highest on MSCI’s ESG Quality score (currently 8.23 out of 10). And it’s done this while maintaining corelike performance over the long term, and actually beating the broader U.S. market by about half a percent over the last year. 



My point is I think that a certain class of investor is catching on that ESG is a core approach to investing, and the products that are out there are proving it. Not a single ESG fund has negative flows for the year so far.

But no, the flood hasn’t happened, despite solid product putting up solid numbers, from DSI to innovative newcomers like Nuveen’s NuShares ESG U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (NUBD). Instead, I think 2017 has been a foundational year in which the ESG message has been received loud and clear, and where some great research and resources have come on line.

Here are a few of my favorites for your holiday reading pleasure:

Built by MSCI and launched sometime in the last few weeks, is a phenomenal collection of proprietary and independent thinking on ESG investing, and a great starting point for anyone thinking they want their money to reflect their values, or capitalize on places where ESG factors can actually help mitigate risks.

FactSet High Net Worth Study

Previously dribbled out in blog posts, you can now get the complete eBook from FactSet covering how high net worth investors—particularly younger investors—view ESG investing. This study is the source of countless great statistics, such as “90% of millennials want to direct their allocations to responsible investments in the next five years.”


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