Demand Hot For iShares ESG Funds

September 13, 2019

Little Difference Between The Top 5

Intriguingly, with ESGU's new influx of cash, there now appears to be even less difference separating the five largest ESG ETFs—even though four are from the same issuer.

All five funds track the same market segment of U.S. large cap equities (though technically SUSL and the iShares MSCI KLD 400 Social ETF (DSI) dip slightly into midcaps as well).

All five attempt to provide marketlike exposure and use MSCI indexes as their baseline, from which offending stocks are ejected based on nearly identical criteria, such as involvement in weapons manufacturing, or the alcohol and tobacco industries.

All five then rank and weight their remaining stocks using similar criteria, including factors like a company's labor practices, its impact on the environment, and its history with corporate fraud or corruption.

All five have similar portfolios and similar performance. Over the past three months (the longest time period for which data is available), all five have performed within a percentage point of each other:

 

Source: StockCharts.com; data as of Sept. 12, 2019

 

Last—but definitely not least—to consider: All five funds are priced at 0.25% or less.

Hedging Bets

Of course, minor differences exist between the top five funds in terms of thresholds for inclusion or how industry-specific exclusions are defined. Functionally, however, USSG, ESGU, DSI, SUSL and SUSA are almost all exactly the same fund.

In other words, more than $6.6 billion—or 42% of all dollars invested in ESG ETF products—is invested in clones of the same basic fund archetype.

That's not a phenomenon unique to ESG, of course; just take a look at the horse race between broad-based S&P 500 funds such as the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO) and iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV).

But taken in context, particularly Ilmarinen's decision earlier this year to seed two copies of roughly the same ETF—the Xtrackers MSCI U.S.A. EG Leaders Equity ETF (USSG) and the iShares ESG MSCI USA Leaders ETF (SUSL)—it suggests many investors still perceive ESG ETFs as a chance that they're taking; one for which they need to hedge their bets.

Contact Lara Crigger at [email protected]

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