Swedroe: Climate Change Investing Research

April 30, 2019

The 2015 Paris Agreement recognized finance as an important element to successfully transition to a low carbon economy. Policymakers hoped to achieve this objective, to a large extent, by mandating an increase in the level of climate-relevant information available to investors.

For instance, the European Commission’s “action plan on sustainable finance,” adopted in March 2018, proposed the introduction of an EU-wide, eco-label aimed at helping retail investors express their investment preferences on sustainable activities.

‘Low Carbon Designation’

In April 2018, Morningstar introduced an eco-label for mutual funds, the Low Carbon Designation (LCD). To receive the LCD, a mutual fund must comply with two criteria:

  • a 12-month trailing average “Portfolio Carbon Risk Score” below 10 (out of 100)
  • a 12-month trailing average “Fossil Fuel Involvement” below 7%

The Portfolio Carbon Risk Score is calculated only for funds with more than 67% of its portfolio assets with a carbon-risk rating from the ESG [environmental, socially responsible and governance] research provider Sustainalytics.

As of April 2018, having a Portfolio Carbon Risk Score below 10 represented inclusion among the 29% of funds with the best performance on this dimension, and having a 12-month trailing average fossil fuel involvement below 7% representing a 33% underweighting of fossil fuel-related companies relative to the global equity universe.

How Funds Respond To Climate Change

Marco Ceccarelli, Stefano Ramelli and Alexander Wagner contribute to the literature with their March 2019 study “When Investors Call for Climate Responsibility, How Do Mutual Funds Respond?” They noted prior research had established that those who invest according to nonpecuniary motives have a smaller flow-to-performance sensitivity. Thus, fund managers, especially those with poor past performance, will be keen to attract climate-conscious investors.

Their study examined the behavior of investors and fund managers using database from Morningstar Direct, which included all open-end mutual funds domiciled in Europe (about 11,000) and the U.S. (about 7,000)—both equity and fixed income—and covers the period January through December 2018.

Findings

  • About 25% of European funds and about 15% of U.S. funds were designated LCD.
  • 8% of funds self-classify as socially conscious. However, only one-third of those received the LCD tag.
  • From May through the end of December 2018, funds that were awarded LCD enjoyed significantly higher (3.1%) monthly flows than conventional funds. The effect was stronger for European funds (3.7%).
  • Funds that received, or lost, the LCD in the quarterly updates that followed the initial publication also experienced similarly sized flow effects.
  • Fund managers adjust their portfolios because they expect the LCD to have a positive effect on flows—funds that barely missed receiving the label rebalanced their portfolios toward more climate-friendly companies compared with fund managers that barely got the LCD.

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