By Liz Su, CFA and Kevin Hart, CIMA of Boston Common Asset Management
Responsible investors have long believed that investing with embedded consideration of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors is a compelling approach to identify investment opportunities: well-run, thoughtfully managed companies built for the long term, ready to foster societal transition and dynamically adapt to our rapidly changing world. This belief is simple enough to justify: identification, application, and integration of ESG risks and opportunities can provide investors with additional, independently derived insight into a company’s management quality, strategic positioning, operational efficiency, and potential risk exposure.
The broader investment community has caught on. In 2020, ESG funds saw greater inflows than in any year prior, a nearly 140% increase over 2019 and nearly ten times greater than in 2018. Corporations have responded to this shift, with a record number of companies appointing their first Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) in 2020, a year that saw more CSOs recruited than in the previous three years combined.
SUSTAINABLE FUND ANNUAL FLOWS AND ASSETS
Source: Morningstar. Data as of 12/31/2020
Includes Sustainable Funds as defined in Sustainable Funds U.S. Landscape Report, Feb. 2020.
Includes funds that have been liquidated, does not include funds of funds.
The transformative potential in the hands of ESG investors has grown by orders of magnitude. This exponential growth has brought an increasingly crowded field with a variety of approaches to ESG, creating ambiguity in the marketplace over what it means to be intentional as an impact investor. An authentic, intentional, and holistic approach relies on aligning active ownership strategies (e.g., shareholder resolutions, public policy participation, voting proxies) with stated investment goals, an ESG-led research process, and impact-oriented themes and targets.
Dispelling a Persistent Myth
There has been a widespread misconception among investors that ESG factors are non-financial. This is not entirely accurate. ESG factors can instead represent unpriced externalities and unmanaged risks that are uncorrelated with traditional financial metrics. By incorporating ESG factors into security analysis, investors can identify a host of material issues core to business fundamentals, enhancing the ability to recognize patterns that are not already priced in.
In addition to risk-mitigation, businesses that proactively accelerate the adoption of positive ESG practices and the development of solutions-oriented products have a unique opportunity to exceed revenue expectations and thus be rewarded with higher ratings over time. These companies may see an improving competitive position versus peers, while those that are on the wrong side of this transition may see changes in their cost of capital and an accompanying deterioration in their competitive position. Investing in the transition to a more just, sustainable world gives investors access to solutions-fixed revenue streams while altering the trajectory on climate action and racial equity among a host of other vital issues.
Identifying strong business fundamentals and ESG process leadership — underpinned by the belief that businesses with forward-thinking managements are higher quality — combined with insights gained from global, proactive, and sustained shareowner engagement can together form a positive feedback loop for better investment decision-making. Managers with the knowledge and experience to employ this holistic approach understand the need to incorporate the product dimension into impact and support companies whose products and services are solutions for societal, environmental, and human rights problems.
ACTIVE OWNERSHIP STRATEGIES
The Way Forward
We are at an inflection point where ESG is transitioning from niche to mainstream. True to the original spirit of the movement, we should hope not to build a new investment establishment in the image of the old, but instead to forge a dynamic, holistic, evolved approach, generating positive impacts by holding companies accountable as stewards of people and planet. As investors, holding ourselves to the same high standards we demand of portfolio companies will go a long way toward making these impacts sustainable.
We hope that you will join us on the journey.
Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Investing involves risk including possible loss of principal.
This does not constitute investment advice or an investment recommendation.
This represents the views and opinions of Boston Common Asset Management. It does not constitute investment advice or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any security and is subject to change at any time due to changes in market or economic conditions. The comments should not be construed as a recommendation of individual holdings or market sectors, but as an illustration of broader themes.
Applying ESG investment criteria to investments may result in the selection or exclusion of securities of certain issuers for reasons other than performance, and may underperform investments that do not utilize an ESG investment strategy. The application of an ESG strategy may affect an investment's exposure to certain companies, sectors, regions, countries or types of investments, which could negatively impact performance depending on whether such investments are in or out of favor. Applying ESG criteria to investment decisions is qualitative and subjective by nature, and there is no guarantee that the criteria utilized or any judgment exercised by an investment manager will reflect the beliefs or values of any particular investor.
AMG Funds LLC (“AMG Funds”) is a wholly-owned subsidiary and U.S. retail distribution arm of AMG. AMG Funds offers long-term investment strategies through a unique platform that includes a family of funds and separate accounts managed by a selection of AMG's investment managers.
N.B. This is sponsored content and not FINSUM editorial.
If the trend is your friend, then ESG is a bandwagon all investors should be getting on. Coming of a pandemic year where ESG funds outperformed conventional offerings, ESG has been red hot in 2021, gathering up mountains of assets. There appear to be two major reasons for this. The first is that more and more investors care to be socially-conscious in their portfolios, and secondly, because a long-held thesis that ESG funds would outperform is coming true. Over recent periods, ESG has had less volatility and more upside than traditional funds.
FINSUM: One can play with the time frame and other variables to produce the results they want, but logically speaking ESG is making more sense as the risks in the market are increasingly aligned with ESG: politics, natural (and other) disasters, social changes etc.
There are mixed signals as to how to currently position oneself in the market as news reports are calling many things a good buy, from doubling down on momentum to cyclical value stocks, but Goldman Sachs is bullish on lots of large-cap internet stocks. Amazon, Facebook, Snap, Uber, Lyft, and Expedia all received buy ratings from Goldman’s investment team. They see secular trends in revenue growth and operating efficiencies scaling these companies even larger over the next couple of years. While they don’t consider themselves overly bullish, they see digital advertising being a key lever to push for these companies to have their full upside priced correctly by the wider market. Subscriptions, the creator economy, cloud computing, and augmented reality are all reasons to be fans of large-cap growth, but they are staying away from Airbnb and Twitter. FINSUM: The fed-keeping rates low is very promising for growth companies that are reliant on the credit-frothy economy. But rate moves are also the key risk.
ESG has been growing hand over fist, but it is still getting a lot of flak in the press. Two major reasons why. Firstly, many feel the sector’s performance is in question, largely because older investors believe there is an intrinsic misalignment between social & environmental goals, and returns. Secondly, many are starting to question whether ESG is really making an impact on society and the environment. Well, we cannot answer the second question, but number one has some new evidence. Morningstar recently ran an analysis of ESG funds, and found that: “25 out of 26 ESG equity index trackers beat funds that were conventionally weighted by market capitalisation, when it came to tracking the most common benchmarks last year”.
FINSUM: Proof of ESG outperformance depends highly on the timeframe being observed and the funds in question (which makes sense). For example, the last 18 months has been great for ESG because of some initial responses to the pandemic. Our view is that a lack of relationship to either out- or underperformance are both a good thing, since ESG is still accomplishing a social benefit and thus is a solid choice in the absence of any negatives to the investor.
Finding growth stocks seems difficult with many of the tech giants at their peak, but robotics and artificial intelligence is the route many investors are peering down in order to hit the next big growth company. The biggest ETFs in the space are ARK Autonomous Technology Robotics ETF (ARKQ), Global X Robotics & Artificial intelligence ETF (BOTZ), Robo Global Robotics and Automation Index ETF (ROBO), iShares Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Multisector ETF (IRBO), and First Trust Nasdaq Artificial Intelligence & Robotics ETF (ROBT). Cathie Wood’s ARKQ has outperformed this year in large part due to a bet on TESLA, but the ROBO ETF has outperformed the SPY over the last 5 years. Intuitive Surgical and Nvidia are the only stocks held by all five ETFs, and Chinese tech underpins most of these ETFs, which could be worrisome as regulation is erratic lately. However, Wall Street has the highest upside with most of the Chinese companies, with Alibaba Group and Baidu Inc. leading the way with over 60% appreciation anticipated. In the U.S. its TuSimple Holdings and PTC Inc. that have the largest consensus upside.
FINSUM: These robotics stocks are some of the best bets to be staples in the Nasdaq in the next decade, and should be part of your momentum portfolio.
The decade of the 2010’s was marked by the meteoric rise of fast-growing companies, many of which have become household names. Not coincidentally, the market dominance of these large-cap tech stocks also powered the popular broad market averages to all-time highs, and their trajectory has been nothing short of remarkable. This begs the question: Which companies are poised to disrupt the status quo to such an extent that they will be the next market dominators? Identifying those stocks and piling in before they are household names is the ultimate challenge for growth-oriented investors. For example, who wouldn’t want to say that they picked up Amazon when it was just a bookseller? The VictoryShares Nasdaq Next 50 ETF (QQQN) offers investors an opportunity—just maybe—to find the next decade's biggest story.
The VictoryShares Nasdaq Next 50 ETF is a passive fund that invests in the constituents of the Nasdaq Q-50 Index, which tracks the 50 non-financial companies that are next in line for inclusion in the iconic Nasdaq-100 Index. In other words, this offers investors an easy way to gain broad exposure to a new generation of innovative companies we feel are poised for growth. These mid-cap firms may be transitioning into large or, possibly, even mega-cap status. It’s an interesting approach that offers growth investors several possible advantages.
For starters, it’s a systematic way to allocate to companies that have already been vetted given that these stocks have demonstrated strong growth to date in terms of their market cap positioning. These companies have long-graduated from fledgling startups. Moreover, this ETF rebalances quarterly, which helps ensure that the portfolio remains updated and in tune with an oft-changing environment. We believe such a quarterly rebalancing is an advantage versus some competitive products that rebalance only annually because it puts QQQN in the position to capture the value of any intriguing, rapidly growing companies and potentially IPOs that immediately become eligible for inclusion in the Nasdaq Q-50 Index. Quarterly rebalancing also ensures that investors aren’t stuck with laggards that have dropped out of candidacy for graduating into the Nasdaq-100 Index.
The current investment environment is indeed tricky and there are many challenges ahead, but there will always be innovative companies that are disrupting the status quo, regardless of market volatility, interest rates, or Federal Reserve policies. The VictoryShares Nasdaq Next 50 ETF offers investors an opportunity to allocate across 50 companies that we believe should be in excellent position to grow. Why not invest in these stocks before they are household names?
Carefully consider a fund's investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing. To obtain a prospectus or summary prospectus containing this and other important information, visit www.vcm.com/prospectus. Read it carefully before investing.
Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. In addition to the normal risks associated with investing, investments in small- and mid-cap companies and narrowly focused investments typically exhibit higher volatility. International investing may involve risk of capital loss from unfavorable fluctuations in currency values, differences in generally accepted accounting principles, or economic or political instability. Technology companies are often subject to severe competition and product obsolescence. The Fund has the same risks as the underlying securities traded on the exchange throughout the day. Redemptions are limited, and commissions are often charged on each trade. ETFs may trade at a premium or discount to their net asset value. The Fund is not actively managed and may be affected by a general decline in market segments related to the Index. The Fund invests in securities included in, or representative of securities included in, the Index, regardless of their investment merits. The performance of the Fund may diverge from that of the Index.
The Nasdaq Q-50 Index is a market-capitalization weighted index designed to track the performance of companies that are next-eligible for inclusion into the Nasdaq-100 Index. The Index is comprised of 50 securities and reflects companies across major industry groups, except financial companies. Nothing in this illustration should be construed as a recommendation of individual holdings or market sectors, but as an illustration of broader themes.
VictoryShares ETFs are distributed by Foreside Fund Services, LLC.
Victory Capital Management Inc. is the adviser to the VictoryShares ETFs. Victory Capital is not affiliated with Foreside Fund Services, LLC. Nasdaq is a registered trademark of Nasdaq, Inc. and its affiliates (together, “Nasdaq”) and is licensed for use by Victory Capital. The product(s) are not issued, endorsed, sold, or promoted by Nasdaq. Nasdaq makes no warranties as to the legality or suitability of, and bears no liability for, the product(s).
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N.b. this is sponsored content and not FINSUM editorial.