The Fed has a big new worry that is not presently on the market’s radar. With all the worries about headline economic data and the trade war, very little attention has been paid to the potential shock equities and bonds may feel from climate change. The Fed, however, is very focused on the risk. The Fed says that climate change can have a jarring effect on the economy that may “affect national economic output and employment”. “As such, these events may affect economic conditions, which we take into account in our assessment of the outlook for the economy”, says Fed Chairman Powell.
FINSUM: Calculating climate risk is tough because it can have short-term effects, but also much longer and more challenging ones, such as migration and agricultural output. That said, no one is expecting a climate change-induced financial crisis.
Anyone paying attention will have noticed there has been a change in linguistics surrounding the global climate situation in recent years. What was once called “global warming” is now referred to as “climate change”. However, we think that fact has helped to obscure perhaps the best way to play the changing environment. The world has been getting warmer (whether you think it is human created or not), so what better way to invest in the transformation than in air conditioning companies. HVAC companies, such as Ingersoll-Rand and United Technologies, are also good recession hedges. The companies earn the bulk of their revenue from servicing and repairs, businesses which hold up well even in recession because nobody wants to live without air conditioning.
FINSUM: We see this as a good long-term play with nice short-term downside protection. Asymmetric risk on this idea, heavily skewed to the upside.
Climate change is becoming more a reality than some distant fear. However, one of the challenges is forecasting how it will play out and impact different asset classes, many of which come as a surprise (e.g. cruise ships being significantly impacted). One of the aspects that everyone expects is that climate change is going to have a negative impact on commercial real estate, especially because so much debt exists in CRE on the coasts. However, the situation is not as grave as many think. If you analyze the performance of the mortgage market following the 2017 Hurricane Harvey disaster in Houston, one finds that the mortgage market was barely hurt. The reason has multiple causes, but one of the key points is that almost all lenders now require borrowers to have full flood insurance, mitigating risks.
FINSUM: Climate change is going to raise costs in the form of insurance premiums, but it doesn’t seem likely to do catastrophic damage. Even residential real estate, while hurt by Harvey, was not nearly as badly wounded as many expected.
Barron’s has just put out a very timely list. The publication has compiled a list which ranks the 100 top companies according to sustainability. Sustainability, which is a component of and often linked to ESG, has become an increasingly important component of returns, so Barron’s rankings will likely make a difference to portfolios. The top ranked firm is Best Buy, followed by Cisco, Agilent Technologies, Texas Instruments, Voya Financial, and Clorox. The top 25 also includes Salesforce, Cummins, and Kellogg.
FINSUM: ESG is an increasingly important area not only for returns, but also for clients, so this is quite a handy list for what can be a surprisingly difficult to handle issue (i.e. deciding which companies are sustainable and not).
Climate change risk has slowly but surely crept into the consciousness of even the most mainstream investors. As its prominence has risen, so too has its ability to impact share prices. With that in mind, here are some of the individual shares most vulnerable to such risk. The names are not what you would expect. For instance, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises, along with pharma companies Merck and Bristol-Myers-Squibb were identified as the most at risk. “There are many ways to measure how climate change affects your portfolio. One is to see how the physical facilities of the S&P 500’s constituent companies are affected by hurricanes, sea-level rise, and heat stress”, says Barron’s. One head of ESG commented on the list that “you’re exposed” no matter where a company has its headquarters”.
FINSUM: Norwegian is most exposed because it has so many facilities in Miami, where the risk of rising sea levels is very high. Sorting out these risks is a major challenge and it would behoove advisors to seek out the main data providers for such risk, like Four Twenty Seven.