Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 391

Why ESG assessment must now consider active ownership

In 2020, as COVID-19 caused markets to whipsaw in response to economic recovery, vaccine and immunity hopes, the job of analysts assessing long-term asset value became far more complex and fast-moving.

The accelerated rate of change brought on by COVID also sped up critical investment decisions, highlighted the importance of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations and expanded the discussion to include responsible investing and active ownership.

Social risk and active ownership questions

The year began with the enormous loss and hardship associated Australia’s bushfires. Summer brought another wave of COVID and more lockdowns. Not surprisingly, client interactions throughout 2020 touched on one, if not all, aspects of the ever-growing ESG issues. Questions on social risk, such as human welfare, supply chain and climate, as well as reputational risks, are now at the forefront of the investment discussion.

This has moved the ESG conversation beyond E, S and G factors and their application and integration into valuation models to what they need to be anchored to in order to drive change, which is active ownership.

The Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) defines active ownership as the ‘use of the rights and position of ownership to influence the activities or behaviour of investee companies’, that is to say, the use of ESG engagement and proxy voting.

Regardless of how an investor chooses to own an asset, ownership is ultimately an undertaking to knowing a company’s business, and how the company is positioned for growth is essential to understanding its sustainability over the long term.

This was truer than ever in 2020 as businesses found ways to help their stakeholders deal with multidimensional crises such as COVID that overnight turned the world virtual, forcing individuals, families, communities, organisations, states and markets to interact in ways and on a scale never seen before.

The role of passive and active managers

Both passive (index) and active managers have an important role to play in realising the potential value that thoughtful engagement and proxy voting can create. While large passive managers have the size to influence voting on broad issues, their ability to effect nuanced engagements with companies is likely hindered simply because they own so many companies. Index investors generally have to buy all the companies in the relevant benchmark.

Typically, active managers are better positioned to look into businesses, industry operations and management. They use all the available information, including non-financial information (which is becoming increasingly mandated), to determine what will have a material impact on those businesses.

If they do not know the business well enough, they cannot tell the difference between one that is sustainable and socially responsible or not. Nor are they able to effectively challenge company management on how to deal with ESG risks and take advantage of ESG opportunities.

Active investors with deep research capabilities are able to perform 'materiality discovery' similar to price discovery and engage in a sustained way with investee companies to instigate change.

Research from Cambridge University shows that:

"ESG engagements generate cumulative size-adjusted abnormal return of +2.3% over the following year on the initial engagement. Cumulative abnormal returns are much higher for successful engagements (+7.1%)."

The research found no market reaction to unsuccessful engagements.

Investment organisations that manage sustainable investing through ESG integration, proxy voting and engagement are more likely to create sustainable value over the long term.

In addition, these active ownership attributes improve their ability to achieve their client’s objectives and meet their fiduciary responsibilities. We have yet to be convinced that offering products with ESG screens or overlays can do the same, perhaps it ticks a short-term box, but true long-term stewards should demand more.

ESG risk assessment a blunt tool

In our experience, investors want to know what longer-term, sustained improvement in the relevant ESG areas a company has made. Whilst we understand why transparency and measurement is important, we caution against an over reliance on narrow or blunt measurement tools, which cannot be expected to capture the nuance and range of the ESG risks faced by, and opportunities available to, companies.

The chaos in the marketplace in relation to assessing companies for ESG is well illustrated below. The world’s largest rating agencies, FTSE and MSCI, are virtually uncorrelated when it comes to ESG materiality. This creates an opportunity for managers such as MFS to engage with clients on how the criteria that we, ourselves, have been building can potentially drive long-term performance on their behalf.

 

ESG must include active ownership

Client alignment is at the heart of active ownership, so a critical part of the ESG discussion is to understand whether your investment manager is aligned with your views and how sustainability is factored into the investment process undertaken.

Active ownership will become a necessity and the norm for all managers, both active and passive. There is a chance that that passive owners, not passive managers, will get punished if they do not use their voting power to build more sustainable practices at companies.

At a time when we are facing more pressure and complexity than ever before, the managers who survive will be those that align with their clients' long-term needs and support the transition to a more sustainable society. This philosophy fuels our beliefs as an active manager.

 

Marian Poirier is Senior Managing Director, Australia for MFS Investment Management. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are subject to change at any time. These views are for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a recommendation to purchase any security or as a solicitation or investment advice. No forecasts can be guaranteed. This article is issued in Australia by MFS International Australia Pty Ltd (ABN 68 607 579 537, AFSL 485343), a sponsor of Firstlinks.

For more articles and papers from MFS, please click here.

Unless otherwise indicated, logos and product and service names are trademarks of MFS® and its affiliates and may be registered in certain countries.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

Amid vaccine hope and skepticism, testing is key

The role of financial markets when earnings are falling

Australia is heading for its third Omicron wave

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

Meg on SMSFs: Clearing up confusion on the $3 million super tax

There seems to be more confusion than clarity about the mechanics of how the new $3 million super tax is supposed to work. Here is an attempt to answer some of the questions from my previous work on the issue. 

Welcome to Firstlinks Edition 566 with weekend update

Here are 10 rules for staying happy and sharp as we age, including socialise a lot, never retire, learn a demanding skill, practice gratitude, play video games (specific ones), and be sure to reminisce.

  • 27 June 2024

Australian housing is twice as expensive as the US

A new report suggests Australian housing is twice as expensive as that of the US and UK on a price-to-income basis. It also reveals that it’s cheaper to live in New York than most of our capital cities.

The catalyst for a LICs rebound

The discounts on listed investment vehicles are at historically wide levels. There are lots of reasons given, including size and liquidity, yet there's a better explanation for the discounts, and why a rebound may be near.

How not to run out of money in retirement

The life expectancy tables used throughout the financial advice and retirement industry have issues and you need to prepare for the possibility of living a lot longer than you might have thought. Plan accordingly.

The iron law of building wealth

The best way to lose money in markets is to chase the latest stock fad. Conversely, the best way to build wealth is by pursuing a timeless investment strategy that won’t be swayed by short-term market gyrations.

Latest Updates

Investment strategies

Have value investors been hindered by this quirk of accounting?

Investments in intangible assets are as crucial to many companies as investments in capital equipment. The different accounting treatment of these investments, however, weighs on reported earnings and could render ratios like P/E less useful for investors.

Investment strategies

Investors are threading the eye of the needle

As investors cram into ever narrower areas of the market with increasingly high valuations, Martin Conlon from Schroders says that sensible investing has rarely been such an uncrowded trade.

Economy

New research shows diverging economic impacts of climate change

There is universal consensus that the Earth is experiencing climate change. Yet there is far more debate about how this will impact different economies across the globe. New research sheds more light on the winners and losers.

SMSF strategies

How super members can avoid missing out on tax deductions

Claiming a tax deduction for personal super contributions can end in disappointment if it isn't done correctly. Julie Steed looks at common pitfalls and what is required for a successful claim.

Investment strategies

AI is not an over-hyped fad – but a killer app might be years away

The AI investment trend looks set to continue for years but there is only room for a handful of long-term winners. Dr Kevin Hebner also warns regulators against strangling innovation in the sector before society reaps the benefits.

Retirement

Why certainty is so important in retirement

Retirement is a time of great excitement but it is also one of uncertainty. This is hardly surprising given the daunting move from receiving a steady outcome to relying on savings and investments.

Economy

This vital yet "forgotten" indicator of inflation holds good news

Financial commentators seem to have forgotten the leading cause of inflation: growth in the supply of money. Warren Bird explains the link and explores where it suggests inflation is headed.

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2024 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer
The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. To the extent any content is general advice, it has been prepared for clients of Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892), without reference to your financial objectives, situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide. You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.