Last fall, NI Managing Partner Michael Kramer gave a 45-minute talk at a conference in his home state of Hawaii that offers an good introduction to socially responsible investing and our variation on the theme, resilient investing. It catches Michael in a relaxed setting, and it’s recently been posted at the conference website (or click through to see it embedded below). Their teaser includes some of their favorite quotes from Michael’s talk:
“We think investors have a right to know. We want to require the disclosure of political contributions. I won’t use Verizon because I know how much money they contribute to the conservative side of the political equation… Imagine if all companies were required to disclose that publicly then you would know that and could make a decision about whether you want to own that company.” (Timecode 21:40).
“We have not fixed hardly any of the problems that caused that financial meltdown eight years ago… It is still going on because the Republicans in congress want to treat the economy like the Wild West.” (Timecode 22:20).
Natural Investment’s Carrie Van Winkle was recently featured on Forward Radio, a Louisville radio station. This is one of the best overviews of NI’s approach that we’ve heard. The forty-minute conversation covers some of the themes of resilient investing, as well as offering a quick introduction to SRI in general. Topics include fossil-fuel free investing, first steps for millennials, and bees.
Check it out here: Sustainability Now from Forward Radio
What’s Up On Wall Street, 1st Quarter 2017
(written April 2017)
As the first quarter drew to a close, most stock markets had moved higher while bonds overall recovered from a poor prior quarter and nished up as well. Over the quarter the stocks of large U.S. companies rose by 6.1%, U.S. small companies nished This is a continuation of higher by 2.5%, foreign stocks were up 7.2% what was already happening and bonds, broadly measured, rose by 0.7%.
Both the financial and general press were dominated by news out of Washington D.C. as the new President’s term got underway. While action in the capitol does affect the broader economy, the economic and business earnings outlook will normally have more impact on stock market results. Presidents have long received too much credit—or blame for economic conditions on their watch. Still, it is understandable why the markets and media are xated on Washington. The news never seems to stop and it’s increasingly wacky. It feels like rubbernecking on the highway as we pass an accident; it’s hard to look away.
However, the long-term movement of stock prices tends to be more in uenced by interest rates and business earnings. As the stock market has continued to rise since the election, some economists now believe that the rally is more about positive economic data that supports the picture of a normalizing U.S. economy. This is a continuation of what was already happening during the second term of the Obama administration.
Speaking of interest rates,
In my role on the national policy committee of the socially responsible investment (SRI) industry’s trade association, USSIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, we had a wonderful legislative priority document prepared in October for the new President. Like many others, we expected to have the opportunity to build on the many successes of our advocacy with the Obama Administration on a variety of issues to protect the public from systemic abuse by the financial industry, encourage wider adoption of SRI by fiduciaries, and facilitate investment in the green economy. For responsible investors, the Obama years were very encouraging indeed, and we at USSIF had an ambitious agenda ready to share with the Clinton Transition Team to expand on these victories for investors and the public.
Naturally with the election result, everything has changed, and we now find ourselves in a radically different political climate that demands a defensive stance to protect recent laws and regulations from being dissolved. When it comes to issues of importance to sustainable and responsible investors, the Republicans in Congress, long opponents of most regulations—especially relating to business and investing—now have an ally in a President who shares their belief in small and minimally intrusive government. That’s why within the first months of this Administration we’re already seeing efforts to unravel the reforms to the financial system that were established during the Obama Administration. They’ve already removed the Dodd-Frank provision that required companies to disclose payments (i.e., bribes) to foreign governments to extract fossil fuels and minerals from often-oppressive governments.
The Republicans have their pitchforks raised in outrage over a broad array of regulatory protections, and the fight is now on to:
Did you ever know someone who was an environmental advocate, or your locavore activist friend, or a deeply religious soul—fill in the blank—who lived their lives with their values-flag writ large? Unless you know them very well, you might not be aware if they’ve had decisions to make about their money life that have challenged those core values. Spoiler alert: not all these stories have happy endings for these caring souls!
Kristine unexpectedly inherited a significant sum after someone she knew died and left her money (all names are pseudonyms). She is an aggressive activist leader, nationally known and engaged in growing the local community. She has steadfastly moved her money out of mainstream investments and into everything from CDFIs to municipal bonds to progressive alternative offerings. She wants decent returns, but prioritizes her core values as she works with her windfall. One of the new-economy heroes! In the beginning, though, it took some time and dedication to find a financial advisor that would “get” her values and support her non-traditional choices. After interviewing a few advisors and not finding the connect she wanted, a friend recommended her fee-only SRI advisor and Kristine finally found the ally she was looking for.
Shawn was a young environmental activist involved in stopping nuclear power plants in New England. As he grew his family, they used electricity as little as possible and added solar when that became financially feasible.
Recently I talked with a client who is considering buying a house in Sonoma County. As you might know, the housing market here in the Bay Area is variously described as “crazy,” “red hot,” “ridiculous,” and “divorced from reality.” A similar situation prevails in many cities and towns across the country. Should a smart home buyer take the leap now or wait and hope for prices to drop? How do you evaluate whether renting or buying is the best strategy?
The comment sections of innumerable personal finance blogs are strewn with the wreckage of the battle—no, the war—around this question. It’s nearly as hot as the debate over whether to pre-pay a mortgage or not (don’t get me started). As a math major, I like to look at the numbers myself, play with calculators, build my own spreadsheets. After hours of work on this my definitive answer is “it depends.” Seriously. It depends on a bunch of factors, but actually pivots on one big factor.
In January I had the privilege of visiting with one of the micro-credit lenders that Natural Investments clients help to fund. We had a trip planned to Panama, so I decided to take the opportunity to meet with PROCAJA, the on-the-ground lending agency that chooses recipients for small loans funded through Envest Microfinance which some of our clients are invested in.
I met the PROCAJA team in the small town of Ocu. The people at the branch were very gracious as they got us up to speed on how they are structured and the types of clients they serve. As with most Envest-funded programs, loans are generally under $1000 and are targeted to individuals who are starting or growing a small business.
Also in keeping with other micro-credit programs, they’re very successful in getting these loans repaid. Unlike many banks, they use a very hands-on approach. In addition to the standard visit with the person requesting the loan, to assess their current business and their plans, the recipients needs to get neighbors to vouch for them; this creates a natural community of support and accountability. After the loan is made, regular follow up visits track how things are going and identify ways to improve. All this ongoing support, including financial training if needed, leads to the failure rate being much lower then at most banks, which often provide no follow up or support.
After this overview at the branch of office we went to visit four people who are currently using microcredit loans to build nancial stability.
Quakers are often given credit for being pioneers in the formative era of Socially Responsible Investment. As I was reading an array of early SRI publications, it was easy to see that Quaker traditions and practices have played an important role in this movement’s history. While you may not have the same faith as the thinkers and authors quoted here, the lessons and insights are applicable regardless of your spiritual background or belief.
When we remember that many of the concerns we are trying to address through our investments are global issues (climate change, deforestation, gender equity and LGBT rights, supply chain/human rights, etc.), it becomes even more important to broaden our understanding. While Quakers come from the Judeo-Christian tradition, universalism is a commonly held belief among Friends, as Quakers are often called. There is diversity among Quakers, and an openness and curiosity about others is central. As Tom Head wrote in Envisioning a Moral Economy, “To study well the other faith traditions through which all humankind knows and experiences the sacred is especially important in our era of globalization.” (Footnote 1)
Quakers are one of the three historic Peace Churches, believing there is “that of God” in all people. This has inspired a strong history, still continuing today, of social justice advocacy on pressing topics of the day, from slavery to women’s rights, prison reform, and armament issues. As early as 1688, Quaker meetings in the United States were corresponding and discussing the ethical issue of profiting from the slave trade, and in 1758 the Philadelphia yearly meeting unanimously issued a proclamation forbidding its members from participating in the slave trade.
Could you imagine a church/mosque/temple in 2017 forbidding its members to profit from the fossil fuel industry? Or forbidding its members from investing in and working with predatory or discriminatory financial institutions?
Download NI Newsletter Spring 2017 (pdf)
On March 27, 2017, the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) released its biennial Global Sustainable Investment Review 2016, showing that global sustainable investment assets reached $22.89 trillion at the start of 2016, a 25% increase from 2014.
Socially responsible investment (SRI) continues to grow as a favored set of investment strategies:
- Europe accounts for 53% of these assets, the United States at 38%.
- In nearly every market represented in the report, sustainable investing has grown in both absolute and relative terms since the beginning of 2014.
- Environmental, social, and governance performance and/or criteria integration is being applied to $10.37 trillion in assets.
- Growing global concern over climate change has resulted in rising interest in green finance, including climate-aligned bonds.
- Fiduciary duty and client demand are key growth drivers for sustainable investing.
While institutional investors hold the largest percentage of SRI assets, with pension funds often comprising the largest percentage of institutional SRI assets, interest by individual and family investors is growing. The relative proportion of individual and family SRI investments in Canada, Europe, and the United States increased from 13% in 2014 to 26% at the start of 2016. Over a third of SRI assets in the United States were owned by individuals and families.
To download the full report click here.
About Global Sustainable Investment Review
Now in its third edition, the biennial Global Sustainable Investment Review is the only report presenting results from Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The report draws on in-depth regional and national reports from GSIA members—Eurosif, Responsible Investment Association Australasia, RIA Canada, and US SIF—as well as data and insights from the Principles for Responsible Investment, JSIF (Japan), LatinSIF, and the African Investing for Impact Barometer. Together, these resources provide data points, insights, analysis, and examples of the shape of sustainable investing worldwide.
About Global Sustainable Investment Alliance
The Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) is a collaboration of membership-based sustainable investment organizations around the world. It includes US SIF, UK SIF, Eurosif, RIA Canada, VBDO (Netherlands), and the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA). The GSIA’s mission is to deepen and expand the practice of sustainable, responsible, and impact investing through intentional international collaboration. Our vision is a world where sustainable investment is integrated into financial systems and the investment chain and where all regions of the world have coverage by vigorous membership based institutions that represent and advance the sustainable investment community. www.gsi-alliance.org