Renewable energy companies enjoyed considerable growth over the last decade, as the cost of solar and wind power technologies declined significantly. ”Renewables’ competitiveness with fossil fuels is strong, driven by considerable innovation, learning and economies of scale,” Lydia Miller, Portfolio Specialist at Dana Investment Advisors states in a recent Green Money Journal column. “We believe that the transition to a low-carbon economy is happening and will continue to happen. This happens over decades, with investors increasingly discounting this long-term trend.”
To say ESG has hit an inflection point would be putting it mildly. Flows into sustainable funds quadrupled to $21.4 billion in 2019. The first half of 2020 has nearly eclipsed that mark, with flows totaling $20.9 billion, according to Morningstar figures. But amid this surging demand, where do advisors fit?
As client demand for ESG strategies grows, advisors have a tough job ahead of them: finding a strategy that is suitable as a core equity holding. Without proper due diligence on fund construction, a strategy used as a core holding may expose a client to unintended risks.
The details are all in the portfolio construction process.
The future of the electric vehicle (EV) market has excited many ESG investors, and for good reason: It’s a classic example of an investment trend that has both substantial environmental benefits and significant growth potential. But for all the buzz, many investors may be viewing the opportunity set with too narrow a lens.
Most headlines and some retail investors associate electric vehicles with a single poster child company: Tesla. While Tesla’s history of innovation is indeed impressive, the investment opportunities that will stem from electric vehicle adoption and innovation are far more expansive.
This summer, with the help of our interns, we completed a deep dive into researching the growth potential of the electric vehicle market. A few takeaways demonstrate just how big the investment potential is, how fast the trend is moving and how far the investment opportunities expand:
The financial crisis was painful for anyone working on Wall Street, but the period gets credit for improving at least one industry dynamic: The bar for effective communication from an asset manager has been significantly raised.
As markets plummeted, advisors, consultants, investment committees and other key fund decision makers demanded dialogue from their portfolio managers about the market collapse and what they planned to do going forward. The demand for increased communication continues today, and is an industry trend we applaud.
Advisors and consultants deserve shared insight from their investment managers, and an open forum for communication. In short, they deserve true partnership. We believe boutique asset managers are best positioned to deliver the partnership clients deserve.
As investor interest in ESG grows, so too are the number of ESG strategies to choose from. Already, 23 ESG funds have launched in 2020, and more than 20 others are in registration at the SEC, according to Morningstar.¹ This marks the sixth straight year of more than 20 launches.
With more fund launches, due diligence isn’t getting any easier. We believe one way advisors and other allocators can help their clients find the right strategy is to ask whether they want a fund that is directly engaging businesses to improve corporate policy around ESG issues.
Many ESG funds do not engage management teams on policies, but instead rely on ESG ratings to screen out non-ESG friendly companies and include companies with better ratings. That may well be enough for some clients.
ESG interest is growing and as asset flows follow, so too are the number of strategies dedicated to the space. For investment advisors, that makes the job of matching client objectives with the right strategy increasingly difficult.
In a recent Q&A session, Dana portfolio managers touched on the issue, and where their own ESG fund may – or may not – fit within a portfolio. A brief excerpt from the interview explains:
Prior to 2020, the environmental aspect of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing has garnered the most attention from interested investors. But a global pandemic has thrust social and governance considerations into a larger spotlight. As an ESG manager, we applaud this change.
At Dana, we have always given equal attention to the environmental, social and governance issues that pose risks to a business. So do many seasoned ESG portfolio managers. While a company’s environmental footprint remains an important component of that analysis, we are glad to see more end investors realize that companies have an active role to play in other societal issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare some of the deeper issues that companies must address.
Innovation within the biotechnology, medtech and diagnostics industries makes the health care sector an exciting area to invest. Valuations also make it precarious.
At Dana funds, we have balanced the risk and opportunity within the sector with a steadfast focus on valuation discipline. We are investing in innovation within the sector – but at what we believe is a reasonable price. We also find opportunity with companies that have simpler stories, but nevertheless benefit from long-term, secular tailwinds affecting health care.
Stocks within both camps have been large contributors to performance over the past year, and are a primary reason stock selection within the health care sector has contributed to relative performance for our Epiphany Fund.
While ESG interest is undoubtedly on the rise, the category hasn’t reached its full growth potential. One issue potentially holding it back? Clarity.
An October 2019 report from the Institute of International Finance1 found that financial firms are using nearly 80 different terms to describe various forms of sustainable investing. As the report describes, this is creating confusion for would-be investors:
“At best, this confusion makes it hard to compare investment products and for clients to understand the differences in offerings,” the report states. “At worst, it facilitates greenwashing—intentionally misleading investors or giving them a false impression about how well their investments are aligned with their sustainability goals.”
The Dana Funds are distributed by Ultimus Fund Distributors, LLC. There is no affiliation between Ultimus Fund Distributors, LLC. and the firms referenced in this blog post.