May 10, 2019

PODCAST: Best ESG Bond ETFs, Beyond Meat Shocks, SRI Engages Slavery


Beyond Meat initial public offering (IPO) share price soars over $80 from $25 surprising everyone and encouraging offerings that could excite ethical and sustainable investors. Learn how to find animal-friendly investments. UN agency PRI says socially responsible investing (SRI) should wake up to modern slavery. Unilever better investment over Johnson & Johnson says sustainability analyst.

Transcript & Links May 10, 2019

Hello, Ron Robins here. Welcome to my podcast Ethical & Sustainable Investing News to Profit By! for May 10, 2019. Presented by Investing for the Soul. investingforthesoul.com is your site for vital global ethical and sustainable investment resources.

Now to this podcast. Again, for any terms that are unfamiliar to you, simply Google them!

Also, you can find a full transcript, live links and sometimes bonus material at my podcast page located at investingforthesoul.com/podcasts

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Many of you listening are interested in ESG or SRI bond and fixed income investments. And with good reason. A recent article titled, Largest 10 Socially Responsible Fixed Income ETFs, by Todd Shriber of ETF Trends, reviews two leading funds in this space. They are the iShares Global Green Bond ETF (on Nasdaq GM: ticker BGRN) and VanEck Vectors Green Bond ETF (on the NYSEArca: ticker GRNB). These bond funds have great pedigrees.

However, the article’s title might suggest the review is of ten SRI fixed income ETFs and that’s a little misleading. Concerning the ten listed—but not reviewed—I wouldn’t put them in the same category as the two funds examined in the article.

The SRI credentials of the ten listed are mainly that they invest in government securities and blue-chip company bonds. Of course, governments fund all sorts of things that ethical and sustainable investors might argue aren’t socially responsible. And even though blue-chip companies such as Apple are frequently top SRI holdings, their bonds aren’t usually going directly to fund green projects.

Whereas, the iShares Global Green Bond ETF and VanEck Vectors Green Bond ETF specifically fund projects and activities related to environmental and social concerns.

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Well, I can’t resist the temptation to not talk about the great Beyond Meat initial public offering! It came out at $25 on May 2 and has traded over $80 since then. For a good review of what the company is and what it faces regarding competition etc., see this MarketWatch post, Beyond Meat goes public with a bang: 5 things to know about the plant-based meat maker, by Ciara Linnane.

Quoting Ciara, she says, "The maker of the Beyond Burger, which is sold at Whole Foods and restaurant chain TGIF, among others, priced its initial public offering at $25 a share… raising at least $240 million at a valuation slightly shy of $1.5 billion." Close quote. Now at $80 a share Beyond Meat has a staggering market valuation of about $5 billion!

I'm delighted to see this offering, as one of the most important things we can do to slow down carbon emissions and climate change, is to reduce our consumption of meat. However, some climate researchers are skeptical about the net benefit of highly processed vegetarian and vegan offerings on the climate.

That this IPO went so well is a testament to the fact that even many conservative financial types are recognizing there’s money to be made in climate change. However, I suspect that most of the interest probably comes from younger investors.

Furthermore, this could indicate the beginning of a thrilling era for new investment offerings that ethical and sustainable investors can get excited about!

Obviously, the underwriters significantly underestimated demand for Beyond Meat’s shares. When IPOs triple in price right after being launched it means that the issuer—the company—could have gotten far more for their shares. Though Beyond Meat is probably happy, they’re probably unhappy that they could’ve raised double or triple of what they got!

So, Beyond Meat is an exciting short-term play but with so many competitors to its products over the medium to long-term, it's not obvious it will be a winner yet.

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For a good review of what Beyond Meat’s success means for two burger chains offering vegan burgers, see this post, titled, Tim Nash's sustainable stock showdown: battle of the burger chains, Corporate Knights, Canada. Admittedly this review is of the Canadian market, but it has bearing on the US and other markets too. Of course, Americans or anyone can invest in the Canadian stocks of the burger chains mentioned in that post.

After a great review, Mr. Nash finalizes his recommendation as follows, and I quote, “A&W Food Services of Canada (which has no corporate connections to A&W’s American locations) is obviously a much smaller company than Restaurant Brands, but... with a higher dividend and a lower beta, A&W provides a nice mix of income and growth potential. The chain is the clear winner.” Close quote.

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Now, for ethical and sustainable investors interested in the animal-friendliness of their investments, read this article by Meredith Jones of MarketWatch, titled, Opinion: Here’s how to check the animal-friendliness of your investments. Quoting her, she says, “It’s easy to check which individual stocks are ‘cruelty-free,’ but you can’t yet invest in a vegan investment index." She offers several ways to checking which investments are free of animal-related products and testing.

If you’re interested in finding more organizations that can help you in this endeavor, check-out my Investing for the Soul sites’ pages Environmental Organizations & Resources and Organizations Promoting Corporate Ethical, Social & Environmental Responsibility.

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Turning to a completely different aspect of investing, let’s talk about separately managed accounts at financial institutions compared to owning a portfolio of ETFs. Now separately managed accounts aren’t for everyone as they usually require a sizeable investment. However, if you meet the threshold they could be better for US investors than ETFs, says Johny Mair at ThinkAdvisor.

Mr. Mair says in an article titled, ETF vs. SMA: Which Is Better for Sustainable Investing? That, and I quote, “SMAs are ideal for values-based investing as they allow investors to actively screen for certain product areas (e.g. oil, tobacco), or ‘bad actors’ that they deem antithetical to their values. They also allow for more specificity, e.g. designating a certain percentage of revenue from carbon emissions to be included in one’s portfolio.

Furthermore, because SMA investors directly own the underlying securities, they can opt to play an active shareholder role, working to impact corporate behavior through voting proxies or shareholder resolutions." End quote.

Of course, for those who might not have the means for an SMA—or even for those who do—check out my DIY Ethical-Sustainable Investing Pays Tutorial. There, in 1-hour you can get a handle on how to easily and very cheaply put together your own personal values-based profitable portfolio—nonmatter its size.

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In looking for companies we all want to know about their ESG ratings. However, you might not be aware of which ESG rating firms are good. Well, a new report reviews the various ESG rating services. Go to this recent post in IR Magazine, headlined, ESG Ratings – A look at the ESG ratings landscape. Register at the bottom of the page to download the PDF report.

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Ethical and sustainable investors are concerned with many issues, but one that they might not have thought of and which is still a global problem is modern slavery. Fiona Reynolds, head of the UN’s Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI), says that ‘“There are a lot of ESG conversations around climate change ... but it is interlinked with modern slavery,’ Reynolds told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. ‘We see many climate migrants and refugees who end up vulnerable and at risk of being trafficked,’ she added.” Close quote.

Another quote from the article states, that, “The U.N. estimates that some 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery, from factory jobs to forced marriages.” End quote. Perhaps it’s something you might ask the companies you like who might have the potential for such involvement.

The Reuters post is by Kieran Guilbert and titled, 'Look for the laggards' - investors told to target modern slavery.

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Lastly, another good comparative analysis by Tim Nash at Corporate Knights for ethical and sustainable investors has the title, Tim Nash’s sustainable stock showdown: Johnson & Johnson vs. Unilever. He says, and I quote,” With thousands of J&J cancer lawsuits pending, you might want to freshen up your portfolio with a cleaner company… J&J and Unilever are companies with very similar financial profiles, but, in my view, Unilever’s brand is thriving while Johnson and Johnson’s is deteriorating.”

For decades, J&J has a been a favorite investment for ethical investors—but not so much anymore as Mr. Nash’s post makes clear. Yet, most ESG funds still have it in their holdings. Check your holdings and see. Perhaps you still like J&J for other reasons. However, at the very least, these lawsuits and the negative publicity surrounding them is proving costly to the firm’s bottom line and stock price.

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So, these are my top news stories for ethical and sustainable investors over the past two weeks.

Again, to get all the links or to read the transcript of this podcast and sometimes get additional information too, please go to investingforthesoul.com/podcasts and look for this edition.

And remember, I’m here to help you grow in your investment success—and investing in opportunities that reflect your personal values!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about the content of this podcast or anything else investment related. I can’t say I’ll have all the answers for you and some answers I can’t give due to licensing restrictions. But where I can help I will.

Now, a big thank you for listening—and please click the share buttons to share this podcast with your friends and family.

Come again! Bye for now!


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April 26, 2019

PODCAST: Green Finance, ESG Credit Ratings, Best Sustainable-Ethical Indices!


My podcasts are planned every two weeks beginning March 16, 2019. This edition -- actually published February 26 -- is to test and obtain feedback from listeners on all aspects of its content and production. However, this podcast also contains great content! Included is a full transcript and links to all news covered and more!

Podcast notes November 23, 2018

For links to all the news I’m covering today, go to my Investing for the Soul homepage.

If any terms are unfamiliar to you, a good source for their definition is INVESTOPEDIA and scroll down to the very bottom to see their A-Z dictionary

News

1) Green finance: a contrarian take, by Thomas Hale, November 15, 2018, FT Advisor, UK.

"Renaissance’s argument thereafter is that, even if emerging markets have far lower ESG scores, directing capital their way allows for the highest overall rate of improvement, and so the greatest ethical utility. This is, unsurprisingly, an argument for more investment in EM."

Points:

1) The argument presented here by Renaissance Capital, a Russian investment bank, is equivalent to the idea of investing in companies who are just beginning to engage in ESG seriously so as to take advantage of their possible rapid stock price as they're identified as a potential 'high' ESG company. As it's recognized by many investors that high ESG scoring companies also now have a premium to their stock prices.

2) Renaissance produces a wonderful graph showing how high GDP per capita is highly correlated to high ESG country scores.

3) Another quote, “As a side note, the report finds ‘virtually zero correlation’ between ESG scores and sovereign bond pricing after adjusting for per capita GDP.)

Again, the argument here is that going for up and coming ESG performers in emerging countries could be a great bet for stock or bond outperformance.

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2) From upstream to mainstream: ESG at a tipping point, November 15, 2018, by IN Research and Calvert, Investment News, USA.

"In a year's time, the percentage of Millennials expressing a high level of interest in ESG investing jumped from 26% to 35%, advisers say, while the percentage of Gen Xers embracing ESG spiked from 16% to 25%.

This is more than a generational story, however... Twenty-six percent of ultra-high-net-worth investors now show a high level of interest in ESG investing, advisers say, up from only 10% in 2017. Similarly, interest among very-high net worth investors shot from 13% to 19% in a year's time."

Points:

1) These results are from a US survey of 300 advisors. The jump in numbers over just one-year is impressive. Demonstrates just how fast ESG is being accepted.

2) Somewhat interesting is that its regular advisors reporting the rapid growth. Generally, advisors have been ‘behind the curve’ regarding their positivity concerning sustainable, ESG and ethical investing. Now many are hurrying to get familiar with it!

3) Calvert, a well-known and respected ethical investing mutual fund manager was involved too. Not sure if this fact had a relevance to the conduct and results of the survey. Knowing Calvert, probably not.

4) You can download the full report here.

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3) Are ESG Ratings the New Credit Rating for Stock Prices? By Ginger Szala, November 19, 2018, ThinkAdvisor, USA. "A new MSCI study of ESG ratings finds they have a similar impact on share prices as do credit ratings."

Points:

1) Though to me the findings are unsurprising, it is the first study to demonstrate that ESG ratings have a similar impact to credit ratings on a company's stock price.

This finding will no doubt be challenged, but comes at a time when investors everywhere are looking at the inclusion of ESG criteria in their investment research. It bodes well for the mainstreaming of ESG!

2) Many credit ratings’ agencies such as S&P, Moody’s and Fitch have long been criticized for potential significant conflicts of interest and bias. They take clients’ funds to provide new issue ratings and have historically slow to act to in changing their ratings, particularly negatively, to new circumstances!

So, since ESG ratings’ companies like Sustainalytics, MSCI, RobecoSAM, etc., don’t take funds for their corporate ratings—as far as I know—they may well be even a greater indicator of corporate ‘safety’ than the credit ratings’ agencies!

3) You can download the MSCI study here.

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4) Companies Leading on Disability Inclusion Outperform Peers, by Megan Amrich, November 20, 2018, TriplePundit, USA. "Accenture, in partnership with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), has released 'Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage.' This report looks at both the disability practices and financial performance of 140 companies over the past four years... Companies that 'embrace best practices for employing and supporting more people with disabilities in their workforces' are several times more likely to outperform their peers financially."

Points:

1) This is a pioneering and worthy study. It might also be true that employees with disabilities feel they have to prove themselves and so are more productive. Hence, forward-looking companies know this and so increasingly employ individuals with disabilities? Thus, such employment is not always out of charity.

2) One has to wonder too, however, is that highly profitable companies feel they are able to hire more persons with disability because of the high profits?

3) Are such companies also aiming to create even higher reputation in the communities they serve?

Subject:  What are the best ESG-Sustainable-Ethical indices?

The range of indices is immense today. When I began to follow these around 2001, there were a handful globally, and mostly unknown. Today, it’s extraordinary the number of them and what they cover.

The idea of these indices are that they can act as benchmarks for you to assess your own performance. Furthermore, there are numerous mutual funds and ETFs that you can be purchased that are based on them.

For a good listing of them go to my page, Ethical Investing Stock and Bond Indices.

Here are my favourites though.

Equities

Dow Jones Sustainability Index
One of the oldest index families and an ethical investor’s favourite.
“The family was launched in 1999 as the first global sustainability benchmark and tracks the stock performance of the world's leading companies in terms of economic, environmental and social criteria.” The DJSI data is compiled and analyzed by the Swiss organization RobecoSAM. They review some 10,000 companies!”

Fossil Free Indexes(Global) "The Fossil Free Indexes are a suite of benchmarks designed for investable products that provide broad market exposure to index investors who wish to divest from fossil fuel companies. These investors are typically motivated either by a concern about unacceptable levels of climate change or by a concern about overvaluation and risk in the sector." These indices are capitalization weighted, meaning that larger companies have a bigger influence in the index; smaller companies a smaller weight.

FTSE4Good Index Series and FTSE Smart Sustainability Index Series(Global) "The FTSE4Good Index Series is designed to measure the performance of companies demonstrating strong Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices. Transparent management and clearly-defined ESG criteria make FTSE4Good indices suitable tools to be used by a wide variety of market participants when creating or assessing responsible investment products."

FTSE Russell Green Revenues Index Series(Global) "FTSE Russell’s Green Revenues (LCE) data model and Green Revenues Index Series track companies that generate green revenues – a critical component missing from current sustainability models. Now, investors can accurately identify and support their investment in companies that stand to benefit from the world’s transition to a green economy with consistent, transparent data and indexes." I really like the concept of this index with it’s scoring based on green revenues! That means industries such as tobacco, won’t score highly, whereas in other ESG-sustainable-ethical indices, they could!

MSCI ESG Indices(Global) "With 40 years of expertise in index construction and maintenance, MSCI aims to set new standards for ESG indices – allowing clients to more effectively benchmark ESG investment performance, issue index-based ESG investment products, as well as to manage, measure and report on their compliance with ESG mandates."

NASDAQ Green Economy Indices What I like about these are that there’re separate indices for various types of alternative energy sectors, such as solar and wind plus indices focusing on water services and products.
(Global) "NASDAQ OMX offers a complete family of indexes tracking the growing environmental and clean-energy sector, also known as the 'Green Economy.' Green Economy is the shift of economic development towards sustainable practices in business and infrastructure..."

S&P Dow Jones ESG Indices
They truly offer something for almost any sustainable-ethically oriented investor!

Canada—Equities

Jantzi Social Index(JSI)
I’ve known Michael Jantzi, whose firm established this index, since the 1990s. He is head of and founded, Sustainalytics, one of the world’s leading ESG ratings’ agencies.
(Canada) "In January 2000, Jantzi Research launched the Jantzi Social Index®, partnered with Dow Jones Indexes. The JSI, a socially screened, market capitalization-weighted common stock index modeled on the S&P/TSX 60 consists of 60 Canadian companies that pass a set of broadly based environmental, social, and governance rating criteria. The JSI has begun to generate the first definitive data on the effects of social screening on financial performance in Canada."

Bonds

S&P ESG Sovereign Bond index family
“The S&P ESG Sovereign Bond Index family offers investors exposure to the same sovereign bonds as standard cap-weighted sovereign bond indices but tilts the country weights towards more sustainable countries, based on RobecoSAM’s”

© 2019 Ron Robins, Investing for the Soul. All rights reserved.


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PODCAST: Low Cost ESG, Sustainable Companies, Robo-Advisor Greenwashing


In this edition, I’m covering several items that I believe are important to listeners of Ethical and Sustainable News to Profit By! Plus, I’m doing a special review of robo-advisors and their offerings for ethical and sustainable investors in the USA and Canada.

The four most recent newsworthy items for ethical and sustainable investing are:

1) Who runs the world? The global status of women in leadership.

2) ESG investing does not cost more, research shows.

3) The 100 Most Sustainable U.S. Companies.

4) Sustainable and ethical standards are in vogue, but only governance is affecting ratings, Fitch finds.

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1) Who runs the world? The global status of women in leadership, by Sophie L'Helias & Adria Vasil, March 9, 2019, Corporate Knights, Canada.

This is a quote from their article: "Regardless of progress at the board level, the glaring reality is that the world’s largest corporations are stalled in second gear when it comes to hiring women in C-suite leadership roles. Top senior executive officers with the letter C in their title (CEO, CFO, CIO, COO, CSO) lag behind on gender in all markets."

Although several reputable studies have shown that having women and diversities on boards and in management generally leads to superior financial performance, corporations generally have been slow to include them.

Some further thoughts on this:

Firstly, the study covered the 1,500 largest publicly-traded companies for more than three years.

Secondly, in the article there’s a great country breakdown and it shows—as usual—Scandinavian countries leading.

But, progress is being made by women and as an investor interested in ethical and sustainable investing, you might want to consider when investing the proportion of women and diversities on the boards and in management of the companies you’re interested in. Furthermore, there are several new funds that specifically invest in companies with higher proportions of women in management.

They include:

- Impact Shares YWCA Women's Empowerment ETF on the NYSE Arca exchange, under the ticker WOMN

- In Canada, the RBC Vision Women’s Leadership MSCI Canada Index ETF, RLDR on the Aequitas NEO Exchange.

- In the UK, Barclays Women in Leadership Total Return Index – ETF Tracker, ticker symbol WIL.

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2) ESG investing does not cost more, research shows, by Frank van Alphen, February 19, 2019, IPE, UK

Quoting the article, "Pension funds performing well on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors don’t incur higher asset management costs, according to research. Research by Dutch consultant Gaston Siegelaer indicated that improvements to investors’ ESG policies did not increase costs either."

These were Dutch pension funds that were studied. Now, most people believe that ESG investing does cost more. However, the big differential that once existed is now much lower. Also, it used to be that ethical and sustainable funds were small, that ESG information was not as available and was expensive to produce. So, for those reasons ethical and sustainable funds did have significantly higher fees.

However, today, the situation is considerably different. Vanguard, in the US, now has sustainable funds with fees as low 0.12% annually!

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3) The 100 Most Sustainable U.S. Companies, by Leslie P. Norton, February 8, 2019, Barron's, USA.

Barron's list is compiled by the well-known and respected SRI fund company, Calvert Research and Management. Hence, it's to be respected. Calvert has been around since 1982 and helped pioneer socially responsible investing in the US. To create the list, Calvert rated the SRI credentials of the 1,000 largest (by market capitalization) publicly held companies headquartered and incorporated in the United States

I have a link in my transcript to the article (here.) Their top 5 American companies are: Best Buy, Cisco Systems, Agilent Technologies, HP Inc. and Texas Instruments.

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4) Sustainable and ethical standards are in vogue, but only governance is affecting ratings, Fitch finds, by Chad Bray, February 26, 2019, South China Morning Post courtesy of Yahoo!, Hong Kong.

This is a fascinating stat from the article: "The credit rating agency, however, found that less than one per cent of financial institutions have ESG factors that have actually driven a ratings change, with governance risk being the biggest issue. Governance includes such things as executive pay, audits and efforts to weed out money laundering."

Two key points stand out in Fitch's findings. Firstly, how small an impact ESG is having on credit ratings! It makes me wonder how much credit rating agencies utilize ESG criteria. Secondly, Fitch doesn't say if the analysis was only from their company or if other ratings' agencies were involved. For instance, it would be interesting to know what differences there are in the use of ESG criteria between agencies. Ethical investors, particularly, might find that useful.

However, it seems that in the future that just as these ratings agencies grade bonds—AAA, BBB, etc.--they’re likely to add ESG credit grades to stocks! This could revolutionize how we make investment decisions!

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Now for a special review of robo-advisors. These are automated app based low cost investment platforms. So rather than going to, say, an investment advisor or stock broker and getting advice and funds or stocks from them, there are now these apps—called robo-advisors—to do all that work for you.

There was recently a great review of these in a post titled,

Is your ethical investing app upselling greenwash? by Adria Vasil, March 5, 2019, Corporate Knights, Canada.

Corporate Knights have produced one of the few really good analytical studies on ethical investing apps for North Americans. They believe there are some good robo apps for Americans, but not so for Canadians.

Before going into their findings let me make some points.

My principle concern with robo investing apps for ethical and sustainable investing is that they will still put you into a least a few investments that don’t reflect your personal values. You rarely, if ever, really feel completely comfortable with everything in their portfolio.

This is because they nearly all use low cost ESG ETFs. These are mostly passive, not actively managed, funds. But the big drawback is that they’re based on ESG indexes and these indexes will rarely match your personal values.

Also, these indexes tend to be poorly diversified. Often, they’re overweight in tech and financial stocks too. The 100 Most Sustainable U.S. Companies reviewed above is a clear example of this as their top 5 companies are related to tech. So, it’s a bit like putting all your eggs in one basket – that’s never a good idea.

Also, many of the robo-advisors are new financial entities. What happens to your money if the management firm dissolves—for whatever reason? That is a concern rarely discussed but if your looking at long-term investing, it’s a very real consideration! Now in most developed countries there are usually government regulations concerning such investments so your actual principal might have a degree of protection.

Also, with many data breaches in the news, how secure is your information on their site?

It’s for these and many other reasons that I suggest those interested in ethical and sustainable investing take my 1-hour DIY Ethical-Sustainable Investing Pays Tutorial before even considering robo-advisors, or in fact, investing at all. In my tutorial, you’ll easily learn how to create a portfolio of stocks that truly represent your personal values! And no financial is required and you won’t have to bother with any math. Furthermore, creating your own stock portfolio will likely cost you even less than the lowest fee robo-advisor!

However, should you want to review some ethical-sustainable investing robo-advisors, I suggest you look at those in the Corporate Knights post. But do your own research and perhaps check with an investment professional before deciding for yourself.

For Americans, Corporate Knights suggest looking at Swell and OpenInvest.

While, Corporate Knights says, “For Canadians, well, robo-advisors may not be the best route for you until the companies behind them offer more truly values-driven options.”

For listeners elsewhere, you might want to do a web search for reviews of robo- advisors in your country.

As you would expect, robo-advisors are largely targeted at younger, tech oriented investors. So, read the research on them by Corporate Knights and other trustworthy sources, but remember my remarks here.

That’s all I want to cover in this edition—though let me add a few final points.

And remember, I’m here to help you grow in your investment success—and investing in opportunities that reflect your personal values!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this podcast or for anything else investment related.

A big thank you for listening—and please click any of the share buttons to share this podcast with your friends and family.

Bye for now!

If any terms are unfamiliar to you, you might like to go to INVESTOPEDIA and scroll down to the very bottom to see their A-Z dictionary.

© 2019 Ron Robins, Investing for the Soul. All rights reserved.


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PODCAST: Green Bonds, ESG Indexes, Active or Passive ESG Funds?


Where do you find green bonds? New report highly critical of most ESG indexes. Though passive ESG ETFs can be attractive from an annual cost perspective, check what’s in them and see if their holdings agree with your values. There's a strong argument that active management for ESG investing is best. And much more here

Transcript & Links 29 March 2019

In this edition, I’m going to cover several recent items that I believe are most important for News to Profit By listeners.

Our first story, Why ESG Is Too Nuanced for Index Investing, Frances E. Tuite, ThinkAdvisor.

The writer says, that, "Active management brings deeper analysis and nimbler choices into building socially responsible portfolios."

Frances makes some good points why active management of funds – rather than just sitting on a group of stocks indefinitely – can be preferable. Among the points are, and I quote,

1) “Active managers combine valuation, fundamental analysis and ESG factors into their stock selection. A passive or index strategy does not encompass individual stock selection; rather, stocks are added based on a positive or negative screen without regard to valuation or fundamental research.”

2) “An active manager may create a select and concentrated portfolio (40 or 50 names) while passive funds may hold a large diversified portfolio (in some cases over 1,000 positions) that due to liquidity needs, out of necessity, can include stocks with low ESG ratings.“

Frances says that the new Vanguard ESG U.S. Stock ETF includes Facebook and Amazon which both now have low ESG scores by some analysts. Amazon for the treatment of their workforce and Facebook for its data issues.

So, though passive ESG ETFs can be attractive from an annual cost perspective, check what’s in them and see if their holdings agree with your values. Go to this podcasts’ blog page at investingforthesoul.com/podcasts to find out where to get reliable sustainable and ethical fund information for where you live.

Americans at https://charts.ussif.org/mfpc/ Canadians can check out funds at https://www.riacanada.ca/ri-marketplace/investment-options/ . UK investors at http://www.yourethicalmoney.org/investments/ . For Australians and New Zealanders https://www.responsiblereturns.com.au/ .

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The second story, What Are Green Bonds and How ‘Green’ Is Green? By Lyubov Pronina, Bloomberg Businessweek

A quick quote reads, “Because investors face the challenge of judging whether a note is truly green, regulators are working on standards to help guard against greenwashing, or misleading claims about just how good a friend to the environment an issuer is."

Green bonds go to existing or new projects that have beneficial environmental or climate impacts. $580 billion of them were sold in 2018.

There’s been a real problem of creating standards for them. For instance, how can you ascertain exactly what’s green? So, now the standards are coming together.

Issuers in over 50 countries have sold green bonds and include institutions like the World Bank and the EU’s European Investment Bank.

For a long time, ethical investors had difficulty in creating a fixed income or bond portfolio. Now, with the advent of green bonds ethical and sustainable fixed income investing is becoming a lot easier! Look into it if you haven’t already done so and get some quality green bonds in your portfolio. To get started, one good source for green bond investing is The Climate Bonds Initiative which lists most of the green bonds out there.

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Our third item is, The Blind Spot in Corporate Sustainability Rankings: Climate Policy Leadership, by the Environmental Defense Fund.

Here’s a quote that gives the gist of the study, “The authors reviewed eight rankings by evaluating the methodologies that these systems have published online and that are available to the public. They assessed whether companies’ policy engagement activities were considered in the rankings, and how, if considered, they were tabulated as part of the companies’ overall rankings or scores...”

And, “Most corporate sustainability rankings do little to encourage companies to engage in climate policy, as they neither recognize support for nor penalize opposition to climate policy."

The Environmental Defense Fund has done a brilliant job in analyzing which sustainability screened stock indexes only include companies who are also screened for their environmental advocacy. The reason for such screening allows investors to better determine which companies are truly on board with combating climate change. Of the eight major indexes only two were recommended. They are Corporate Knights' Global 100 and InfluenceMap. So that’s who to go to if you really want to invest only in the most serious companies about climate change—but who also offer the potential of decent returns.

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My fourth item of news, is, Ethical Funds Have Never Been Cheaper As Vanguard Spurs Fee War, by Bloomberg News

Quoting the article, "The price war has come to socially conscious investing. BlackRock (BLK), Vanguard Group and Deutsche Bank's (DB) DWS Group have slashed fees for exchange traded funds that track companies performing well on environmental, social and governance criteria."

Incidentally, an insightful write up on Vanguard's new Global ESG Select Stock fund by Morningstar's great Jon Hale, Ph.D. is worthy of a read. Get the link on this podcasts page at investingforthesoul.com/podcasts.

Also, in my podcast of March 15, I mentioned how annual fund fees for ESG ETFs were now often comparable to those of conventional funds. This article goes into some depth about that.

However, I absolutely maintain that if you truly want a portfolio that reflects your deep beliefs and values, the only way to do that is to buy individual stocks. I make that simple with my 1-hour DIY Ethical-Sustainable Investing Pays Tutorial. See the link on my website investingforthesoul.com.

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A fifth news story I want to cover is, How to Evaluate Funds that Invest in Women, by Debbie Carlson, US News

Here’s an interesting quote, "Because data around gender was so thin, Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow, a California-based nonprofit shareholder advocacy group focused on ESG, says his group worked with Equileap to compile more information about corporate gender policies, including policies like training, career development, safety at work, human rights and other issues...

His group recently created a gender-equality funds tool that analyzes mutual funds and ETFs, taking into account these different gender attributes and giving each fund a score."

There are now some good ETFs that are gender focused and I covered them in my March 15 podcast in a commentary concerning an article, Who runs the world? The global status of women in leadership.

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Now my next, sixth story is quite revealing, Large fund firms' support for combating climate change is all talk, as proxy voting record shows bottom performance, by Eric Rosenbaum, CNBC.

Here’s a great quote! “A data analysis released by Ceres in early March shows that when BlackRock and Vanguard are measured on their up-or-down votes on climate change resolutions at stockholder annual meetings, they have among the worst voting records in the fund industry."

So, the voting data would appear irrefutable that the largest American fund companies don't 'walk their talk. Senior managers of some of these huge fund companies, including Blackrock’s CEO, Larry Fink, have been loudly espousing their love for ESG. I hope it’s just a simple case that views of the funds senior managers on ESG hadn't yet filtered down to the managers making the proxy decisions who are likely engaged with other concerns. I expect that the 2019 and 2020 proxy seasons will show much-improved results.

I suggest if you’re concerned about how your fund company stacks up on ESG and climate change related stockholder voting, see the Ceres report. Again, the link is on my podcast page for this show.

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And now the seventh and final story I want to cover, is, Investors Lose a Major Justification for Holding Tobacco Stocks, by Lisa Pham, Bloomberg.

Here’s an insightful quote from it, "In recent years, a flurry of European pension funds and insurers have begun divesting their holdings, putting pressure on the share prices. BAT had its worst year on record last year, slumping 50 percent, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration toughened its stance toward the tobacco industry. Philip Morris slumped 37 percent."

Some of you might think it unsurprising that tobacco stocks are down. However, until recently most investors would’ve have told you that tobacco stocks are great as they’ve demonstrated terrific returns for decades!

Well, I've been arguing for many years now that the days were numbered for big tobacco. In July 2010, I wrote an editorial on my Investing for the Soul site, Sin or Ethical Investing: Which Pays Best? There, I said, "Over the next five to ten years I suspect that ethical stock portfolios could outperform both the sin and conventional variety." And it looks like I’ll be proven right.

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So, there we have it for this podcast!

Just a reminder, to download the transcript of this podcast and get all the links and additional information mentioned here, please go to investingforthesoul.com/podcasts and look for this edition.

And remember, I’m here to help you grow in your investment success—and investing in opportunities that reflect your personal values!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this podcast or anything else investment related.

A big thank you for listening—and please click the share buttons to share this podcast with your friends and family.

Come again! Bye for now!


Check out this episode!

PODCAST: S&P ESG 500, Sustainable Investing Grows, Green Bond Awards


New S&P ESG 500 products will promote sustainable investing and offer needed diversification for most ethical investors. Sustainable assets leap 34% to $30.7 trillion in 2 years globally. Green bond awards help ethical and sustainable investors find green fixed income products. Ethical investors avoid Lyft IPO and suspicious of social media companies with regulatory issues.

Transcript & Links April 12, 2019

Hello, Ron Robins here. Welcome to my podcast Ethical & Sustainable Investing News to Profit By! Presented by Investing for the Soul, April 12, 2019.

Now again, if any terms are unfamiliar to you, simply Google them!

Also, you can find a full transcript, live links and sometimes bonus material at my podcast page located at investingforthesoul.com/podcasts

News

Now for the exciting news to profit by for ethical and sustainable investors!

The first item I want to talk about is that with all the news concerning Facebook and Google regarding the regulatory pressures they’re facing around the world, it means that somehow, investors have to take into account the potential for severe disruption in their business models and possible negative impacts on their profitability and stock prices. So this post, titled, A regulatory lens when assessing ESG risks, by Sudhir Roc-Sennet, of Vontobel Asset Management, writing in Investment Europe, is truly pertinent.

Sudhir says that and I quote, "Internally we look at sustainability through an ESG-R lens, which includes regulation alongside environmental, social and governance factors. Many of our investment companies have held leading industry positions and, as a result, regulation is one of the greatest risks they face." Close quote.

You might be aware that your ESG portfolio is probably top heavy with tech and social media companies. So, a review of your holdings in light of regulatory risk might be warranted. Financial stocks too are often overweighted in our ESG portfolios. So, come the next recession – which two-thirds of American economists predict in the next two years – financial stocks could again become the subject of significant regulatory and financial risk. So be careful about overweighting in sectors that have potential regulatory risks.

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This next piece of news excites me. It’s title, S&P unveils ESG version of 'iconic' 500 index, by Chris Sloley at CityWire Selector.

I quote, "S&P Dow Jones Indices has launched an ESG-centric version of its long-running S&P 500 index as part of plans to launch a wider family of responsibility-focused indices... The index has been developed to serve not only as a performance tracking tool but also as a building block for creating new ESG index-based investment products such as ETFs." Close quote.

This is exciting news for ethical and sustainable investors. The S&P 500 index and financial products based on it, are among the most popular financial products to have ever been conceived. RobecoSAM will be creating the index. They also are responsible for the FTSE4Good index. I believe many large financial institutions and pension funds have been awaiting this development to make even greater investments in ESG related investment vehicles.

For yourself as well, financial products arising from this could help resolve the problem I just mentioned. That is, not being overly invested in one market segment such as tech or social media. An S&P 500 ESG product will likely be quite diversified.

However, I do say that though the components of this new index will be screened for ESG characteristics – you will inevitably be investing in some industries you don’t like. Thus, if this is a concern for you, take my quick and easy DIY Ethical-Sustainable Investing Pays Tutorial to learn how to create a diversified portfolio that truly reflects your values.

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Now the following is information that many of you will want to know about! What are the best green bonds around! Environmental Finance in London assembled a team of 24 top green bond experts to come up with the…

Winners of Environmental Finance Bond Awards for 2019. These awards aren't about which green bonds made investors the most money, but, rather, included characteristics such as quality, innovativeness, best practices, etc. Nonetheless, if you're wanting to invest in, or add to your present green bond holdings, you might find some ideas among the winning green bonds here.

Don’t forget, go to my podcast page at investingforthesoul.com/podcasts and go to this show date for links I’m mentioning today.

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Speaking about investing with your personal values, I know many ethical and sustainable investors wouldn’t touch oil fracking stocks. And a lot of it is because of the environmental costs posed by fracking. Unfortunately, as a Canadian report makes clear on David Suzuki’s site – the famed Canadian biologist-environmentalist – the impacts of fracking are still largely unknown and it’s the next generation who’ll feel these impacts! See the post, As fracking booms, report finds we know little about impacts.

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Now some great news about the growth of sustainable investing. There are two posts I want to talk about. The first, Global Sustainable Investments Rise 34 Percent to $30.7 Trillion, by Emily Chasan, Bloomberg, and the second Greenwashing purge sees sustainable funds lose share in Europe, by Siobhan Riding, of the Financial Times.

Both stories reveal data from the same Global Sustainable Investment Alliance study released on April 1. On the one hand, we see a massive and continuing rise in sustainable investing globally. That’s terrific!

However, on the other hand, in Europe, the actual rise in sustainable investment assets has been slower than the growth of the whole market. Now, Europe has for many years been the leader in sustainable assets under management, so it’s not a surprise to see it slowing down there. Here’s a quote from the latter article on this point, quote, “Holdings in sustainable funds made up 49 per cent of professionally managed assets in Europe at the start of 2018, compared with 53 per cent in 2016.” Close quote. So, why is it going down, again, quoting the same article, it says, “Sustainable investment funds have lost market share in Europe as a clampdown on greenwashing forces asset managers to reduce their assets in such strategies.” Close quote. And I say that’s a good thing!

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Hey, were you excited by Lyft’s IPO on March 29?

Numerous ethical and sustainable investors weren’t. Why, because early evidence is that they’re putting more cars on the road and pulling people off public transit! Thus, adding to congestion. Also, people are tending to use these services instead of biking or walking. In short, Uber and Lyft seem to be adding to congestion, pollution, and a less healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, they are presently losing money on a grand scale. Annually, Lyft at around $900 million and Uber around $1.8 billion with little prospect of any profits from either of them soon! Lyft’s IPO stock price on March 29 was $72 and as of the time of recording this post, is in the $60 range.

For a good read on them go to Environmental investors are calling Uber and Lyft's bluff when it comes to going green, by Ross Kerber & Heather Somerville of Reuters.

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Now, many of you listening to this podcast in the US have retirement savings accounts through your employer known as 401(k)s. But I bet you've wondered why there aren’t ethical/ESG options? Well, a recent survey by Natixis found that though, I quote, "61% of workers would increase their retirement savings if they could put their money in socially conscious investments… just 13% of workers have access to those kinds of impact investments." End quote.

There appear to be several reasons why employers are reluctant to offer ethical/ESG investments in US 401(k) plans. Chief among them, according to the Natixis survey, is that employers don't feel it's right for them to "impose their morals on their employees’ investment choices." Personally, I think that answer is absurd since they're also offering many other options too, which when considered, are also 'moral choices!' In fact, I’d argue that every investment has a moral component!

The second principal reason is due to the US Department of Labor making it clear that ESG couldn't be used as the main criteria for selecting investments. This, of course, reflects President's Trump's campaign to promote old and dirty industries – which usually score low on ESG measures.

If you are in a situation where your employer isn’t offering the type of 401(k) investments you want to chat with your fellow employees, see how they feel too. If they’re with you, then go to your employer and make it known to them what you want in your investments. You might be surprised that they probably agree with you and just might take the actions necessary to get those ethical/ESG investment options you want!

The information on this 401(k) situation is gleaned from an article titled, Workers want those hard-to-find socially responsible investments in their 401(k) plans: Survey, by Lorie Konish of CNBC.

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In my podcast of March 15, I discussed how some new ETFs were focusing on gender issues because more women in management seem to improve corporate financial performance. However, it seems that some of these funds don’t seriously advocate for women when it comes to stockholder resolutions concerning equal pay and pay equity disclosure, for instance. And that is rather odd.

Therefore, if you invest in these funds and care about these issues, read the data gathered by Morningstar in the post Investing with equal pay in mind may be more difficult than you think, by Lorie Konish at CNBC.

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So, there we have it for this podcast!

Again, to read the transcript and get all the links and additional information mentioned here, please go to investingforthesoul.com/podcasts and look for this edition.

And remember, I’m here to help you grow in your investment success—and investing in opportunities that reflect your personal values!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this podcast or anything else investment related.

A big thank you for listening—and please click the share buttons to share this podcast with your friends and family.

Come again! Bye for now!


Check out this episode!

PODCAST: Climate Change Investing, S&P ESG Product, Disruptive Wind Power Tech.


GMO, the investment firm, has ideas for climate proofing investment portfolios. Municipal bonds might have considerable climate risks. S&P’s ESG product raises conflict of interest issues as in financial crises of 2008-9. YUM! Brands takes an environmental leadership role in the food industry and radical new wind power technology could disrupt the wind energy industry.

Transcript & Links April 26, 2019

Hello, Ron Robins here. Welcome to my podcast Ethical & Sustainable Investing News to Profit By! Presented by Investing for the Soul, April 26, 2019.

Now again, if any terms are unfamiliar to you, simply Google them!

Also, you can find a full transcript, live links and sometimes bonus material at my podcast page located at investingforthesoul.com/podcasts

News

So, here are some key items of news for the period April 12 to 26, 2019.

The first item is titled, 3 Ways to Make Your Portfolio More Climate-Aware, by Jon Hale at Morningstar.

I really respect Jon. He’s doing an incredible job at Morningstar in orienting that famous investment research firm towards ESG. In his latest post he highlights the work of GMO—no that’s not genetically modified organisms—but a top-notch investment house. For decades I've heard—and you too I'm sure—that if you narrow your investment universe you will get lower returns. Well, consider this from Jon’s post, quote,

"Grantham and his colleagues at GMO looked at what happens when you remove a single sector from an S&P 500-based portfolio. They created S&P 500 portfolios ex energy, ex healthcare, and ex the other eight sectors in the index, going back to 1989, 1957, and 1925.

They found that the range of returns for the ex portfolios was only 50-60 basis points annualized, distributed above and below the S&P 500's return. In the case of the ex energy portfolio, it underperformed the S&P 500 by just 5 basis points annualized from 1925 to 2017, underperformed by 7 basis points annualized from 1957 to 2017, and outperformed by 3 basis points annualized from 1989 to 2017.

Grantham's conclusion: 'You can divest from oil--or about anything else--without much consequence for performance.'" Close quote.

So, according to GMO, divest from fossil fuels and not worry about lower returns! Nonetheless, I would be happier if this research was written-up and published in an appropriate peer-reviewed journal and critiqued. Incidentally, Grantham says that the fossil fuel sector is way overpriced considering its risks.

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Now, do you invest in, or are considering investing in, municipal or local authority bonds? Have you thought about climate change risk concerning municipal bond investments? Well, you should! Bernice Napach writing in ThinkAdvisor under the title, How to Reduce Investment Risk From Climate Change and Other ESG Woes, writes, and I quote her, that, "If no counter action is taken, such as reducing fossil fuel use, close to 60% of U.S. metro areas will lose 1% of more of gross domestic product, which will not be offset by comparable growth in other metro areas." Close quote.

Think about all the risks—and costs—municipalities might face regarding fires, flooding events, excessive winds, etc. So, before investing in municipal bonds, be satisfied concerning their climate change risks and plans. By the way, this article has a great map of the US showing those areas likely to be affected by Category 4 and 5 hurricanes between 2060 and 2080. It’s quite alarming.

Also, be sure to understand municipalities long-term pension and other liability risks. Many analysts believe these alone could sink many American cities in the decades ahead. Hence, even with the tax advantages in some jurisdictions, tread carefully in municipal bond waters!

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If you want a good understanding as to the state of ESG data and information for investors, read the post, What investors actually want from sustainability data, by Ariel C. Pinchot and Giulia Christianson on Greenbiz.com. Needless to say, it’s still a work in progress. If you’ve ever tried to analyze ESG info across companies—even in the same industry—it’s usually impossible as they often use different metrics. Furthermore, unless the data is independently audited and verified, it can’t be relied upon. The article describes in detail how these issues might be soon overcome.

Incidentally, you should subscribe to Greenbiz.com. It’s a great source of information for ethical and sustainable investors.

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Many ethical and sustainable investors shy away from the fast food industry because of the poor health and negative environmental issues they help create. Well, here’s some good news in a post, titled, Yum! Brands shows leadership among fast food peers, takes encouraging first step to mitigate its climate change impacts.

Quoting the post, “The parent company of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut committed to pursue a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operations, franchises and supply chain (Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions), and to explore purchasing renewable energy.”

Sometimes it pays well to invest in companies that are just beginning to make strides on ESG issues. Studies show that such companies often offer better alpha, that is, upside stock price potential, than established ESG winners.

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One new interesting ESG barometer on the horizon is a new ratings’ service by S&P called S&P Evaluation. S&P will rate—at the request of the companies themselves—the ESG credentials pertaining to the company’s ability to operate successfully in the future. You can read about in the post, Official ESG Evaluations from S&P Coming to Insurance Sector in Near Future, by Don Jergler, Insurance Journal. Quoting the post,

"'The ratings giant on April 11 announced the roll out of its ESG Evaluation, describing it as 'a new benchmark that provides a cross-sector, relative analysis of an entity's capacity to operate successfully in the future.'" Close quote.

Well, S&P's new ESG Evaluation product sounds great. However, I see some big snags with it. First, companies request to be rated—unlike the rating groups such as Sustainalytics and MSCI, etc., who rate companies regardless of what the companies themselves might want. Secondly, though not mentioned, S&P’s standard credit ratings require companies themselves to pay to be rated. Is this yet another conflict of interest like the one that got these credit rating agencies in hot water back in 2008/9? Can you trust such ratings then? Thirdly, will the details of the ratings be public or just a rating’s number? That’s important as its the details that many ethical and sustainable investors will want to see.

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Now we have another survey of financial professionals showing that it’s the ‘g’ for ‘governance’ in ESG that’s really important to them. However, for many of you listening to this podcast, I’m sure that you might think the environment and or social criteria are at least equally important. I think this just illustrates the state of ESG currently. There’s still much dispute about the quantity, quality, and standardization of the E and S information for it to be in the forefront for many investment professionals.

The survey was reported on Nasdaq by Kurt Schact with the title, ESG in Investment Management: New Age or Just Noise? The depth of the survey is extraordinary as 1,100 financial professionals and 23 workshops in 17 investment centers around the world took part, says the article.

The survey was conducted by the CFA Institute and Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). This confirms other surveys that have tried to determine the relative importance of each of the three variables that make-up ESG.

What this might mean for you is that when doing your own ESG research on companies—and looking for maximum gains—you might want to weigh governance more highly than environmental and social factors. At least for now.

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Incidentally, if you’re invested in wind turbine companies, beware, as there’s a possible new disruptive competitor with a radically new kind of wind turbine that could be twice as efficient as present ones. This new development in wind turbine efficiency—if Vestas and others are unable to replicate it due to patents, etc.—could mean dramatic shifts in the industry ahead! See the post, Wind Power For Half The Price? Clarkson Professor Says Yes.

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So, there we have it for this podcast!

Again, to get all the links or to read the transcript of this podcast and sometimes get additional information too, please go to investingforthesoul.com/podcasts and look for this edition.

And remember, I’m here to help you grow in your investment success—and investing in opportunities that reflect your personal values!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this podcast or anything else investment related.

A big thank you for listening—and please click the share buttons to share this podcast with your friends and family.

Come again! Bye for now!


Check out this episode!

August 6, 2018

His Writing

... is to promote higher ethics and values in economics, finance and investing.

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His current writing activities include a book, with the working title, "Resolving America's Economic Quagmire," with subtitle, "People Gaining Inner Fulfillment is the Key!"

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Mr. Robins brings to his writing knowledge and skills that are unique and rewarding for his readers.

He introduces to economics the greatly overlooked role of ethics, intrinsic human values and consciousness. His writing incorporates forty years of study in economics and ethical investing.

Mr. Robins has not only been prescient about today's seemingly intractable problems, but he is able to articulate possible solutions beyond them.

In 2006 he started writing about issues which he had foreseen years, even decades earlier, but which had little currency in those earlier times.

Those issues included: 

      Today's financial and economic tragedies--that
         he foresaw in the 1990s
      Ethical investing, which he began studying in
         the 1970s

      Beginning in 1999, understanding the forces
         about to propel precious metals' prices higher

Leading media who have interviewed and quoted Mr. Robins include: The Wall Street Journal; MarketWatch; Forbes; The Financial Post; The Globe & Mail; Healthy Directions Magazine; The Catholic Register; Heraldscotland; and Canadian Business Magazine. 

His television and radio appearances include: BNN; Rogers Television's Money Line; CBC Radio One's Metro Morning; 680 News Radio; and ENN Radio.

Among the publications and media he has written for are: alrroya.com (as a finance and economics columnist for this influential Middle Eastern business portal); the Canadian Treasurer; Benefits and Pensions Monitor; The Corporate Ethics Monitor; The Catholic Register; HR Professional; and the journal of Canada's Social Investment Organization.

Mr. Robins' highly regarded articles on gold and silver are simultaneously published on the world's foremost gold and silver sites such as gold-eagle.com, lemetropolecafe.org, and kitco.com.

Furthermore, Mr. Robins writes editorials and commentaries for one of the most globally respected and popular ethical investing sites, Investing for the Soul, which he founded in 2003, as well as for his insightful Enlightened Economics blog that he began in 2007.

His inspiring "Enlightened Economics" brings to economics a new opportunity for greater success by integrating the roles of consciousness, natural law, and free-market theory.

The ideas, expertise, and vision displayed in his writings on economics and ethical investing are unique and valuable to all those who follow and hire him.