One of the pioneers on investing, Philip Fisher, introduced several questions tightly linked to ESG in his book Common stocks and uncommon profits back in 1957.
Fisher’s focus was primarily on the G (Governance), among other things the relation between a company and its workers, the integrity of management and the transparency of the company towards external players such as the investor community.
MSCI published a study in 2017 in which it found a positive relationship between ESG implementation in a company and it’s stock price performance, while also being a long-term investment factor with positive outperformance lasting for several years compared to a typical short-term investment factor. This is further supported by BAML ESG Primer from end of 2019 in which US companies with a high ESG rating outperformed companies with a low ESG rating by more than 3% every year for the past 5 years.
Morningstar recently crowned the Nordic countries as ESG leaders.
Morningstar’s recently updated Sustainability Atlas ranked Finland and Sweden as number two and three respectively in the world, and crowned the Nordic countries as ESG leaders.
We believe a consistent focus on ESG among Nordic countries and a highly competent internal ESG-team are contributing to DNB Nordic Equities being at the forefront of the sustainable shift in the world. DNB Nordic Equities has achieved a cumulative return of 26% since inception of current management and a 5% relative return year to date (end of May 2020).
In order for the reader to get a better grip of how the Nordic team uses ESG, we have looked into how a group of companies identified as ESG leaders have performed during the recent market turmoil (the period used is 19.02.20 to end of trading 29.05.20). Both our Nordic funds have performed relatively well under the market stress only beat by the Danish stock market which is helped by a high share of healthcare companies (Exhibit 1). Healthcare has been the only positive performing sector based on a benchmark sector perspective, but IT, utilities, materials and consumer staples have also fared relatively well (Exhibit 2).
The individual stock price performance during the market turmoil ranges from positive 18% to negative 35%. The majority of companies identified as ESG leaders in DNB Grønt Norden have performed better than the benchmark during the period in question. The strongest ESG performers in our portfolio were Chr. Hansen, Svenska Cellulosa and Bonheur. The aggregate performance of the companies in Exhibit 3 (as shown in Exhibit 4) generated a return of negative 1.4% on an equal weighted basis and negative 9% on a market value weighted basis. The equal weighted basket beat index by 8% while the market weighted basket beat index by 0.6%. The results do support BAML’s notion of lower future stock price volatility for companies ranking highest on ESG. DNB Nordic Team is continuously looking for the next ESG blockbuster and we believe it is the right thing to do for both our plant and our client’s returns.
Bank of America Merill Lynch ESG primer (2019)
Common stocks and uncommon profits (Philip Fisher, 1957)
DNB Asset Management
Nordic Team: Øyvind Fjell, Hans-Marius Lee Ludvigsen, Tarjei Lode
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