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  • 19/09/2017

Protecting Returns with ESG


Protecting Returns with ESG


By Marlynne Bidos
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Will Oulton, Global Head of Responsible Investment, First State Investments

Sustainable investing is becoming increasingly important to investors who want to align their investment decisions with their personal norms and values. As of the end of 2011, there was an estimated US$13.6 trillion of socially responsible investment assets worldwide with approximately US$8.8 trillion and US$4.3 trillion of assets under stewardship in Europe and the US, respectively.

Despite the growth of this investment strategy in the West, data shows that similar investments in Asia are lagging behind with only US$74 billion in assets under stewardship. The current gap in Asian investors’ use of these strategies is due to several factors, including the need for more information regarding sustainable investing, product offerings with corresponding themes and government regulation

Will Oulton, global head of responsible investment at First State Investments, says that developing robust sustainable investing practices in Asia “is going to take some time”. But he points out that investors can be major influencers in using their investment decisions to push for responsible investment options. With regard to the development of this strategy in Europe, he says, “The public pension fund market took a big step forward on this agenda because the beneficiaries of public pensions are interested in these issues and they are quite vocal. Hence, in Europe, sustainability is a big feature of product and marketing strategies.”

Outside of the collective strength of the public pension system, he says that high-net worth individuals (HNWIs) also play a unique role in developing responsible investing approaches because they have more leeway in their investment choices and are known to be trendsetters. Within the HNWI community, the most common strategies are sustainability themed investments around specific environmental issues, such as energy and climate with a tendency to favor emerging markets exposure over developed markets; 42% of these investments were made in water and clean energy. “They have a history of innovation in investment. They tend to go where others fear to tread initially because they can and they generally have a more open mindset to new investment approaches. If you combine that with a desire to contribute to sustainable development, it’s a powerful combination,” says Oulton.

Why SRI?

The misconception that sustainable investments come with a performance sacrifice continues to cast a dark shadow over the investment approach within the financial community.

But Oulton says the financial crisis has proven otherwise, pointing out that investors who used a responsible investing method, including considering environmental, social and governance (ESG) rules fared well through the financial crisis. “The performance of many sustainable investment firms, with the exception of the ones heavily skewed towards sectors or themes, were resilient and performed reasonably well. It vindicated the fact that those managers and investors who give a high regard to this as a discipline came out with a higher quality portfolio than those that didn’t,” he says. “SRI funding hasn’t been as negatively affected during the financial crisis as other things.”

Standing on this precedent, Oulton remarks that sustainable investing, in general, results in better investment decisions. “If you are not capturing ESG issues, then you are not taking a view on ESG as a risk parameter and you are carrying a high degree of risk in your portfolio,” says Oulton.

“A high-quality investment process that includes a rigorous amount of ESG integration is more likely to better evaluate risk factors.”

Of all the factors to be evaluated, Oulton highlights the importance of corporate governance. “Corporate governance is a key factor and a lot of work is done to assess the culture of a company and management, the way a company functions, the quality of management and independence of the board and how strong it is in guiding the management,” says Oulton.

More parameters and tools needed

While the Principles for Responsible Investment have put the investment principles and approach into code, there remains a need for the industry to come to a consensus on its methods for adviser and investor communities.

In 2012, Cambridge Associates developed a decision-making framework to help investors evaluate and implement social investments within a diversified investment portfolio. Among the suggested steps for advisers are:

1. Assess the motivation for considering sustainable investments

2. Assess the combined return and the combined risk

3. Select and size investments

4. Determine the best asset allocation approach

While this provides some guidance, Oulton says more work needs to be done in developing tools to properly assess product providers’ skills, competencies and approaches to sustainable investing.

Oulton also highlighted the need for metrics that measure the social benefit of responsible investing methods. “More work needs to be done in understanding the impact of the investment process,” says Oulton.

In response to this, he mentioned that First State Investments has collaborated with Cambridge University “to better understand the ESG outcomes on the investment process across strategies in the investment business”. At the conclusion of this research, First State Investments hopes to have a framework that it can use to estimate a net benefit to society in a particular portfolio. BM

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致力於責任管理

first-state劉國傑是首域盈信的大中華投資總監。首域盈信是首域投資旗下的團隊,負責管理亞太區、全球新興市場和世界其他地區股票。他於 2002年4月加入團隊。劉國傑負責亞太區及大中華區投資組合的股票篩選以及投資組合建構。他擁有劍橋大學文學學士及工程學碩士學位。他同時亦是特許財務分析師。

今年,首域的投資團隊再次贏得多個獎項,涵蓋亞洲股票、中國股票、香港股票及新興市場股票類別。此外,首域亞洲股本優點基金(First State Asian Equity Plus Fund)及首域印度次大陸基金(First State Indian Subcontinent Fund)獲得同級最佳的殊榮,而首域大中華增長基金(First State Greater China Growth Fund)則贏得「傑出表現獎」。

首域大中華區投資總監劉國傑表示:「我們的投資理念乃建基於『可持續投資』。我們深信,可持續的公司持倉,對於我們所有投資組合能否提供長期回報而言至關重要。我們是長 線投資者,致力於作出五年期的投資決策,我們的所有投資決定乃據此而定。」

緊密管理

首域以「責任管理」作為其投資原則。投資團隊基於這個概念管理亞太區、全球新興市場以及其他環球股票策略。劉國傑表示:「我們認為,我們的工作是將客戶的資金分配至有良好增長前景及強大管理團隊的優質公司,並確保我們為這些投資支付合理價錢。這裡每一筆投資都是代表客戶所作的買入決定,這不僅僅是一張紙或電子股票,而是帶有權利和責任的實際業務的一部份。我們相當重視這些權利和責任。」

首域的投資管理風格主張基金經理要緊記絕對回報的原則。劉說:「即是將『風險』定義為客戶的投資有金錢上的損失,而不是偏離了任何基準指數。我們跟進投資決定當中的潛在下行風險,與推算升值預期同樣出力。我們旨在透過投資於定位良好,能受惠於其經營業務所在地之可持續發展,並且能促進自身可持續發展的企業的股票,以產生具吸引力的長期經風險調整回報。」

首域的投資方式是由徹底分析個別公司本身做起,而非純粹根據行業界別或國家作投資決定。研究的目的是識別出可提供可持續的長期每股收益增長,並且價位合理的優質公司。劉表示:「我們的投資風格綜合了所有市場的價值和增長偏差。我們不會以基準作為選股或管理投資組合的標準,因為我們認為基準並不能確切反映有潛力的投資領域。」

「我們的投資風格本質上是防守性的,著眼於具備強勁現金流、低負債,以及派息率持續增長等特質的企業。我們揀選企業時,亦著重其非數字範疇,例如權益組合、管理層承諾、繼任人規劃等較難量化的事宜。我們亦會留意企業的管理質素,以及過往制定和執行長遠戰略的能力。對我們來說,商業專營權和財務狀況亦是關鍵因素。我們非常關注企業在社會及環境方面的可持續發展能力。當我們認為企業未能盡到在這些範疇的責任時,我們會要求其著手處理。我們傾向選擇能長期提供穩定及可預測現金流增長的公司,並認為增長過快的公司通常會出現問題。」

絕對回報思維

首域的投資組合風險管理,建基於「客戶最希望其投資的下行風險越低越好」這一信念。劉國傑說:「我們將風險定義為實際上有金錢損失的可能性,而不是表現不如基準指數的機率。換言之,我們不會將風險視為一個相對概念,而是以「絕對回報思維」進行管理。我們建立投資組合時,會著眼於做得對的地方,同時亦不會忽略任何潛在的失誤。」

因著這種絕對回報思維,首域認為基金能避免被「市場過度亢奮」沖昏頭腦。劉說:「我們並不否認基準指數在較長時期的效用,但基準指數不能用來決定投資決策。我們認為,每間優質的公司都有其公允價值,而沒有一個單一的全面估值方法能評定這價值。因此,估值是極為重要的。我們力求確保我們就投資支付的價錢合理。」

在風險管理和企業管治分析方面多下功夫,是「絕對回報思維」不可或缺的一部份。劉表示:「在嚴守這規則下,我們的基金能擁有比同業更出色的長遠表現。」 BM

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