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Two Sides of Volatility

How is the Current Environment Impacting Your Retirement?

Investing for Ignorance

The S&P BSE 100 ESG Index: A Socially Responsible Investment Strategy

Is Mid-cap Outperformance an Illusion?

Two Sides of Volatility

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Craig Lazzara

Managing Director and Global Head of Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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I was recently asked whether volatility was particularly challenging for index fund owners or for active investors.  The answer is “yes.”

For index funds, the challenge arises because rising volatility typically accompanies poor returns.  Between 1991 and 2019, e.g., months in which the S&P 500’s volatility was above median averaged modestly negative total returns.  In contrast, when volatility was below median, monthly returns averaged 1.84%.  This is entirely sensible – a stock, after all, should be valued at the discounted value of its future cash flows.  In times of uncertainty, the discount rate rises, and prices fall accordingly.  If investors are less certain of the future, they’re inclined to pay less for it.

Passive investors, accordingly, are likely to find high volatility damaging to the value of their portfolios; other than “this too shall pass,” it’s difficult to find anything to say in mitigation.  For active investors, however, an interesting subtlety arises.

The ability of an active manager to add value depends most importantly on his skill level.  But it also depends on how much opportunity the market presents.  We can measure the level of opportunity by monitoring the market’s dispersion – i.e., the degree to which the returns of the stocks in a given index are close together or widely separated.  Dispersion and volatility tend to move up and down together – other things equal, the more disperse returns are, the more volatile the market as a whole will be.

For much of the past decade, dispersion has been well below its average level.  This is one of the reasons that active managers as a group have had such a difficult time outperforming passive benchmarks.  In March, however, both volatility and dispersion spiked upward.  We observe the same effect not only across global equity markets, but also when we measure dispersion across sectors, countries, and asset classes.

This means that the value added of a skillful (or lucky) active manager can be considerably larger in March 2020 than it would have been a year – or even a month – earlier.  For less skillful (or unlucky) managers, the potential magnitude of underperformance is similarly magnified.  In fact, preliminary data on first quarter performance note a widening gap between the top and bottom performing active managers.

All active managers are likely to see declining portfolio values, but some are likely to outperform the market to an above-average extent.  For active managers (and the asset owners who employ them), volatility is a double-edged sword.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

How is the Current Environment Impacting Your Retirement?

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Explore how our new quarterly dashboard on S&P STRIDE can help investors better understand and plan for retirement with S&P DJI’s Hamish Preston.

Get the latest dashboard: https://spdji.com/documents/commentary/dashboard-stride-2020-03.pdf.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Investing for Ignorance

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Zachary First

Executive Director

Drucker Institute, Claremont Graduate University

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Ignorance is among the most reliable side effects of a one-in-100-year event. Whether hurricane, market crash, or pandemic, the valuable information most investors cannot know will dwarf what they can know—let alone what they actually do know.

Now, there’s a new source of insight: the S&P/Drucker Institute Corporate Effectiveness Index. And it’s had a strong first full year as a live index since launching in February of 2019.

The index takes a decidedly different approach than its more conventional ESG stablemates. Widely adopted ESG metrics determine less than 20% of a stock’s Corporate Effectiveness score, which drives constituent selection and weighting in the index. Instead, much of a company’s score is based on its management’s so-called “intangibles” that are in fact highly material: customer satisfaction, innovation, and employee engagement. What’s more, the index has achieved its record with a strong adherence to the holistic, humanistic management principles of Peter Drucker, appealing to investors who seek a no-compromise balance of outperformance and values.

The Drucker principles used to construct the index are the same on which many conventional ESG factors are built—and nearly identical to the pillars of the Business Roundtable’s headline-grabbing 2019 statement on the purpose of a corporation (a declaration that S&P Global’s CEO Douglas Peterson himself signed).

Analogous to the human body, where conventional ESG indices focus on the heart, the Corporate Effectiveness index aims to examine the entire corporate anatomy. This holistic approach can result in significant constituent differences from mainstream ESG indices while still achieving exceptional performance vs. the S&P 500.

Clorox and Costco illustrate the Corporate Effectiveness Index’s holistic, values-driven path to outperformance.

Clorox (+25.85% YTD) has the tenth-highest weight in the index (which is weighted by score) while it doesn’t even crack the top 100 in the S&P 500 ESG index (weighted by float-adjusted market cap). While both indices give Clorox a boost for its excellent industry-relative ESG performance (94th percentile), the S&P/Drucker Institute Corporate Effectiveness Index is also bullish on the firm for its 95th-percentile scores in Customer Satisfaction and Employee Engagement and Development.

Costco (+6.98% YTD) is a similar case study. The S&P 500 ESG index excluded the stock entirely because Costco’s ESG score was too low relative to its industry group. But Costco has the 25th-highest weight in the Corporate Effectiveness index thanks to its balanced strengths in Employee Engagement and Development (96th percentile), Customer Satisfaction (86th percentile) and Innovation (83rd percentile). By design and in keeping with Drucker’s principles, the Corporate Effectiveness approach treats these other dimensions as equally important indicators of a company’s ability to align economic success with social contribution.

For now, both Clorox and Costco are benefiting from new economic priorities under a pandemic. And when the uncertainties of this crisis eventually fall away, both firms will emerge with strong customer and employee relationships to help them meet whatever challenges and opportunities come next.

For investors who want an index comprised of companies doing good and doing well, there’s little uncertainty about the value of that.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

The S&P BSE 100 ESG Index: A Socially Responsible Investment Strategy

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Ved Malla

Associate Director, Client Coverage

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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In recent years, socially responsible investing has gained importance worldwide. There has been a paradigm shift in investment strategy globally, whereby the number of market participants who have become socially conscious and want to hold investments in companies that acknowledge the relevance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in doing business has significantly increased. ESG investments have matured globally, and many fund managers are tracking ESG indices like the S&P 500® ESG Index and S&P Europe 350® ESG Index, among others. Passive fund managers use exchange-traded funds or structured products that track an ESG index to make investments for market participants, while active fund managers depend on ESG scores to make active investment bets.

In India, however, ESG investing is a new concept, with market participants in the country only recently starting to look at the importance of ESG factors for investing. ESG investing in India is expected to evolve further and align itself with global market trends. This shift is expected to gain importance in the next few years, with more market participants likely integrating ESG aspects into mainstream investment decisions, with the ultimate goal of long-term value creation.

The S&P BSE 100 ESG Index is designed to measure exposure to securities that meet sustainability investing criteria while maintaining a risk/reward profile similar to that of the S&P BSE 100, its benchmark index.

As seen in Exhibit 1, the S&P BSE 100 ESG Index slightly outperformed the S&P BSE 100 and S&P BSE SENSEX over a five-year period.

Exhibit 2 lists the sector breakdown of the S&P BSE 100 ESG Index as of March 31, 2020. Financials had the highest weight at 37.7%, followed by Information Technology and Energy at 16.7% and 13.2%, respectively. Utilities and Industrials had the least weight at 1.7% each.

As of March 31, 2020, the S&P BSE 100 ESG Index had 64 constituents. Exhibit 3 shows the top 10 constituents in the index, which made up nearly 66% of the total index weight. HDFC Bank Ltd and Reliance Industries had the highest weights at 12.63% and 12.17%, respectively.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Is Mid-cap Outperformance an Illusion?

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S&P DJI’s Craig Lazzara explains how style drift could be responsible for inflating the perception of active manager skill.

Read the Performance Trickery blogs at: www.indexologyblog.com

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.