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The Rebalance of Power: Tesla, Walmart, & Disney Join the S&P 500 ESG Index, Facebook, Wells Fargo, & Costco Dropped

Introducing the S&P Cryptocurrency Indices

Commodities Burst Higher in April

Dissecting the Performance of Indian Equity Active Funds in 2020

Woodstock for Capitalists

The Rebalance of Power: Tesla, Walmart, & Disney Join the S&P 500 ESG Index, Facebook, Wells Fargo, & Costco Dropped

Contributor Image
Mona Naqvi

Global Head of ESG Capital Markets Strategy

S&P Global Sustainable1

ESG momentum shows no signs of stopping, with sustainable fund assets nearing USD 2 trillion, following record inflows in Q1.1 Pressure on firms to perform in sustainability rankings has never been higher, as Wall Street’s hottest topic gets hotter still. But what firms benefit from all this heat? From the assets flowing into S&P 500® ESG Index related products,2 it seems the balance of power may be shifting. At least for the foreseeable future, Sustainability is King (or Queen). So, by almost royal decree, here are the results of the 2021 S&P 500 ESG Index annual rebalance.

What’s changed? First, the methodology itself—with the introduction of a new thermal coal screen last September following public consultation. Even though the index still aims to offer similar overall industry group weights to the S&P 500, with sustainability enhancements—rather than reduce carbon exposure, per se—it experienced a welcome decrease of 12% in carbon intensity since the last annual rebalance.3


A broader sustainability lens reveals that the index achieved an S&P DJI ESG Score improvement of 8% (at the index level), representing 23% of the overall ESG-improvement potential, given the sustainability characteristics of the starting universe.4 Within the underlying E, S, and G dimensions, the sustainable counterpart to the S&P 500 realizes numerous tangible enhancements, all while providing similarly broad U.S. equity exposure. Due to the depth and breadth of topics covered in the S&P Global Corporate Sustainability Assessment that underpins the S&P DJI ESG Scores, there are too many to demonstrate here, though a sample is provided in Exhibit 1. Such improvements are even more pronounced within industry groups, given the industry-specific nature of S&P DJI ESG Scores.5


What of the constituents? As of the 2021 rebalance, 315 constituents made it into the S&P 500 ESG Index, as 190 constituents were not included (79 were ineligible and 111 were eligible but not selected). As per the S&P 500 ESG Index methodology, companies might not qualify because they are: (a) ineligible according to certain ESG exclusionary criteria; or (b) simply not selected, even if they are eligible, because of poorer relative S&P DJI ESG Score performance than their index industry group peers. Exhibit 2 highlights how the S&P 500 translated into the composition of S&P 500 ESG Index in 2021.

As for major changes, Exhibit 3 highlights the biggest new additions and drops in terms of market capitalization. Other household names that made it into the sustainable index include Ford Motor Crop, News Corp, Marriott, and Etsy. Meanwhile, Lumen Technologies, L Brands, UDR, and Sealed Air Corp were among those that were removed despite being eligible, due to relatively poor S&P DJI ESG Score performance than their peers. Other names, such as Atmos Energy, Allegion, and Fortune Brands Home & Security were dropped because they fell to within the bottom 25% of S&P DJI ESG Score rankings among their global GICS industry group peers, rendering them ineligible. In addition, Johnson & Johnson, 3M, and Dupont remained on the exclusion list, as they have not yet completed the penalty period for their involvement in material public controversies.7

Interestingly, though the rebalance generates ample turnover, 74 constituents of the S&P 500 have consistently not met the rules-based selection criteria of the ESG index since it launched in January 2019 (see Exhibit 4). Conversely, 207 companies have managed to maintain their position in the sustainable index since its launch (see Exhibit 5).


Despite containing just 75% of the S&P 500 market capitalization, the aforementioned sustainability improvements were achieved with only 1.11% of tracking error and excess returns of 0.67% over the past five years—in part, helping to dispel the myth of an inherent sustainability versus performance tradeoff. However, since the five-year return includes back-tested history that was built before the index was launched, it is worth paying special attention to the live performance record over the past one year, when it exhibited excess returns of 0.42% and 1.83% of tracking error (see Exhibit 6).

But can this outperformance be explained away by other factors?


Performance attribution primarily reveals a story of selection. It was generally because of the stocks selected according to their sustainability credentials, rather than differences in sector exposure, that appear to have driven this excess return. Indeed, this should come as no surprise, as the methodology lends itself by design to a broadly sector-neutral outcome. Thus, the outperformance was not all necessarily due to significant overexposure to Tech and underexposure to Energy, as many might assume.


A closer look at the underlying factor exposure also reveals that the factor tilts are in fact quite similar to the S&P 500, save for a minor discrepancy in its exposure to larger firms.9 These similarities are consistent with the ESG index’s objective to provide a similar level of risk and return. As such, the absence of any sizeable unintended factor exposure cannot entirely explain this difference either—suggesting other “forces” are still potentially at work.


Though the aim of the S&P 500 ESG Index is not to outperform but provide exposure and performance broadly in line with the benchmark, these results show that a rules-based selection process, driven by ESG principles, has yielded greater exposure to high-performing companies. And so, without other explanatory challengers to usurp the performance throne, long may the reign of our sustainability monarch continue.



1 Source:

2 As of March 30, 2021, there is USD 4 billion of AUM in ETFs tied to the S&P 500 ESG Index, with more than half a billion USD of net new inflows in Q1 2021 alone.

3 Calculated as the percentage difference between the weighted average carbon intensity (WACI) of the S&P 500 ESG Index as of the rebalance dates in 2020 and 2021, measured in metric tons of CO2e per USD 1 million of revenues using S&P Global Trucost data.

4 The realized ESG potential depicts how much of the S&P DJI ESG Score improvement was achieved by the ESG index, relative to the maximum possible improvement that could in theory have been attained by investing solely in the single highest-ranked company by S&P DJI ESG Score. While diversification requirements would render this approach undesirable in practice, it is nevertheless an interesting metric to contextualize the S&P DJI ESG Score improvement relative to the starting characteristics of the benchmark universe. For example, in markets where companies are generally sustainable to begin with, it is harder to obtain a substantial S&P DJI ESG Score increase without incurring a sizeable loss of diversification or higher levels of tracking error.

5 Due to the industry-specific nature of the S&P DJI ESG Scores, driven by a materiality-weighted scoring framework, the aggregate S&P DJI ESG Score improvement metrics vary considerably by sector. For example, the S&P DJI ESG Score improvement for the Materials sector and Real Estate sectors both came to approximately 11%; whereas the improvement among the IT and Health Care sectors both came to approximately 6%, relative to the S&P 500. However, it is among the underlying ESG indicators where we find the greatest discrepancies in performance between industry groups, though the methodology accounts for too many data points (600-1,000 data points per company) to feasibly showcase here.

6 As the methodology prevents companies removed for this reason (at the discretion of the Index Committee) from reentering the index for one full calendar year.

7 See Appendices A and B for a detailed explanation of these changes.

8 S&P DJI ESG Scores are normalized by industry group and thus designed to be read as percentiles. For example, a company score of 70 means that this company has a higher score than 70% of its peers within its industry group. This allows for a comparison of relative rankings of companies across different industry groups, despite the industry-specific nature of S&P DJI ESG Scores.

9 This is unsurprising due to the generally positive correlation between sustainability performance and firm size, as visibility, access to resources, and operating scale are typically associated with large firms.

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

Introducing the S&P Cryptocurrency Indices

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Sharon Liebowitz

Former Head of Innovation

S&P Dow Jones Indices

For us at S&P DJI, this is an exciting time because this new asset class is bringing unprecedented change to our financial ecosystem and the mindsets of market participants.

The cryptocurrency space is unlike traditional financial markets, and certainly unlike the ones we have benchmarked at S&P DJI over the last 100 years. Living mainly within the realm of technology, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are beyond the realm of traditional currencies, securities, commodities, and physical assets. They are new, evolving, and not controlled by governments, although their use is regulated in various jurisdictions. Instead, they’re decentralized, meaning that no one entity can fully control or halt the use of these currencies.

Structurally, these cryptocurrencies are creating their own new, evolving, decentralized markets. Enormous value is now being transacted in dozens of exchanges where there are no traditional market makers.

But along with opportunities, this asset class comes with a host of new challenges. As an emerging space, one of the biggest issues is a lack of transparency.

Our cryptocurrency indices seek to address some of the challenges the industry is currently facing, including the issue of transparency. S&P DJI’s independent, reliable, and accessible indices have a long track record of bringing transparency to a wide range of markets across asset classes and geographies, and we believe they can do the same for this emerging, complex asset class.

To that end, we are launching our index series around the two largest and most prominent cryptocurrencies—Bitcoin and Ethereum. The initial launch will include the following indices:

These indices will measure the performance of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and a market cap weighting of Bitcoin and Ethereum, respectively.

Later this year, the S&P Digital Market Index Series will look to include additional coins and broader-based indices such as large-cap and broad market benchmarks.

Stay tuned as we expand this series of indices, and learn more in our paper “Bringing Transparency to an Emerging Asset Class.”


1 Market capitalization corresponds to coin supply multiplied by coin price for cryptocurrencies.

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

Commodities Burst Higher in April

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Jim Wiederhold

Former Director, Commodities and Real Assets

S&P Dow Jones Indices

Several commodities made new all-time highs, as the global economy reflated, consumer confidence hit pre-pandemic highs, and housing prices in the U.S. jumped the most in 15 years. The S&P GSCI continued to perform well, rising 8.2% for the month to start the second quarter, following a strong 13.5% in the first quarter. Most commodities sectors rose by several percentage points, while the S&P GSCI Livestock fell 2.3%. The S&P GSCI Iron Ore rose 18.7% this month, more than tripling its performance from a year ago. The S&P GSCI Biofuel rose 19.8%, as the underlying corn, wheat, soybean oil, and sugar displayed impressive double-digit percentage gains. The U.S. Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index rose 2.3%, confirming inflationary pressures are here, albeit from the low April 2020 base.

In its latest meeting, OPEC+ agreed to stick to the plan of easing oil output cuts from May to July due to the upbeat demand picture. The different crude oil grades and heating oil performed well, but the S&P GSCI Natural Gas came to life this month, up 9.41%, due to demand. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas are 45%-55% lower than those of coal to generate electricity. Natural gas is considered one of the lower-cost, lower-carbon-emitting vessels to help ferry the world to a net-zero future.

Copper climbed to its highest point in almost a decade in April, as the global economy continued to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing the broad S&P GSCI Industrial Metals 9.7% higher over the month. Industrial metals have benefitted from the world’s largest economies announcing programs to build back greener from the COVID-19 shock; at the same time, companies and investors remain reluctant to expand supply, despite the surge in prices. A recovery of global steel demand over the past 12 months has driven the market for its main ingredient, iron ore, climbing, and helped the S&P GSCI Iron Ore reach another all-time high in the last week of the April. The resilience of iron ore prices has also been compounded by tight supply over the past three months, as Brazil and Australia experienced seasonal production reductions.

All precious metals rose in April, as the U.S. dollar took a break. The S&P GSCI Palladium hit a new all-time high, rising 12.7% for the month. Like natural gas, palladium’s use in catalytic converters was the focus this month, with world leaders preoccupied about lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

The bulls came out to play in the agricultural commodities complex; the S&P GSCI Agriculture finished the month up 15.7%. The complex was turbo-charged by the S&P GSCI Kansas Wheat, up 20.1%, benefiting from less-than-ideal weather conditions for the winter wheat crop. Corn and soybeans also enjoyed strong performances over the month, with surprisingly moderate planting intentions in the U.S. driving prices higher.

In contrast, the S&P GSCI Livestock was the only S&P GSCI sector down for the month, pulled lower by feeder and live cattle. The U.S. cattle market was hit with lingering processing capacity issues on top of a steep increase in feed costs.

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

Dissecting the Performance of Indian Equity Active Funds in 2020

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Arpit Gupta

Former Senior Analyst, Global Research & Design

S&P Dow Jones Indices

The percentage of active funds that underperformed their respective benchmarks in the Indian Equities Large-Cap and Mid-/Small-Cap fund categories over a one-year investment horizon doubled from 2019 to 2020, as seen in the SPIVA® India Year-End Scorecards for 2019 and 2020. The percentage of Large-Cap active funds that underperformed the S&P BSE 100 over a one-year investment horizon increased from 40% (in 2019) to 80.65% (in 2020). During the same period, the percentage of funds in the Mid-/Small-Cap category that underperformed the S&P BSE 400 MidSmallCap Index increased from 27.91% (in 2019) to 66.67% (in 2020).

A drag in active fund performance (relative to the benchmark) could result from multiple reasons, including  adverse stock selection and sector allocation, unfavorable investment style, or failing to time market trends and turning points. In this blog, we evaluated the return betas of active funds to investigate as a potential reason that may have led the majority of Indian Equity Large-Cap funds and Indian Equity Mid-/Small-Cap funds to underperform in 2020.

In 2019 and 2020, the benchmark for Indian Equity Large-Cap funds, the S&P BSE 100, returned 10.92% and 16.84%, respectively. Only 40% of active funds in this category underperformed the benchmark in 2019, but over 80% lagged in 2020 (see Exhibit 1). The large-cap active funds had an aggregate category beta of 1.02 in 2019, which was higher than the 0.96 recorded in 2020 (see Exhibit 2). We noticed a much higher number of Indian Equity Large-Cap fund managers with beta less than 1 in 2020 than in 2019 (see Exhibit 3). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many active large-cap fund managers might have positioned their portfolios with higher allocation to cash or low beta stocks to avoid market volatility or drawdown, which would have hurt their relative performance during market recovery in the latter part of 2020.

By dissecting the benchmark and fund returns during the market decline and recovery in 2020, it was obvious that the low beta allocation in large-cap funds affected their relative performance in opposite manners during the two periods. In Q1 2020, the S&P BSE 100 lost 28.8%, whereas Indian Equity Large-Cap active funds, with lower aggregate beta, suffered a slightly lower drawdown of -28.0% and -26.7% in their asset-weighted and equal-weighted average returns, respectively (see Exhibit 4). In contrast, when the market rallied during the latter nine months of 2020, active funds gained much less than the S&P BSE 100 (64.1%) across asset- and equal-weighted returns (57.4% and 55.0%, respectively).

For Indian Equity Mid-/Small-Cap funds, we noticed low aggregate category beta (<1) in both 2019 (0.87) and in 2020 (0.94). Over 86% and 83% of Indian Equity Mid/Small-Cap funds had beta less than 1 in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Low beta allocation in mid-/small-cap funds effectively avoided or reduced drawdown for many funds in 2019, with only 27.9% of Indian Equity Mid-/Small-Cap funds underperforming the S&P BSE 400 MidSmallCap Index (which was down by 2.1%). However, in 2020, the continuation of low beta allocation by active mid-/small-cap fund managers were penalized when the benchmark recorded a strong gain of 26.76%, resulting in over 66.67% of Indian Equity Mid-/Small-Cap funds lagging the benchmark in 2020.

As observed in the Indian Equity LargeCap fund category, low beta allocation affected the Indian Equity Mid-/Small-Cap funds’ performance differently during market sell-off and rally. In Q1 2020, the S&P BSE 400 MidSmallCap Index dropped 29.4%, while the Indian Equity Mid-/Small-Cap funds marked a smaller drawdown of 27.7% and 25.9% in asset- and equal-weighted returns, respectively. But for the rest of the nine-month period in 2020, the Indian Equity Mid-/Small-Cap funds lagged the benchmark index by 10.2% and 7.4% on an asset- and equal-weighted basis, respectively.

When active managers tailor the risk exposures of their portfolios, the success largely depends on their market-timing skills, which can be challenging, especially during volatile times. Low beta portfolio allocation for the Indian Equity Large-Cap and Mid-/Small-Cap stocks penalized more than helped their overall benchmark-relative performance in 2020, which reflected the difficulties in estimating the timing and size of market recovery from the pandemic crisis. This could explain why an increasing number of market participants shifted their preference toward passive investing, which provides plain vanilla market exposure at a competitive cost.

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

Woodstock for Capitalists

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Craig Lazzara

Former Managing Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

Berkshire Hathaway is scheduled to hold its annual shareholders’ meeting this Saturday, May 1. This is the second consecutive year in which the meeting will be virtual; in 2019, attendance was nearly 40,000, which makes social distancing somewhat difficult.

We noted two years ago that Berkshire’s investment performance, though formidable over the long run, had lately become more pedestrian. Neither conclusion has changed in the interim. $100 invested in Berkshire stock at the end of 1968 would have grown to more than $960,000 by the end of 2020; a comparable investment in the S&P 500® would have grown to $16,800.

Berkshire’s wealth generation has been all the more remarkable for having occurred at a time when most active portfolio managers underperformed index benchmarks. To cite the most recent evidence from our SPIVA® reports, in the 20 years ending in 2020, 94% of all large-cap U.S. managers lagged the S&P 500. Mid- and small-cap results were almost equally disappointing.

Despite the historical magnitude of Berkshire’s excess returns, they have recently been on a downtrend. Our comparison of Berkshire and the S&P 500 spans 52 years, or 43 (overlapping) 10-year windows. In the first 22, Berkshire beat the S&P 500 by an average of more than 17% per year. In the next 21 windows, Berkshire’s outperformance averaged 3.4%. The margin hit double digits for the last time in 2002. For the 10 years ending in 2020, Berkshire Hathaway lagged the S&P 500 by 2.4% annually.

What’s gone wrong? The Berkshire portfolio is still being guided by Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, whose abilities show no sign of deterioration with age, so that’s unlikely to be the source of the problem. Instead, the decisive variable is the improved quality of the competition. Mr. Munger himself (currently 97 years old) acknowledges that “we had idiot competition when we were young.”

In the game of professional investment management, the only source of outperformance for the winners is the underperformance of the losers. As the underperformers lose assets, either to passive funds or to more-capable active managers, the surviving active managers become better, and outperformance is harder to achieve.

When Warren Buffett was asked several years ago whether Berkshire or the S&P 500 would be the better investment for a long-term investor, he suggested that “the financial result would be very close to the same.” When the premier active investment manager in modern financial history says that, you know that active management is a hard game—and getting harder.

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