Friday, 8 August 2014

Socially Responsible Canadian Large-Cap Companies - Who's the fairest of them all?

Last week's post on the latest in Socially Responsible Investing talked only of various funds, not individual companies. Some investors might want to assemble their own portfolio of such companies, or at least take the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) rating into account when assessing the stock. It's also sensible to expect that not all companies will have equally good ratings. Finally, the various funds and indices use slightly different selection or exclusion factors and weighting schemes of the factors' importance. Different results can easily arise. Yet, we would expect the best of the ESG performers to rate highly no matter what the scheme. It's a bit like judging beauty. Different people might have different opinions but some individuals everyone agrees are gorgeous. So, let's hold up the mirror against the largest Canadian public companies (those in the TSX 60 index) to find the ones everyone agrees are the fairest of them all.

The Indexes and the Funds
All of the funds and indexes focus on larger companies. It may well be that smaller companies could score equally well but they have not been assessed or rated.
The Belles of Canadian Companies
The comparison table below shows that five companies are in every single index and fund; they are the veritable beauty queens of SRI:

Following on are a group of four "princesses", appearing in six out of seven lists, and another eight companies amongst our still very attractive "debutantes", featuring in five out of seven. In every case where we had actually rated these companies in our own posts, we had found them to be very acceptable from a Sustainability (yet another term that is used more or less inter-changeably with SRI and ESG) perspective.

Surprise - Every company in the ordinary TSX 60 index made it into at least one SRI / ESG fund or index list. In our analysis we discovered that every company in the regular TSX 60 index, based on market cap to represent leading sectors and companies from a financial point of view, also shows up in a SRI/ESG list. An ETF based on the TSX 60 index, such as iShares' XIU, might thus be considered a lowest common denominator SRI fund. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it seems everyone is indeed beautiful in someone's eye.

The Belles and Stock Performance
Our second comparison table below shows that the top-rated beauty queens did indeed turn out out very attractive numbers for total stock return (capital gains plus dividends), return on equity and beta (a measure of volatility relative to the market, where 1.0 is the market average, in this case the TSX 60 ordinary market cap index, while below 1.0 is more stable, less volatile, less risky stock price). 

The princesses also did very well but performance has not been nearly as good amongst the debutantes.

Bottom line:  For those concerned only about financial performance, consistently high ESG ratings can be a useful extra dimension to add to a stock evaluation since the very top of the list seems to be occupied by very successful, safe and profitable companies. For those concerned about ethics, companies with consistent high ratings probably will meet most people's approval. At the very least, the list of the top companies can be a useful starting point for drilling into the details of a company to examine its behaviour on the dimensions of particular interest to the individual investor.

Disclosure: This blogger directly owns shares of BNS, CNR, SU, BMO,RY, BCE and TCK.B as well as all the companies listed through ETFs.

Disclaimer: This post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment advice. Readers should be aware that the above comparisons are not an investment recommendation. They rest on other sources, whose accuracy is not guaranteed and the article may not interpret such results correctly. Do your homework before making any decisions and consider consulting a professional advisor.

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