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No reliable evidence that ESG investing produces above-average returns

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3 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

By Steven Globerman

Despite growing skepticism among investors, as evidenced by their withdrawal of billions of dollars from ESG equity funds so far in 2024, many finance industry leaders continue to claim that ESG-focused investing produces above-average returns.

But is that true?

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is a movement designed to pressure businesses and investors to pursue larger social goals. According to ESG theory, firms that receive poor ratings from ESG rating agencies should lose investment dollars. Yet the claim that ESG-focused investing can help investors do well by doing good has received surprisingly little empirical support from academic studies.

However, according to a new study published by the Fraser Institute, which tracked 310 companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange from 2013 to 2020, neither ESG rating upgrades nor downgrades were related in a statistically significant way to the stock market performance of companies.

Moreover, because the study finds that ESG ratings changes—which, when released, are effectively new information for investors—are not consistently related to financial returns, ESG ratings are likely not relevant to the expected future profitability of publicly listed companies in Canada.

This of course raises the question—if new information (i.e. ratings changes) about a company’s ESG-related practises is not statistically related to equity returns from investing in that company, why do money managers pay for the services of ESG rating companies?

One possible reason is that managers pass a substantial share of the costs along to customers who are willing to sacrifice financial returns (due to higher management fees) to express their commitment to environmental sustainability and other social causes. Another possible reason is that promoting ESG-focused investment alternatives appears to have been, at least until recently, an effective marketing tool.

But again, the empirical evidence suggests there’s no reliable statistical relationship between ESG-focused investing and the risk-adjusted returns earned by investors. And since asset managers typically charge higher fees for ESG-focused mutual funds, ESG investment strategies are more likely to underperform than overperform conventional investment strategies.

Certainly, if some percentage of investors choose to pursue ESG-related investment strategies, even at the cost of lower risk-adjusted investment returns, there should be no legal or regulatory restrictions on doing so. However, securities regulators should closely monitor the investment industry to ensure it provides reliable and up-to-date information about the financial performance of ESG-focused investment products that portfolio managers market to the public.

At the same time, when ESG advocates push for more government-mandated ESG disclosures from companies in Canada, policymakers should be wary of any claims that greater disclosure mandates will improve the financial performance of companies.

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‘Really, Really Difficult’: Bureaucrats Worry Behind Closed Doors They’ll Be Sent Packing Under Trump

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From Heartland Daily News

“He’s going to get people in place that are more intelligent and are more loyal to him,” a park service employee said. “Now I think he could do a lot of damage.”

Government workers are reportedly in a state of panic over the prospect of former President Donald Trump winning another term in office, according to E&E News.

Bureaucrats up and down the federal hierarchy are concerned that a second Trump administration could cost them their jobs and put an end to liberal programs they worked to implement under President Joe Biden, E&E News  reported.  Trump has, if elected, pledged to implement reforms that would allow him to fire up to 50,000 civil servants at will, with the former president singling out workers who are incompetent, unnecessary or undermine his democratic mandate.

“The first rendition of the Trump administration was really, really difficult, and we saw a mass exodus of employees retiring,” a National Park Service employee told E&E News. “If we do have an administration shift, other employees will also reconsider their positions and move to the private sector. I don’t know what I’ll end up doing.”

Of the civil servants that didn’t exit during Trump’s first term, many worked internally to deliberately obstruct his agenda, according to Miles Taylor, who served as chief of staff in the Department of Homeland Security from 2017 to 2019 and admitted to engaging in such behavior. Bureaucrats are worried that Trump may seek to appoint administrators who agree with his agenda this time around.

“He’s going to get people in place that are more intelligent and are more loyal to him,” a park service employee said. “Now I think he could do a lot of damage.”

To replace large numbers of federal employees, Trump would reclassify them as Schedule F employees, allowing him to fire them at will. The Biden administration finalized a rule in April that would prevent their status from being changed involuntarily, however, allies of the former president have shrugged off the rule by pointing out that a Trump administration could simply reverse it, according to The New York Times.

Amid fear that Trump’s plans may come to fruition, bureaucrats are making moves to ensure the Biden administration’s policies are as hard to repeal as possible, a senior employee at the Interior Department told E&E News.

“The concern hasn’t been focused on who the Democratic nominee is as much as concerns about Trump winning and what that would mean,” they said. “From everyone’s perspective it is get as much done as possible. Also trying to bury into the agency programs [like environmental justice] so they can survive a Trump administration.”

Conservatives are increasingly optimistic about Trump’s chances of defeating Biden in November as the president lags behind Trump in the polls and the Democratic Party grapples with internal disputes regarding whether or not he should be their nominee.

“The mood is somber and incredulous,” one long-time employee of the Department of the Interior told E&E News. “The hope is we will not suffer through another term with the prior leadership, but the fear [is] that if we do, they will target employees they don’t like, make things up to justify whatever punishment they want and just cripple the good work we are doing.”

Staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meanwhile, are also upset and agitated, the president of a union representing some of the agency’s employees told E&E News. “So many of our members lived through the absolutely disastrous first Trump administration and his attempted dismantling of EPA,” she said.

Originally published by The Daily Caller. Republished with permission.

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Business

Here’s why your plane ticket is so expensive

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From the Fraser Institute

By Alex Whalen and Jake Fuss

While the strike by WestJet mechanics lasted only a few days, many Canadian air travellers faced long delays and cancelled flights. More broadly, according to the Canadian Transportation Agency, customer complaints have hit an all-time high.

Yet many dissatisfied travellers likely don’t realize that Ottawa heavily contributes to their frustrations. Let’s look at the various ways federal policies and laws make air travel worse in Canada.

First, federal laws insulate Canada’s airlines from competition. Foreign airlines are subject to highly restrictive  “cabotage” laws which, for example, dictate that foreign airlines cannot operate routes between Canadian cities. At the same time, foreign investors are forbidden from owning more than 49 per cent of Canadian airlines. By restricting international participation in the Canadian air travel market, these laws both deprive Canadian consumers of choice and insulate incumbent airlines from competition. When consumers have more choice, incumbents have a greater incentive to improve performance to keep pace with their competitors.

Second, a wide array of taxes and fees heavily influence the cost of airline tickets in Canada. Airport improvement fees, for example, average $32.20 per departing passenger at airports in Canada’s 10 largest markets. In contrast, airport improvement fees in the United States cannot exceed $4.50. And last year the Trudeau government increased the “air travellers security charge” by 32.85 per cent—this fee, which now ranges from $9.94 to $34.82 per flight, is higher in Canada than the U.S. across all flight categories. On the tax front, in addition to fuel taxes including the federal carbon tax, the federal excise tax on unleaded aviation gasoline in Canada is 10 cents per litre compared to 6.9 cents per litre in the U.S. And the U.S., unlike Canada, does not apply sales taxes to aviation fuel.

Third, air travel is a heavily regulated sector. Federal legislation generates thousands of provisions airlines must follow to operate legally in Canada. Of course, some regulation is necessary to ensure passenger safety, but each regulation adds administrative and compliance costs, which ultimately affect ticket prices. To lower the cost of air travel, the federal government should reduce the regulatory burden while maintaining safety standards.

Lastly, the ownership model of Canada’s airports results in a yearly transfer of rent to the federal government. The federal government used to own Canada’s national system of airports until they were transferred to private not-for-profit corporations in the early 1990s. However, these airports must still pay rent to the federal government—nearly half a billion dollars annually, according to the Canada Airports Council. As with the other examples listed above, these costs are ultimately passed on to consumers in the form of higher ticket prices.

While a precise estimate is difficult to obtain, various government policies, taxes and fees comprise a large share of the cost of each airline ticket sold in Canada. With complaints from travellers at all-time highs, the federal government should reduce the regulatory burden, increase competition, and lower fees and taxes. Policy reform for air travel in Canada is long overdue.

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