The anti-ESG industry is taking investors for a ride

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Uuntil recently, there were two iron laws in investing. One of them, named Milton Friedman, a Nobel prize winning economist, said that it is the responsibility of a company, above all else, to provide money to its shareholders. The second, inspired by Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard, an investment company, insisted that fund management fees must be driven to the lowest possible level.

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The environmental, social and regulatory importance is increasing (esq) criteria have undermined Friedman’s doctrine of shareholder primacy, perhaps fatally. Global esq fund manages $7.7trn in assets, having doubled in size in the past seven years. Even the Business Roundtable, a talk shop for American leaders, announced in 2019 that companies must put the interests of multiple clients, customers and communities on an equal footing with shareholders.

But like all conversions, this one has created a reaction. The anti-esq backlash succeeds. Vivek Ramaswamy, author of “Woke, Inc.” and co-founder of Strive Asset Management, announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on February 21. The company he left to pursue his political ambitions promotes exchange-traded funds (etcs) and proxy voting services that push back against what it sees as the politics of corporate governance.

anti-esq legislation is also rushing through America’s state legislatures. In February, Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who is also expected to compete in the Republican primaries, proposed legislation to ban the use esq criteria in all state investment decisions. Given the oversight role that many state houses have over public pension funds, many of which have hundreds of billions of dollars in assets, this type of legislation could have a significant impact on the asset management industry. .

There are plenty of problems with the group esq to move Determine if there is an asset esq-Compliant complex, and prone to bias, miscalculation and public relations sin. Proponents of feel-good investing want to have their cake and eat it too, arguing that the focus on stakeholders is better for shareholders too.

But in defending Friedman’s law, there is the oppositeesq people struggling with the other part of the investment canon – the importance of low fees. At this time, taking the opposite position esq much more expensive than going with the crowd. This is especially true when it comes to anti-esq laws, which are more pronounced in basking esq– encouraging companies to prioritize shareholder returns and cut costs for taxpayers.

A study by Daniel Garrett of the University of Pennsylvania and Ivan Ivanov of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago discusses oneesq to stand He finds that Texas is resistantesq Laws, which had the unfortunate side effect of thinning the number of bond subscribers, raised issuers’ interest costs by $300m-500m in their first eight months. Meanwhile, Indiana is against itesq the bill was watered down after the state’s fiscal watchdog suggested it would cut annual returns to the state’s public pension fund by 1.2 percentage points, as it would limit the use of many active managers and limit investment in the ‘ private equity industry and therefore private markets.

Similarly, there is an opposite chargeesg etcs big, and their benefits are questionable. Strive’s most popular etc, etc, targeting the American energy industry. But the fund charges 0.4% a year on assets, compared to 0.1% for xlemaximum constant energy etc, created by State Street Global Advisors, another investment firm. This is a huge drain on a buyer’s compounded product. In addition, the top ten holdings in both funds are identical.

Any success Strive achieves in changing corporate governance and building returns will resonate with other energy asset holders as well. So an anti-wake investor may be better off sticking with lower-fee funds and waiting to see if counter-attemptsesq activists are up to anything. It could be a long wait: it’s hard to see exactly what the opposition isesq contributions will expand their audience beyond the most avid travelers.

For a hard-headed investor who still believes in Friedman’s teachings, the anti-esq an obvious move would be very attractive if it were cheaper. But at the moment there is only one reasonable option. Investors, and taxpayers, are in a much better position when they follow the crowd. That means dealing with Woke, Inc., rather than paying huge sums to push back against it.

Read more from Buttonwood, our financial markets columnist:
Despite the supportive talk, China’s Wall Street has its doubts (February 23rd)
Investors expect economy to avoid recession (February 15th)
Stock boom undermines dedicated investment rule (February 7)

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