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Investing Blog Roundup: The Impact of Impact Investing

A recent paper from Jonathan Berk and Jules H. van Binsbergen took a look at “The Impact of Impact Investing” (a.k.a. ESG investing or socially responsible investing).

Their conclusion:

“We conclude that at current levels impact investing is unlikely to have a large impact on the long-term cost of capital of targeted firms. A substantial increase in the amount of socially conscious capital is required for the strategy to affect corporate policy. [Mike’s note: elsewhere in the paper, they estimate that in order to cause a 1% change in the cost of capital, impact investors would need to control more than 80% of all investable wealth.] Given the current levels of socially conscious capital, a more effective strategy to put that capital to use is to follow a policy of engagement. By purchasing the stock in targeted companies rather than selling the stock, socially conscious investors could potentially have greater impact by exercising their rights of control through the proxy process or by gaining a majority stake and replacing upper management.”

This is the case I have been making for years. But from a purely financial point of view, it’s clear that investing in broadly diversified low-cost mutual funds (rather than buying a handful of individual stocks) is the best decision. And unfortunately when we invest via mutual funds, we give up our voting rights in the underlying shares. The fund company gets to vote those shares instead (or not vote them).

Nearly 20 years ago (December 2002) Jack Bogle argued to the SEC that mutual fund shareholders should have a right to know how fund managers vote the fund’s shares. Unfortunately, the availability of such information is still quite limited.

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