Posts Tagged ‘financial assets’

NZ community buys long-private beach via crowdfunding

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: a prized corner of your local landscape is suddenly up for sale, slated for houses or a hotel.  Maybe it’s a place where generations of locals have had informal access, or perhaps it’s always been kept tantalizingly private.  Either way, the new plan is a step too far. . . . and it sure would be great if it were saved by a conservation group, or for a state park, or maybe just by a public-minded conservationist.

But nowadays, we don’t have to wish for a savior: a community effort in New Zealand recently made history by crowdfunding over $2 million to purchase an 18-acre beach and open this pristine beauty to the public!  The effort caught wider public attention, thanks both to the novelty of the initiative and its location near a popular National Park, and attracted donations from 40,000 people—along with a modest commitment from the New Zealand government—to outbid nearly a hundred other prospective buyers.

That’s what we call some inspired Zone 4/9 investing, coming together to protect an important tangible asset for the people, using the latest evolutionary finance models! Chalk one up for the power of creative thinking by two locals who organized the crowdfunding effort after a holiday conversation.  “At 10:57 last night we delivered a pristine piece of beach and bush into the hands of all New Zealanders to look after and to cherish and to treasure and enjoy forever,” announced Duane Major, one of the two, after the successful fulfillment of their ambitious dream.

 

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Forbes features NI’s Kramer in “Top 10 Fund Buys from 10 Pros”

Forbes recently ran a piece entitled How to Invest Your Money in 2016: Top 10 Fund Buys from 10 Pros, which featured Michael Kramer, Resilient Investor co-author and Natural Investments managing partner.  Michael highlighted a large cap fund from one of our longtime SRI faves, Parnassus:

One of the best performers in this space is the little-known Parnassus Endeavor Fund (PARWX), a 10-year-old fund with $1.4 billion in assets managed by Parnassus Investments’ founder Jerome Dodson. . . . It emphasizes holdings that are considered outstanding places to work in terms of labor standards, diversity, benefits and leave policies, and employee health and safety. The fund is also one of a small group of funds that by policy does not hold companies engaged in the production, manufacturing, or refining of fossil fuels, while its broader environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria excludes alcohol, firearms, tobacco, gambling, nuclear power, and non-medical animal testing while prioritizing companies with outstanding track records in community relations, board and executive compensation and independence, and environmental issues.

Read the rest of Michael’s contribution on the Forbes site (his is the final one in the list).  As always, it’s rewarding to see our approach getting some notice in the mainstream financial press!

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Is your life ready for VUCA?

We live in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous.  Are you poised to adjust nimbly to changing circumstances as they arise?  Because while we may not know quite how or when changes will crop up, it’s clear they’re coming—who foresaw oil prices dropping so precipitously, or US political polarization devolving so rapidly and dangerously?

A recent piece by Eric McNulty in Strategy+Business, Leading in an Increasingly VUCA World, offers the best concise overview of VUCA and how to respond that we’ve seen (well, other than in our book!).  McNulty stresses:

VUCA isn’t something to be solved; it simply is. Attempts to simplify complexity, or to break volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity down into smaller and smaller parts in hopes that each can be decoded and countered will not make them go away — there are too many elements beyond the control of traditional centers of power and authority. It is a network phenomenon and can’t be mastered through industrial age structures and practices.

We absolutely agree.  That’s why we formulated the integrated planning tools laid out in The Resilient Investor, centered on a “map” of our lives that provides a foundation for making clear and responsive choices within this VUCA landscape.  Personal and social resilience is enhanced when we cultivate all our assets (personal, tangible, financial), each of these engaging with our communities, the global financial system, and evolutionary initiatives that are making things better.

McNulty offers three tips for personal VUCA preparedness.  The first two will be familiar to our readers.

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Big business stepping up its climate game as the future beckons

With the world’s attention focused on the COP21 climate talks in Paris, there are encouraging signs that the business world is ready to get fully on board and become as much a part of the solution as the problem.  Conservation International’s CEO Peter Seligman is encouraged:

If we are going to meet the challenges of a changing climate, we must accelerate nature-based solutions with deep involvement by the business sector. I am optimistic, because I see many companies recognizing that climate change is an economic issue — it affects sourcing, logistics and global markets. Sustainability is no longer an afterthought. It is an integral part of corporate operations and supply chains.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Leggett at Winning the Carbon War reports from Paris that “fully a thousand mayors announced that their cities were pledging to 100% renewable power targets” and that institutional commitments to fossil fuel divestment jumped by over 25% in just the past ten weeks.  Even more encouraging is a move by the G20 countries to form a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) charged helping financial markets get a better handle on rapidly increasing climate change risks.  It will be chaired by Michael Bloomberg, who laid down the gauntlet:

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Root Capital: “Investing in Resilience” for world’s farmers

Root Capital is a well-established nonprofit social investment fund that focuses on small farm businesses in the developing world.  They lend capital, provide training, and build the local market ecosystems that can help these small and growing businesses thrive. Like many others, Root Capital is rallying around the idea of resilience as a practical and powerful way to respond to the uncertainties of our changing climate.  Their new Issue Brief addresses this head-on; it’s called Investing in Resilience: A Shared Value Approach to Agricultural Extension.  As they note in the Executive Summary:

The science is clear: climate change is coming. What is less clear is how climate change will impact specific farmers, supply chains, or countries over different time horizons, and how stakeholders should prepare for these impacts. . .  . This issue brief focuses on scaling the use of climate-smart practices among smallholder farmers by working through local agricultural enterprises, such as farmer cooperatives or processors. Aggregating hundreds or often thousands of dispersed smallholder farmers, these enterprises represent a significant, but often overlooked, channel for delivering “last mile” agricultural extension – that is, services that provide farmers with the information and skills they need to improve their farming practices.

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How would nature design a financial system?

Here’s a biomimicry-inspired vision for creating a global network of community credit organizations as an evolutionary new underpinning for the global financial system, currently centered on huge banking outfits.  It’s by Jamie Brown-Hansen, managing director of Biomimicry Switzerland.  Community Credit: The Next Generation of Financial Architecture

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Feeble stock market propped up by success of its own 1%

One of the key drivers to the development of the resilient investing system is the recognition that we can no longer count on the steady long-term growth of the stock market to be the driver for growing our assets. Frequent extreme volatility, with the market struggling to keep up with inflation over the course of a decade of downs and ups, as well as uncertainty about whether ecological limits, increased costs of scarce raw materials, or social unrest will undermine the steady-growth machine of the global economy, all led us to step back a bit and look at ways to “wean from Wall Street.”

Still, even in a year of sputtering markets and big global economic disruptions, the S&P 500 is holding steady, so that’s a good thing, right?  Well, maybe, maybe not.  It turns out that five companies (yup, 1%) are responsible for keeping the ship on an even keel.  If we disregarded the big years from “mega-cap” companies Amazon, Alphabet/Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and GE, the market would be down 2.2%—and unless you hold some of the big winners, you may be down as well.  Amazon is up over 100% year-to-date and the other four are up 16-40%, while the rest of the “gang of 500” underperformed so much that the index as a whole only eked out a 0.06% gain.

Just another reminder that resilient investors will want to continue to pursue a much broader approach to diversification than simply having your eggs in a range of Wall Street baskets. Our book The Resilient Investor discusses ways of weaning off Wall Street that include community investing, a focus on personal and tangible assets, and a wide range of related strategies.

 

 

 

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Two more notches in the fossil-fuel-free belt

Following up on this post from a couple weeks ago, here are two more striking indications that fossil fuel investing is becoming a losing game.  An analysis by Canadian research company Corporate Knights has found that 14 of the world’s largest institutional investors would have done much better over the past 3 years if they had divested from their major fossil fuel holdings and expanded investment in environmentally-oriented companies they already own.  The fourteen have a collective total of just over a trillion dollar in holdings, a figure that would have been 22 billion dollars (2%) higher had they divested.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was especially hard-hit; it totals about $40 billion, and left $1.9 billion (4.6%) on the table by sticking with its fossil fuel holdings.  The divestment criteria used is similar to the earlier comparison using the S&P 500 as a benchmark, targeting the Carbon Underground 200 (companies that have the largest as-yet-untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas), plus utilities that generate more than 30% of their power using coal.

Meanwhile, MSCI, one of the world’s leading providers of financial indexes, made a simple tweak in its All Country World Index (ACWI), simply dropping 124 companies that have large reserves of oil, gas, or coal on their books.  The resultant fossil fuel free global index outperformed the ACWI by 60% in its first year (gaining 6.5%, versus 4.1%).  Tom Kuh, head of ESG indexes for MSCI, stressed that “Carbon is increasingly becoming a factor that investors are looking at in understanding risk in their portfolios.”  Responding to this concern, MSCI will be providing carbon footprints for all of its indexes beginning next year.

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Future Economy: rhetoric or reality?

There seems to be no shortage of “practical visionaries” with big ideas about how we’re reshaping our global and local economies to be more just, ecological, and responsible.  A joint initiative of EcoTrust and e3 (economists for equity and the environment) called Future Economy is producing reports that seek to answer the key question about such initiatives: are they mostly hype and hope, or are they something really new that’s emerging and can make a large-scale difference?

The first minute or so of this video gets at the purpose here:

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Dropping fossil fuels INCREASES investment returns

The fossil fuel divestment movement has faced some fairly stiff headwinds from institutional money managers who insist that universities, foundations, or individual investors will suffer financially if they choose to forgo investment in energy companies that have, historically, been among the best-performing stocks to hold.  But a recent analysis by Fossil Free Indexes paints a very different picture: if you take the S&P 500, and remove companies that are among the Carbon Underground 200 (companies that have the largest as-yet-untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas), replacing some of them to maintain a balanced portfolio, your investment returns can be higher than they’d have been if you stayed on the business-as-usual path.  Applying this criteria to the past ten years, you’d have earned about an extra 1% per year.  This includes several years early on when the fossil fuel free approach slightly underperformed; it appears that in recent years, you’d have done much better than that (e.g., more than 2% a year over the past 3 years):

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Put your modest savings to work making a better world

Did you know that Calvert Foundation’s new Vested portal has lowered the entry point for its social investment opportunities to $20?  Social impact investing is one of the best ways to get real bang for your buck, but until recently there were few options for people with modest savings to participate. Most impact investments are risky enough that they’re only available to accredited investors, though local and regional loan funds and Calvert’s Community Investment Notes made it safer by bundling many social-impact projects into a mutual-fund-like packages.  Still, depending on the outfit, minimum investments were generally $1000 or more.

Vested opens these doors much wider, and offers beginning investors a wealth of choices: you pick the amount of your investment, and the term, as well as the type of social impact you’d like to have.  Investments for 3 years or longer pay interest rates comparable to or higher than most savings accounts.  Most exciting, you can choose from an array of targeted purposes, and with the low entry point, it’s easy to spread your money around a bit into several areas of interest.  Familiar themes like women’s empowerment, microfinance, and small businesses are augmented by other intriguing areas of focus, including aging and education in the U.S. or fair trade overseas.  For those who want their money to make a real difference in the world, this kind of direct investment in on-the-ground initiatives has far more impact than buying shares of even a do-gooder company. Your social returns are significant, while your money makes roughly what it would just sitting in your bank.

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Why some finance pros are walking away from Wall Street

wall400We’ve long urged readers to expand their view of investing to include focus on growing local economies and their own personal and tangible assets; we often use the phrase “weaning off Wall Street” to evoke these broader horizons.  Still, we and most of our clients remain substantially invested in the stock market, even as we seek ever more ways to diversify into all nine zones of the resilient investing map.  In the spirit of looking beyond such readily visible horizons, though, let’s hear from a couple of financial pros who have taken a more radical leap, revamping their entire approach to financial assets in ways that led them to walk away from Wall Street and never look back.

RSF Social Finance has gone all the way, divesting of all publicly traded stocks and bonds, rejecting the institutional standard for setting interest rates, and—interestingly, the hardest of all to complete—severing their ties to too-big-to-fail banks.  President and CEO Don Shaffer explains:

(As) Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Wall Street is tethered to only one kind of growth, the most relentlessly efficient kind. . . . Are there other ways to structure investment portfolios that are valid for the 21st century?

Shaffer challenges the idea that we need to accept our embeddedness in the system as it is:

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