Why The Sustainable Investment Craze Is Flawed
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    HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $1,603,134 (+0.55%)       elbourne $989,193 (-0.36%)       Brisbane $963,516 (+0.83%)       Adelaide $873,972 (+1.09%)       Perth $833,820 (+0.12%)       Hobart $754,479 (+3.18%)       Darwin $668,319 (-0.54%)       Canberra $993,398 (-1.72%)       National $1,033,710 (+0.29%)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $748,302 (+0.18%)       Melbourne $497,833 (-0.44%)       Brisbane $540,964 (-1.56%)       Adelaide $441,967 (-0.38%)       Perth $442,262 (+1.33%)       Hobart $525,313 (+0.38%)       Darwin $347,105 (-0.72%)       Canberra $496,490 (+0.93%)       National $528,262 (-0.02%)                HOUSES FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 10,189 (-104)       Melbourne 14,713 (+210)       Brisbane 7,971 (+283)       Adelaide 2,420 (+58)       Perth 6,383 (+298)       Hobart 1,336 (+6)       Darwin 228 (-12)       Canberra 1,029 (+8)       National 44,269 (+747)                UNITS FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,795 (-1)       Melbourne 8,207 (+293)       Brisbane 1,636 (+1)       Adelaide 421 (-4)       Perth 1,664 (+15)       Hobart 204 (-1)       Darwin 404 (-2)       Canberra 988 (+12)       National 22,319 (+313)                HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $800 (+$5)       Melbourne $600 ($0)       Brisbane $640 (+$10)       Adelaide $600 ($0)       Perth $660 ($0)       Hobart $550 ($0)       Darwin $700 ($0)       Canberra $690 ($0)       National $663 (+$2)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $750 ($0)       Melbourne $590 (+$10)       Brisbane $630 ($0)       Adelaide $490 (+$10)       Perth $600 ($0)       Hobart $475 (+$23)       Darwin $550 ($0)       Canberra $570 (+$5)       National $593 (+$4)                HOUSES FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 5,364 (+80)       Melbourne 5,428 (+4)       Brisbane 4,002 (+12)       Adelaide 1,329 (+16)       Perth 2,113 (+91)       Hobart 398 (0)       Darwin 99 (-5)       Canberra 574 (+39)       National 19,307 (+237)                UNITS FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 7,687 (+257)       Melbourne 4,793 (+88)       Brisbane 2,098 (+33)       Adelaide 354 (-11)       Perth 650 (+5)       Hobart 135 (-1)       Darwin 176 (-9)       Canberra 569 (+14)       National 16,462 (+376)                HOUSE ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND       Sydney 2.59% (↑)      Melbourne 3.15% (↑)      Brisbane 3.45% (↑)        Adelaide 3.57% (↓)       Perth 4.12% (↓)       Hobart 3.79% (↓)     Darwin 5.45% (↑)      Canberra 3.61% (↑)      National 3.33% (↑)             UNIT ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 5.21% (↓)     Melbourne 6.16% (↑)      Brisbane 6.06% (↑)      Adelaide 5.77% (↑)        Perth 7.05% (↓)     Hobart 4.70% (↑)      Darwin 8.24% (↑)        Canberra 5.97% (↓)     National 5.84% (↑)             HOUSE RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.8% (↑)      Melbourne 0.7% (↑)      Brisbane 0.7% (↑)      Adelaide 0.4% (↑)      Perth 0.4% (↑)      Hobart 0.9% (↑)      Darwin 0.8% (↑)      Canberra 1.0% (↑)      National 0.7% (↑)             UNIT RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.9% (↑)      Melbourne 1.1% (↑)      Brisbane 1.0% (↑)      Adelaide 0.5% (↑)      Perth 0.5% (↑)        Hobart 1.4% (↓)     Darwin 1.7% (↑)      Canberra 1.4% (↑)      National 1.1% (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL HOUSES AND TREND       Sydney 29.7 (↑)      Melbourne 30.9 (↑)      Brisbane 31.2 (↑)      Adelaide 25.1 (↑)      Perth 34.4 (↑)      Hobart 35.8 (↑)      Darwin 35.9 (↑)      Canberra 30.4 (↑)      National 31.7 (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL UNITS AND TREND       Sydney 30.0 (↑)      Melbourne 30.5 (↑)      Brisbane 28.8 (↑)        Adelaide 25.2 (↓)       Perth 38.3 (↓)       Hobart 27.8 (↓)     Darwin 45.8 (↑)      Canberra 38.1 (↑)      National 33.1 (↑)            
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Why The Sustainable Investment Craze Is Flawed

The failed promise of funds guided by environmental, social and governance principles.

By JAMES MACKINTOSH
Mon, Jan 24, 2022 10:32amGrey Clock 5 min

The financial industry has spotted an opportunity to make money by helping people feel good about themselves. Despite claims to the contrary, these investments don’t do much to make the world a better place.

ESG funds, as they are known, promise to invest in companies with better environmental, social and governance attributes, to save the planet, improve worker conditions or, in the case of the U.S. Vegan Climate ETF, prevent animals from being eaten.

Money has poured into ESG funds as noisy lobby groups push pension funds, university endowments and some central banks to shift their investments. The United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment says signatories have $121 trillion of assets under management; even assuming lots of double-counting, that is most of the world’s managed money.

Over the next few weeks, Streetwise will explore the explosion of ESG investing and why I think it is mostly—but not completely—a waste of time. I will also offer up some solutions and discuss how to use your money to make a difference, while understanding the inevitable trade-offs.

ESG supporters can point to what look like successes: Their pressure has encouraged many companies to sell off dirty power plants, mines and, in the case of Anglo-Australian miner BHP, its oil business. It has even forced board changes at Exxon Mobil.

Sadly, selling off assets or shares by itself does nothing to save the planet, because someone else bought them. Just as much oil and coal is dug up and burned as before, under different ownership. And there are plenty of people out there to buy the assets, because never before in history has there been so much private capital operating without the public reporting requirements brought by stock markets.

Rich people who want to make the world greener could make a difference, by buying and closing dirty businesses even when they are profitable. So far, though, this hasn’t happened in any significant way. The pitch from Wall Street fund managers is the exact opposite—that by going green investors can change the world and make more money, not less.

“A lot of [clients] only really get enthusiastic if they get comfortable that they are not sacrificing return,” says Valentijn van Nieuwenhuijzen, chief investment officer at fund manager NN IP, which is being bought by Goldman Sachs.

Someone has to take a loss somewhere if fossil fuels are going to be left in the ground rather than extracted and sold. ESG investors’ hope is that the losses will fall on other people. The problem is that less environmentally-minded investors buying those shares, oil wells or power plants are absolutely not going to shut them down unless they stop being profitable.

It might make sense for an investor or company to sell out of fossil fuels early if they think the retreat from coal and oil is inevitable—indeed, that was the pitch by the activist who took on Exxon—but that is simply to invest according to a political prediction, not a way to fight climate change.

Some of the biggest sources of fossil fuels are immune to shareholder pressure anyway. Much of the world’s oil is pumped by government-controlled companies, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. Exxon can be forced to change its approach, but the global supply of oil is still determined by OPEC, as President Biden’s appeal to the cartel to pump more to keep fuel prices down has demonstrated.

There are three big pro-ESG arguments, which sound reasonable, but have major flaws.

First, if companies treat the environment, workers, suppliers and customers better, it will be better for business. This could work where companies have missed something to boost profits, such as add solar panels on a sunny roof or create a better employee retention program. Early ESG activists plucked the low-hanging fruit here, but management has become painfully aware of changing customer and employee expectations, so there is less opportunity ahead.

Adding costs to reduce a company’s carbon footprint, or paying staff more, should only help the stock price if it also raises revenue or reduces other costs, by say generating more loyalty from carbon-conscious consumers, lowering staff turnover or improving relations with regulators.

Otherwise profits can only be maintained by passing the higher costs through into higher prices, and—unless the firm has monopoly power—eventually customers who don’t care will go elsewhere. The alternative is to reduce profits, but ESG investors are almost universally against this.

The second ESG point is that by shunning stocks or bonds of dirty companies, and embracing those of clean companies, it will direct capital away from bad things and toward good ones. After all, a lower stock price or higher borrowing cost in the bond market should make it less attractive for dirty companies to expand, and vice versa for clean companies.

In practice, there has been a very weak link between the cost of capital and overall corporate investment for at least a couple of decades. Small changes in the cost of capital pale in comparison to the risk and return projections of a new project.

That is not to say there is no link. Tesla, with extremely expensive shares, has repeatedly taken advantage of its ability to issue new stock to invest in factories and research. The high prices early last year for clean-energy stocks might have encouraged similar corporate investment. The flip side of course is that buying wildly overpriced shares isn’t a good way to make money, as losses of a third or more from this year’s peaks for clean-energy stocks shows. Shifting the cost of capital just might help save the planet, but after the short-term shift in valuations is over, it should lead to underperformance.

The third claim from some ESG investors is that they are just trying to make money, and that involves shunning firms that are taking unpriced risks with the environment, workers or customers. Since they call themselves “sustainable” or use “ESG integration,” funds doing this look very like the rest of the ESG industry. The selection principle of the most popular ESG indexes, for instance, those from MSCI, involves identifying only risks that are financially material.

I would say, sure. If you think the government is going to, say, raise fuel taxes, don’t buy manufacturers of gas-guzzlers. If you think the government will impose more restrictions on coal plants, then coal generation will be an even less attractive investment.

Equally, if you think customers will be willing to pay more for brands that cut their carbon use, by all means, bet on their shares. Just don’t fool yourself that you are making much difference to the world with your investment decision. Red-blooded capitalists chase these profits just as much as any green-minded investor. There is no need to try to persuade capitalists to have a conscience; they will do what you want if you make it profitable via customer demands or government intervention (or, if we are lucky, new technology).

There is one way that ESG investing does, sort of, work. Shareholders can push companies to stop lobbying governments in favour of fossil fuels. Conceivably this might help push customers and governments to do the things that would really make a difference.

My big concern about ESG investing is that it distracts everyone from the work that really needs to be done. Rather than vainly try to direct the flow of money to the right causes, it is simpler and far more effective to tax or regulate the things we as a society agree are bad and subsidize the things we think are good. The wonder of capitalism is that the money will then flow by itself.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: January 23, 2022.



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New research suggests spending 40 percent of household income on loan repayments is the new normal

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Requiring more than 30 percent of household income to service a home loan has long been considered the benchmark for ‘housing stress’. Yet research shows it is becoming the new normal. The 2024 ANZ CoreLogic Housing Affordability Report reveals home loans on only 17 percent of homes are ‘serviceable’ if serviceability is limited to 30 percent of the median national household income.

Based on 40 percent of household income, just 37 percent of properties would be serviceable on a mortgage covering 80 percent of the purchase price. ANZ CoreLogic suggest 40 may be the new 30 when it comes to home loan serviceability. “Looking ahead, there is little prospect for the mortgage serviceability indicator to move back into the 30 percent range any time soon,” says the report.

“This is because the cash rate is not expected to be cut until late 2024, and home values have continued to rise, even amid relatively high interest rate settings.” ANZ CoreLogic estimate that home loan rates would have to fall to about 4.7 percent to bring serviceability under 40 percent.

CoreLogic has broken down the actual household income required to service a home loan on a 6.27 percent interest rate for an 80 percent loan based on current median house and unit values in each capital city. As expected, affordability is worst in the most expensive property market, Sydney.

Sydney

Sydney’s median house price is $1,414,229 and the median unit price is $839,344.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $211,456 to afford a home loan for a house and $125,499 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $120,554.

Melbourne

Melbourne’s median house price is $935,049 and the median apartment price is $612,906.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $139,809 to afford a home loan for a house and $91,642 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $110,324.

Brisbane

Brisbane’s median house price is $909,988 and the median unit price is $587,793.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $136,062 to afford a home loan for a house and $87,887 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $107,243.

Adelaide

Adelaide’s median house price is $785,971 and the median apartment price is $504,799.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $117,519 to afford a home loan for a house and $75,478 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $89,806.

Perth

Perth’s median house price is $735,276 and the median unit price is $495,360.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $109,939 to afford a home loan for a house and $74,066 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $108,057.

Hobart

Hobart’s median house price is $692,951 and the median apartment price is $522,258.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $103,610 to afford a home loan for a house and $78,088 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $89,515.

Darwin

Darwin’s median house price is $573,498 and the median unit price is $367,716.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $85,750 to afford a home loan for a house and $54,981 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $126,193.

Canberra

Canberra’s median house price is $964,136 and the median apartment price is $585,057.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $144,158 to afford a home loan for a house and $87,478 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $137,760.

 

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