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In conversation: Ninety One’s Deirdre Cooper discusses investing in global environment strategies

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Ninety One | ICGNNinety One's Portfolio Manager, Deirdre Cooper is as passionate about environmental investing as much as her employer.

Ninety One have an extensive track record in the area. She answers some frequently asked questions about how to invest in global environment strategies.

How can investors contribute to addressing climate change?

The world is investing just US$500 billion of the US$2-3 trillion required annually to decarbonise the global economy. We need listed companies to spend much more on tackling climate change, because governments and private equity funds can’t make up the shortfall by themselves. Investors’ valuable role is to engage with listed businesses, as shareholders, to encourage them to accelerate spending on transitioning the global economy to a lower-carbon model.

But it’s important investors are clear about their impact and do not overstate it. Within our Global Environment Strategy, we analyse and report carbon impact for each company, which means we can measure progress. This includes analysing companies’ emissions profiles, ‘carbon avoided’ and initiatives to align business strategies with the Paris climate goals. We report on the companies that are doing well, and call out those that are not moving as quickly as we believe they should.

Most people are familiar with carbon emissions. Can you explain ‘carbon avoided’?

It’s a measure of the extent to which a company’s products or services have a lower carbon footprint than the alternative. It’s not a very well-known concept now, but it is becoming adopted more widely.

We are working with companies to encourage them to record and report it. We think it is the best measure of how a company’s products and services contribute to decarbonisation.

There are three main drivers of decarbonisation: regulation, technology and consumer behaviour.

For example, to calculate the ‘carbon avoided’ of an electric car, you would compare its total lifecycle emissions – from making it, driving it over its useful life, and eventually disposing of it – with the total lifecycle emissions of a traditional car.

Where do you find companies that contribute to decarbonisation for your strategy?

There are three main pathways to a low-carbon future, and we invest in select companies in all of them:

‒    Renewable energy: The world needs a complete change in how we generate electricity, moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy, mainly wind and solar.

‒    Electrification: Increased electrification is essential, including an overhaul of ground transportation, making the fleet more autonomous and efficient, and ultimately moving away from internal combustion engines to self-driving electric vehicles powered by renewable energy.

‒    Resource efficiency: More efficient use of resources is key to decarbonisation, including achieving higher standards of efficiency in many domestic and industrial processes, and in buildings and appliances.

What impact is COVID-19 having on sustainable investing?

At first it seemed the pandemic might delay decarbonisation. Now, it appears we’ll see an acceleration.

There are three main drivers of decarbonisation: regulation, technology and consumer behaviour.

In some places, there has been a big acceleration of the regulatory driver, especially in the European Union, which is focusing its recovery plan on the low-carbon transition. We’re seeing no let-up in the technology driver, for example in terms of the falling cost of renewable energy and in the number of sustainable product launches, including electric vehicles and energy-efficiency solutions. As for consumer behaviour, the jury’s out. But there is encouraging evidence that people are thinking much more about their carbon footprints. All in all, we think that companies exposed to decarbonisation are very well positioned for above-market growth as we come out of this crisis.

How can investors reconcile investing sustainably with the need to generate returns?

This is a really important question, because I believe it’s a misunderstanding that there need be a trade-off between them. I think you have a higher probability of outperforming if you understand a company in the context of all of its stakeholders – which is what a fundamental investment approach that incorporates sustainable investing helps you to do.

Sustainability data provides additional insights into a company’s business model and culture, including whether it has a competitive market position, which in turn helps you build better forecasts for revenue growth and returns.

Simply put, to be in the best position to provide long-term returns to investors, I think a fund manager absolutely must understand a company’s sustainability performance.

How are investors allocating to Ninety One Global Environment within their broader portfolios?

Our investors have various needs and motivations. One group is looking for exposure to an area of long-term structural growth, which we think decarbonisation provides.

A second group is realising that the climate risk in their portfolios is much greater than they thought and impacting companies across sectors. So they want to allocate to businesses with the potential to outperform* in a decarbonisation scenario that could be negative for many other parts of their portfolios.

In terms of blending Global Environment into a broader portfolio, I think many investors find it helpful that the Strategy is neutral from a style perspective – i.e., it doesn’t have a growth or quality bias. And because it’s very concentrated, there is little overlap with broad indices or other active strategies. The 25 stocks in our portfolio at present are underrepresented in traditional active equity approaches, including Ninety One’s other equity strategies.

About Ninety One Global Environment

The Global Environment Strategy seeks to capture the structural decarbonisation growth story through a high conviction, high active share portfolio. It is managed by specialists in this sector, Deirdre Cooper and Graeme Baker who are supported by wider Thematic Equity team within Multi-Asset at Ninety One.

Ninety One, formerly Investec Asset Management, is an independent, active global asset manager dedicated to delivering compelling outcomes for its clients, managing more than $128.2 billion in assets (as at 31.3.20).).

Past performance should not be taken as a guide to the future. The Strategy’s objectives will not necessarily be achieved and there is no guarantee that these investments will make profits; losses may be made. 

Disclaimer: This communication is for institutional investors and financial advisors only and is not an invitation to make an investment nor does it constitute an offer for sale.

Any decision to invest should be made after reviewing the offering document and conducting such investigation as an investor deems necessary and consulting its own legal, accounting and tax advisors in order to make an independent determination of suitability and consequences of such an investment. This material does not purport to be a complete summary of all the risks associated with this Strategy. A description of risks associated with this Strategy can be found in the offering or other disclosure document for the Strategy. © 2020 Ninety One. All rights reserved. Issued by Ninety One, October 2020.

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