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Climate change

  • 40% of the world lives within 100 km of a coast.1
  • 110 million people live below high tide level; by 2100, that number will be 190 million.

Sea-level rise (SLR) is the climate risk that perhaps most captures the imagination. Pop culture has long depicted doomsday scenarios of ocean inundation and, increasingly, real-life disasters like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and chronic flooding in coastal cities from Bangkok to Miami have turned fiction into reality.

Rising sea levels: Flooded New Jersey roller coaster

Coastal regions face risks of sea-level change

Thankfully, climate models show most catastrophic impacts of SLR to be far off, relevant for the end of this century and beyond. However, given the extreme risks that even minor changes in SLR pose, we expect spending on adaptation to…

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Xie Jenny
Jenny Xie
Climate Physical Risk Analyst
Boston

Four climate specialists, including Director of Climate Research Chris Goolgasian, discuss where they perceive market wrong-headedness on climate change. Learn how they look beyond consensus to uncover climate-related opportunities for our clients.

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Chris Goolgasian
Chris Goolgasian
CFA, CPA, CAIA
Director of Climate Research
Boston

In a June 2021 white paper, A source-based approach to managing inflation risk, co-authored by our colleague Adam Berger, we laid out what we believe are the five most likely sources of higher inflation over the coming decade. One of them was climate risk or, more specifically, the potential for input price shocks caused by the ongoing trend of global climate change. Since this inflation source may not be on many investors’ radar, we’d like to revisit why we think climate change is inflationary and suggest strategies to help reduce the threat to client portfolios.

The relationship between climate change and inflation

  • Overview: A price shock to a systemically important input price will tend to spur higher inflation as businesses pass it on to consumers, leading to “cost-push” inflation. While this has historically been due to geopolitical forces driving oil prices, we believe the impact of climate change on a range of commodities will be…
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Samouilhan_Nick
Nick Samouilhan
PhD, CFA, FRM
Multi-Asset Strategist
Singapore
Joy Perry
Joy Perry
Investment Director
Boston, MA

As part of our recent climate investment roundtable, Director of Climate Research Chris Goolgasian and Global Industry Analyst Alan Hsu discuss why and how the physical and transition risks of climate change are driving investment opportunities. They also share insights on why they believe solutions that help society adapt to the effects of climate change are undercapitalized and could see significant upside in coming years.

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Alan Hsu
Alan Hsu
Global Industry Analyst
Boston
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In light of some notable events over the past several weeks — China’s domestic regulatory actions, the Biden administration’s recent six-month milestone, and the US foreign policy debacle in Afghanistan — I thought now would be an opportune time to provide my latest take on the state of US-China relations.

Putting regulation in context

As many of my colleagues have observed, the recent regulatory moves by Beijing are mainly China-focused and not driven by global geopolitics or US policy shifts. That being said, there are some key takeaways here from my broader geopolitical perspective. For example, I think policymakers in both China and the US have begun to view their domestic policy decisions through the lens of the rising “great-power” competition between…

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Thomas Mucha
Thomas Mucha
Geopolitical Strategist
Boston

Our ongoing climate research shows that various global regions and asset classes will face significant and growing climate risks in the coming years. We hold the view that asset allocators seeking optimal long-term results should thoughtfully factor climate change into their structural investment planning. In fact, we believe allocators can build climate resilience into their portfolios today to pursue the potential return opportunities arising from climate change.

Mounting risks and implications of climate change

While some of the risks associated with climate change may seem too far off to matter right now, many of the environmental, social, and economic ramifications are already apparent. We believe now is the time for allocators to begin thinking about how to incorporate climate change and related considerations into their strategic asset allocation (SAA) plans.

Record-setting heat, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes have repeatedly wrought massive, costly destruction and ensuing…

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Erika Murphy
CFA, CAIA
Investment Director
Boston

US utilities stocks have trailed the broader equity market by a wide margin so far in 2021, having just posted their poorest first-half relative performance since 1997. In fact, the underperformance has become chronic: The sector has now lagged the market by roughly 40% over the past three years – its worst multiyear stretch going back to the tech bubble of the late 1990s.

Neither I nor any other member of the utilities team here has seen anything like this during our careers. So what gives? Utilities were neither COVID “winners” nor “losers” in 2020. And then the US stock market’s persistent “seesawing” between the value and growth styles has left utilities out of this year’s market gains. Increased inflation and fears of higher interest rates have also hurt the group to some degree in recent months.

But there is a silver lining. In the wake of their underperformance, US utilities have been trading at a big discount to…

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Juanjuan Niska
Juanjuan Niska
CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston, MA

The outperformance over the past 18 months of some “green” equities, or those with direct or obvious climate solutions (such as renewable energy), has left investors wondering whether climate transition risks are already priced in. A new study by MSCI finds that transition-risk pricing differs by region and by a company’s greenness, as measured by its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and proportion of “green” revenues.1 Even after normalizing for industry effects, equities with low GHG emissions and a higher share of revenues from “green,” low-carbon activities commanded higher valuations than equities with more “brown,” high-carbon-intensity revenues.

While we recognize the strong performance of certain green equities, we believe the lack of reliable emissions data makes it…

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Erika Murphy
CFA, CAIA
Investment Director
Boston

Wellington’s Climate Research Team works with Woodwell Climate Research Center to integrate climate science into the investment process for our impact strategies. We increasingly leverage reports, quantitative models, and investor tools to identify impact assets with exposure to these risks and companies whose products we believe minimize the human and environmental toll of climate-related events.

Water scarcity

One key climate-related trend that overlaps with impact investing — particularly our clean water and sanitation theme — is water scarcity. We believe chronic water shortages in many regions are a critical issue. Solutions to prevent or alleviate water scarcity will likely attract more investor attention and trigger significant capital spending as governments and public/private partnerships invest in water infrastructure and technology. And because water scarcity is still underappreciated by the market, impact investors have opportunities to…

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Tara Stilwell
Tara Stilwell
CFA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston
Campe Goodman
Campe Goodman
CFA
Fixed Income Portfolio Manager
Boston

The “plum rains” of Taiwan’s monsoon season, or Meiyu, have started to fall, bringing a modicum of relief to the island’s worst drought conditions in over 50 years and enabling manufacturers and technology investors to exhale — at least temporarily. While the weather forecast in Taiwan would not normally make financial headlines, the island’s exposure to climate risk, current severe water shortage, and reliance of its large semiconductor industry on water have the global business and investment community on alert.

Global semiconductor hub

Taiwan produces 50% of the world’s semiconductors and 92% of the high-end transistors used in advanced technology applications like autonomous driving and high-performance computing. Any disruption in local manufacturing could short circuit the global technology supply chain. The overarching risk to semiconductor fabrication in Taiwan is lack of water. Semi fabrication requires enormous amounts of water: the typical chip factory consumes between two and four million gallons of water per day; larger companies use even more. Without sufficient water to power and cool chip fabrication, production…

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Xie Jenny
Jenny Xie
Climate Physical Risk Analyst
Boston

A climate-driven capital cycle is underway, and we believe companies must invest in low-carbon solutions to protect and grow the value of their assets and strengthen competitive positions. In our view, companies that prioritize environmental stewardship and establish clear climate strategies can be first movers and market leaders that profit from the low-carbon transition and deliver value for investors.

Identifying — and encouraging — climate leadership

We want all portfolio companies to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 and set science-based targets to accomplish this. We look for companies that view climate planning as a strategic priority. We seek businesses adapting to changing regulations and positioning themselves to capitalize on evolving governmental incentives and consumer preferences. During our engagements, we ask boards and management teams to embrace low-carbon practices and align business plans with the Paris Agreement to cap global temperature rise to 1.5°C. We seek leadership on supplier practices and sustainable product innovation as a way to reduce indirect emissions. Our proxy voting policies are aimed at…

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Mark Mandel
Mark Mandel
CFA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston
Yolanda Courtines
Yolanda Courtines
CFA
Equity Portfolio Manager
London

With so much money flowing into new markets like renewables and cleantech, we will see some companies succeed and perhaps become the next Tesla. We will also see some companies fail spectacularly. In other words, there will be a great deal of dispersion. We have seen hundreds of special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) raised in the last few years, with many focusing on cleantech and other forms of energy and transportation disruption. Most of them assume a J curve in their revenues and profits, and I think it’s reasonable to expect that they won’t all achieve their projections. However, given limited sell-side coverage, identifying those that will make it and those that will not could prove to be lucrative.

The importance of time horizon for traditional and renewable energy sectors

In thinking about energy investment opportunities, I believe having a differentiated time horizon is essential — that is, focusing on the long term when others are focused on the short term, and vice versa. When things go bad in the energy sector, it’s difficult for investors to imagine how things can go back to normal. During the COVID crisis, for example, many were ready to write off the oil market, believing that prices were permanently impaired and treating the equities and debt of the companies accordingly. But as we saw…

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Eugene Khmelnik
Eugene Khmelnik
Global Industry Analyst
London

The challenges of the past year have highlighted the potential for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors to become even more relevant to the investments we make on our clients’ behalf and have underscored the increasing importance of stewardship by fiduciaries and active investors. In 2020, an unprecedented number of our corporate engagements included ESG topics, a trend we think will continue in 2021 and beyond. In particular, we expect many conversations to address executive compensation and climate change, along with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

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Carolina San Martin Headshot
Carolina San Martin
CFA
Director, ESG Research

The US military defines a “complex catastrophe” as a “natural or man-made incident […] which results in cascading failures of multiple, interdependent, critical, life-sustaining infrastructure sectors and causes extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, environment, economy, public health, national morale, response efforts, and/or government functions.”1

Working with Wellington’s Climate Research Team, our Global Macro Team is studying the macro, market, and geopolitical implications of climate change. We see climate change as a complex catastrophe in the making, with the potential to exacerbate geopolitical instability and multiply threats to economic and national security. Governments, including the US, China, and European Union, are beginning to treat climate change as a structural peril. Under the Biden administration, climate change has…

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Thomas Mucha
Thomas Mucha
Geopolitical Strategist
Boston
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