Veris Named Best For The World By B Corp

Best For the World – Again

By Anders Ferguson and Nicole Davis

Veris was just named Best for the World by B Corp – for the sixth year in a row.

We’re very proud to achieve this milestone and are equally honored to be recognized among the best of the best. Veris was named in the top 10% of all 2,400 B Corps around the world.

This is inspiring for the entire Veris team, yet what’s even more important is how B Corps are changing the face of business for the betterment of everyone.

What Is a B Corp? Find out more.

Transforming Business
B Corp’s interconnected standards provide a unifying framework for organizations globally to drive sustainability and benefit from it.

The standards apply to every aspect of an organization’s operations. They place a high priority on being responsible stewards of the environment. They encourage respect for and empowerment of employees. They drive our colleagues at Veris to aspire to excellence and improve our products and services.

What’s more, B Corp is continually raising the bar. Veris, like others that hold the B Corp designation, must recertify every two years. The process looks at every part of a company’s business practices. Each time, the standards are even higher.

A Better Way
From our perspective, being a B Corp is the right thing to do, and it also an impetus for innovation and transformative sustainability systems.

Research from well-respected firms such as McKinsey & Company, along with major universities, confirm that B Corps often exceed the performance benchmarks of their peer group competitors.

Organizations committed to sustainable business practices are typically innovators that use new and emerging technologies to operate more efficiently. They also practice good corporate governance, which invariably leads to greater gender and racial diversity at the executive management level and throughout the organization.

From a risk management perspective, companies committed to sustainability are also lower risk. Some global banks are recognizing the reduced risk profile of B Corps and are offering lower interest rates to those companies.

At the same time, global companies are partnering with B Corps to accelerate creativity. B Corp companies welcome fresh ideas and innovation, or new ways of knowing. As a result, they are often growth companies, which means they are attractive investment partners for individual and institutional investors.

In Our DNA
B Corp standards are increasingly the management philosophy that powers everything we do at Veris. They are both our guiding light and practical roadmap in creating change that sticks and in creating new value internally and for all our stakeholders.

A few years ago, we implemented paid days off from work for volunteering. The results have been terrific for employees and Veris. We’ve implemented a series of 21-day challenges for our employees, focused on Kindness, Mindfulness, and Wellness. Our Volunteer Program and 21-day Challenges help build community, both internally and externally. When we are all touched by generosity, our personal and professional lives are enriched.

Another benefit of being a B Corp is the insight we have gained as a firm. In addition to reviewing our internal sustainability, we’ve analyzed our external impact with our partners and investment managers. This has greatly helped Veris, our clients, and our business partners see the benefits that an impact focus has in our offices and building renewable energy systems.

Our commitment to being a B Corp has also had a notable effect on the way we deliver impact wealth management services.

B Corp status has pushed us to find ever more impactful investment products and services. That has created wonderful new opportunities for our clients. For example, we have become leaders in the field of Gender Lens Investing, one of the most promising new developments in impact investing. Our leadership in Gender Lens Investing is no coincidence considering our gender diverse team. Two-thirds of our employees are women.

The Best for the World award is greatly appreciated by everyone at Veris. It’s recognition for the all the work we have done to create an impactful company, and for all the work B Corp has done to make business a force for good in the world. It has clearly made us better, and collectively, it adds up to very positive impact.

Racial Parity In America

Racial Parity in America: Making Progress, But Still A Long Way To Go

By Patricia Farrar-Rivas, CEO

At the recent Confluence Philanthropy’s Practitioners Gathering, I couldn’t help but notice the growth of interest and attendance in the panels with a racial equity focus.

At the 2016 event, the racial equity panel I attended barely attracted 10 people. This year, there were two back-to-back racial equity panels, and the rooms were packed.

I left the conference more emboldened than I have been in a while.

The reason for my optimism is that people of color attending the event, as well as some allies, brought the root issues of racial equity and equality to the impact investing conversation. There was more frank discussion about the topic than I had ever heard at a gathering of impact investors.

Thinking Bigger
We have so many urgent and entrenched social and environmental issues to solve, while climate change is breathing down our neck. They not only include racial equality and equity, but also gender equality and equity, workplace and domestic violence, mass incarceration, gun violence, access to both primary and secondary education, plastics in ocean, lead in our homes and schools, access to healthcare, to name just a few.

All of these issues are important, and we cannot solve any of them on their own. We can’t take a siloed approach. We must raise them all with the same level of intention. They are all symptoms of economic systems built on flawed constructs of race, gender, class and entitlement.

So, I am also very encouraged to see more impact investing funds founded and managed by women and people of color. Today, the diversity of those who currently control and influence capital allocations simply don’t reflect the full breadth of our gender or racial demographics. The key to solving our multitude of issues is democratizing the flow of capital. Changing whose hands are on the levers may be just what we need to benefit people and planet.

Changing the Conversation
Over the years, impact investing gatherings like Confluence Philanthropy have attracted those seeking to change the impact of capital flows and who controls the powerful levers of money. There are an increasing number of diverse voices in the conversation.

Big Path Capital, for example, has put on a number of regional diversity conferences, including the Impact Capitalism Summit, to highlight multiple diverse fund managers. The quality and number of funds available they have showcased has been truly impressive.

What’s also evident is that the growing awareness of gender lens investing has opened the door to candid dialogue about racial equality and equity.

In the past year, gender lens investing has moved into the mainstream. It now has a seat at the table with other major issues for women, such as access to healthcare, control of reproductive rights, freedom from sexual harassment, among others. Racial equality and equity should have a seat at the table, too.

It takes work to recognize and reverse established biases, both personally and culturally. We need to be supportive as we forge ahead, but we also have to keep pushing. There hasn’t been nearly enough progress.

We are at an opportune moment to listen and to flip the conversation on its head. Low-income people, people of color, women and girls and our planet have de-risked investments to their own detriment for too long. Yes, time’s up. If change is to come, we must all work together to make sure we seize this moment.

Veris Views on Recent Market Moves

By Jane Swan, CFA, Partner

As of the close of Friday’s market, the S&P 500 was down 2.6 percent year to date, and 8.3 percent since the market high on January 26th. The S&P 500 is still up 10.7 percent in the last twelve months, and the recent decline only brings the stock market back to where it was last December, after what appears to be excessive exuberance over the tax cuts.  While this type of market decline (or correction) does not feel good to investors, it is not entirely a surprise.

 

If you are a reader of our IMPACT newsletter or blog, you may recall our observation of the near record length of this stock market expansion and our curiosity over the market’s confidence in the president’s economic agenda. While these factors have been noteworthy and have highlighted potential risks, the strength and growth rate of corporate earnings have provided a rational for some of the ongoing positive market returns. Events of the last two months have ended the record length of the bull market. It appears the market has joined us in questioning the economic implications of the president’s agenda.

At the time of this writing, corporate earnings and expectations of earnings growth remain strong. While many of us enjoyed stock market prices that were considerably higher, we believe the current prices are a better reflection of both the risks and opportunities of the stock market in this stage of the economic cycle. Stay tuned to our newsletter and blog for more analysis, and please contact us if you want to learn more about the Veris approach to wealth management.

 

If you want to subscribe to the Veris IMPACT newsletter to keep up to date with our market commentaries and perspective, please sign up at https://www.veriswp.com/contact/.

What’s Next for Climate Change Solutions in 2018?

 

By Jessica Lowrey, Director of Research

This perspective first appeared in Investopedia’s Impact Investing section.

Impact investing continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the wealth management business. The reason: More individual and institutional investors understand that it’s possible to achieve market-rate financial performance, while having positive impact with their wealth.

This epic shift in investor behavior is increasingly fueled by innovation, especially as it applies to climate change. The progress we’re seeing in delivering climate change solutions to the world is largely the result of technology and process improvement.  Today more than ever, sustainability equals innovation and vice versa. This momentum has been further propelled by the historic Paris climate agreement and recognition by institutional investors of the risks of climate change.

In 2018, we expect even more capital to flow to breakthrough solutions that promote sustainability. In this first “Impact Trends” update we focus on Energy as it relates to climate. Clearly there are more key environmental issues affecting climate and ecosystems to be covered in later updates. Among the key trends we’re watching this year:

Market Movers Join Sustainability Revolution

In 2017, the world’s largest money managers began pressuring fossil fuel companies by supporting climate-related shareholder proposals. Vanguard, BlackRock, and Fidelity voted for the first time in favor of climate resolutions. They joined PIMCO, Goldman Sachs, and State Street, which have stepped up their support for climate change engagement in recent years. As a result, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, and PPL were forced by shareholders to disclose risks associated with climate change.

In a related move, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink sent a letter to the 300 largest U.S. companies declaring that “every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” Fink, whose firm manages $6 trillion in assets, asked firms to communicate their role in the community and their impact on the environment as well as the diversity of their leadership and workforces. In 2017, BlackRock also launched a suite of impact ETFs that favor companies with low-carbon footprints and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Strong Signals From Nations

The global fossil fuel divestment movement picked up steam in 2017. Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, the largest state-owned fund in the world, indicated it would begin divesting from all fossil fuels. Sweden pledged to phase out all greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. France stopped granting new permits for oil exploration and will end oil and gas production by 2040. Fifteen of the largest global insurers have divested $20 billion. China canceled construction of over 100 coal plants and worldwide coal plant construction declined 62% last year. Twenty nations have signaled intent to end coal-use altogether while over 125 multinational companies have committed to sourcing from 100% renewable energy.

And despite U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, more than 2,500 business, state and local policy leaders, controlling $10.1 trillion of the U.S. economy, remain committed to the agreement. Considered collectively, these entities (which are outside the U.S. federal government) represent the third-largest party to the Paris agreement and would have a GDP greater than Japan and Germany combined.

More Clean Energy On The Way

The cost of generating electricity from wind and solar power declined 25% in 2017 and 70% from 2010 to 2016. China installed 54 gigawatts of solar last year, more than any country has in a single year. Total U.S. solar capacity has grown at an average annual rate of 68% over the last decade. Storage and distribution continues to improve. Battery producers for Electric Vehicles (EV) and solar stand to profit from the surge in demand.

In part from off-grid renewables, 1.2 billion people have gained access to electricity since 2000 – keeping the lights on for commerce, school, and family. In the U.S., job growth in the solar industry has been 17x faster than the overall economy and solar now employs more people than oil, coal, and gas combined. Energy use in buildings accounts for 39% of carbon emissions and there are now 32,000 buildings and plants in the U.S. certified by the EPA’s Energy Star program.

At the same time, more automakers are building zero emissions vehicles. GM, Volvo, and Volkswagen declared they would eventually end production of combustion-engine vehicles and shift to all-electric. EV adoption surpassed 2 million in 2017 and sales grew 30%.

Investable Opportunities

Investor demand and energy economics will continue to drive development of sustainable investment products. According to Bloomberg, global issuance of green bonds rose 67% to $163 billion in 2017. Along with increased adoption of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors in security analysis, this has expanded the opportunity set for sustainable fixed income investment. Green bond issuers include corporations like Apple and Starbucks as well as states, municipalities, and Development Finance Institutions such as the World Bank.

More fund managers across all asset classes will continue to incorporate ESG factors, divest fossil fuels and invest in innovative environmental solutions. Companies working in pollution control, water management, energy-efficiency, non-toxic chemistry, sustainable transport, packaging, agriculture, and forestry should attract more capital.  Meanwhile, new technologies such as Blockchain could enable distributed energy trading thereby reducing transaction costs, creating smarter energy grids and accelerating renewable energy investment.

The transition to a low carbon economy is not without challenges, but companies that embrace their role in the evolution will prosper from the emerging ethos of long-term sustainability.

 

Veris Hosts Gender Lens Investing Webinar

Alison Pyott and Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile of Veris speak with Suzanne Biegel and Cynthia Nimmo about the state of Gender Lens Investing.

In Our Portfolios: Every Day Can Be International Women’s Day

By Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile, CFP®, Senior Wealth Manager

Once a year, the world celebrates “International Women’s Day.”  With much fanfare, we cheer on women and their contributions to the world.

But imagine the impact of sustained daily efforts to recruit, develop and promote women.

Consider the positive outcomes of intentionally and systematically directing capital to women-led enterprises or those specifically focused on benefitting women and girls.

And what if there was gender parity in executive leadership and at every other level of business and government?

The good news is that all of this can be furthered by institutionalizing these goals in our investment portfolios through Gender Lens Investing (GLI).

The Power Of Gender Lens Investing

GLI is an increasingly popular approach to allocating capital because it is having an impact both in the U.S. and around the world.

Gender lens investors evaluate opportunities based on how they support women’s leadership, access to capital, products and services for women and girls, workplace equity, addressing urgent gender justice issues, and increasing the knowledge, confidence and number of active women investors.

A growing number of investors support GLI’s fundamental premise that investing for gender equity can generate social and economic dividends that benefit everyone – both men and women. They also understand that greater gender equity at work may drive better business results and investment performance. This heightened demand has spurred growth in investment vehicles that integrate gender criteria and metrics.

In November 2017, Patricia Farrar-Rivas, Alison Pyott and myself of Veris Wealth Partners, working closely with Suzanne Biegel and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, each released research findings quantifying the intensifying interest in GLI:  As of mid-year 2017, some $2.2 billion was allocated in 80 gender-based investment strategies across public and private markets.

Most of these investment vehicles were developed within the past five years, targeting specific goals. They include improving the lives of women and girls, steering capital to women-led enterprises, closing the gender pay gap, and adding women to corporate boards and senior management.

While many of these are accessible only to accredited investors, there is an expanding number of solutions available to everyone.

Information on the public market products are available on the Veris website here. They include six mutual funds, one Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF), one exchange traded note and a certificate of deposit. The latter, for example, is the federally insured Women and Children’s CD offered by the Self-Help Credit Union of North Carolina. Investors holding the CD help support women starting their own businesses or buying homes, and finance loans to child care providers and public charter schools.

While investors should consider the suitability of each investment product in a personal portfolio, the point is that today a simple brokerage account of modest market value can target investment dollars to generate both financial returns and social benefits. Aggregated across hundreds of thousands of investment accounts, investors are bending billions in the service of changing how capital markets value women and girls.

In the era of Women’s Marches and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, individuals — from teenagers to seniors — are raising their voices. Their activism is driving the growth of gender lens investing and is beginning to change how our portfolios are constructed. While we still have a long way to go in realizing gender parity, aligning our wealth with our values is essential. Through gender lens portfolios, we can make progress, and we can make our voices heard loud and clear.

Economic Perspective Q4 2017

By Jane Swan, CFA, Senior Wealth Manager

Market Strength through Uncertainty

Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, marches, market growth, a new tax plan and some unbelievable tweets – 2017 was an unforgettable year. Markets typically do not like uncertainty, but were strong through a year of swirling unpredictability. What happened and what comes next?

The S&P 500 (U.S. large cap) was up 6.6 percent in the quarter, bringing performance for the year to 21.8 percent. The Russell 2000 (small cap) was up 3.3 percent in the quarter, up 14.65 percent for the year. International stocks were up even more than domestic equities. The MSCI EAFE (developed international equities) were up 4.3 percent in the quarter, 25.6 percent for the year. Strongest of the major equity benchmarks was the MSCI Emerging Markets index, up 7.5 percent in the quarter and 37.8 percent for the year.

2017 Q4 Asset Class Returns

Within U.S. equity markets, the strongest performance came from the consumer discretionary sector, up almost 10 percent in the quarter, and 38.8 percent for the year. All sectors were positive in the quarter, led by technology, financials, materials, consumer staples, industrials, and energy stocks.  However, even with strength in the last two quarters, energy and telecom remained negative for the year.

2017 Q4 Sector Returns

Investment-grade fixed income returns were challenged in the quarter by the second Fed Funds rate hike of the year in December. This was the first year since 2005 that the Fed raised interest rates twice. Intermediate corporate bonds were down 0.2 percent for the quarter but up 2.14 percent for the year. Municipal bonds ended the quarter down 0.7%, but were up 3% for the year. Treasuries were up 0.1% for the quarter, 2% for the year.

A tempered bond market is not a surprise with the rate hikes. And the rate hikes are not a surprise given the prolonged period of very low rates, near record expansion in the stock market, very low unemployment rates, and stable, sustained recovery in the economy. Less predictable is the impact significant corporate tax cuts will have on an already energized stock market and an economy that is eight years into expansion. Cuts to income taxes are likely to have a positive impact on both consumer spending and investments. Tabling for this discussion the potential positive economic impact of personal tax cuts and the regressive nature of the new tax plan, what impact might the corporate tax cuts have on the market and the economy? To understand this, we look at the stated intent of the corporate tax cuts, and how this may alter the current course of the economy.

New Tax Bill Passed

The underlying premise of cuts to corporate tax rates has largely been the notion that reducing corporate tax rates will lead to greater investments by corporations. These investments will lead to job creation and wage growth. Perhaps corporations have been paying so much in taxes that they haven’t had enough money to invest in business expansions and wage increases. Business expansions stimulate the economy and can increase the number of jobs both in the short run (construction) and in the long run through new permanent jobs. In other words, more business spending could create more jobs, leading in turn to greater consumer spending and a robustly growing economy.

Contrasting the stock market’s growth since 2008 with that of the economy, we see two different declines, and two very different recoveries. While our GDP is up 15 percent and wages are up 24 percent from levels prior to the great recession, the S&P 500 is now 78 percent higher than it was before the market decline.  In other words, this most recent expansion has favored shareholders over wage earners by a multiple of three.

The Decline and the Recovery

Impact on Gross Domestic Product

Growth of our economy is measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which breaks contributors into four broad categories: consumer spending, government spending, investment, and net exports which have been negative as we have imported more than we have exported for several decades. For as long as it has been measured, consumer spending has been the largest contributor to GDP, averaging about 67 percent and growing about 2.7 percent per year over the last twenty years. The next largest portion of GDP comes from government spending, which makes up about 19 percent of the GDP and has been growing at a rate of about 1.2 percent over the same time period. The smallest contributor to GDP over the last twenty years has been investment. Investment refers to business spending, primarily on equipment, buildings and land, and increases to inventories. In the last twenty years, this has averaged about 17 percent of the total GDP and has been growing at a rate of 2.8 percent. Finally, net imports detract an average of 3 percent from GDP and have been growing at about 4.5 percent per year.

Contributors to GDP

Looking at the current economic recovery, the time since the recession ended in 2009 to now, something stands out. At 2.2 percent, growth in consumer spending has tracked below its longer-term average of 2.7 percent. Government spending has decreased by an average of 0.6 percent per year rather than its typical growth rate of 1.2 percent. The detraction of net exports on GDP is in line with its long-term average. While the U.S.’s negative net exports, which detract from GDP, are increasing, it makes up such a small portion of the total GDP that this higher growth rate has a low impact on total growth. Investment has been the outlier, growing 5.3 percent per year, almost double the long-term average of 2.8 percent. If growth in investments has already been much greater than the average rate and this hasn’t led to robust enough economic growth, why not?

The answer is that the high rate of investment spending has not yet led to growth in consumer spending. Despite adding 17.6 million jobs and taking unemployment from the peak in 2009 of 10 percent to the current low of 4.1 percent, consumers have been spending at a slower than normal rate. Because consumers buy the products made by corporate investments, corporations should only invest in increased lines of productions if they believe consumers want more of what they currently sell than they can currently produce. Trends since our last recession suggest that while corporate investment has more than recovered, the consumer has not. Without growing demand from strong consumers, corporations may continue to spend tax savings on higher dividends for shareholders or through share buybacks. Both will benefit shareholders more than consumers, or the broader economy.

Inorganic Source of Growth

The cut to corporate tax rates will most likely provide a nice boost to corporate earnings by inflating the year over year earnings growth rate, which may extend the bull market’s run. While the boost to earnings will continue for as long as the corporate tax cuts remain, the earnings growth rate will only be impacted for the first year. After that point, the stock market would need to find a new source for earnings expansion. There is little room for further reductions in unemployment, so growth in consumer spending would be easier to achieve from better paid workers rather than through increasing the number of workers. Higher wages could break the stagnation in consumer spending growth, and lend support to continuation of a strong stock market and strengthening economy.

Perhaps this is why Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, penned an impassioned letter to the CEOs of publicly traded companies. In his letter, Fink highlighted that in addition to financial analysis, a corporation’s strategic plans “must also understand the societal impact of your business as well as the ways that broad, structural trends – from slow wage growth to rising automation to climate change – affect your potential for growth.” He critiques CEO pressure to serve shareholders by distributing a higher portion of earnings at the expense of investments in future capabilities, such as employee development, fair wages, and innovation. “Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”

There is hope. In addition to thousands of bonuses announced after the tax plan passed, many of the largest employers, including Walmart and Starbucks, have announced increases to wages for their lowest paid workers. If we see a continuation of these types of increases, and additional increases bringing the lowest paid workers closer to a living wage, we could finally see a growth in consumer well-being and spending. Additionally, several companies have announced plans to add jobs in the US which could help the average annual jobs added number maintain or even exceed the annual rate of 2.2 million new jobs from the last eight years. Continuing job growth and increasing wages could provide a more stable base to our growing economy.

Key in the Veris investment philosophy is our belief that companies integrating environmental, social, and governance factors into their business practices are better positioned competitively and that the attention paid to these criteria can help mitigate risk. Reductions to government regulation of worker safety and environmental quality, along with wage stagnation that has coincided with a decline in union membership and clout, leaves both the environment and the economy in a precarious position. Both may be sustained by business practices that take a mindful approach, incorporating the societal impact of business into the business strategy, considering the long term rather than narrowly focusing just on the next quarter’s earnings.

While we grow investment strategies that meet our financial and impact criteria, we also are considering the ways in which changes to personal taxes impact both our clients and the investment strategies we deploy in your portfolio. With the magnitude of changes, many of our clients will benefit from a coordinated meeting between your wealth manager, tax planner, and estate planning attorney. If you have questions about how recent tax changes will affect you or your investments, we are here to start the discussion with you.

Addressing Climate Change: The Role of Venture Capital

By Dave Kirkpatrick, SJF Ventures

Being a successful venture capitalist involves backing great entrepreneurs and helping them scale.  Those activities are also important in fighting climate change.

Venture capital firms can identify and commercialize climate solutions that have an impact for the long term. That’s what my firm, SJF Ventures, has been committed to doing since 1999. We’re pleased others have joined us along this journey full of opportunity and risk.

In fact, many Silicon Valley VC funds eagerly entered the cleantech space several years ago, but stubbed their toe and exited the field.  Most of these cleantech VC losses were concentrated in capital intensive companies developing solar modules and biofuels. These companies ran headlong into low-cost Asian solar manufacturers and dropping oil prices.

Yet all along the way, whether it be called ‘sustainable’ or ‘cleantech’ or ‘greentech,’ thoughtful investors have continued to place capital in companies providing climate solutions.  These ventures have developed innovative business models utilizing IoT (Internet of Everything) tech, SaaS platforms, online marketplaces, and innovative chemistry and modular technology.

The Opportunities In Solar

A key focus of ours is investing in solutions that produce much higher levels of renewables, which can contribute to the resilience and reliability of the electric grid. These solutions are showing a path towards a carbon-free energy system through the combination of renewables, energy storage, smart grid, demand response, and electric transport.

We believe there is a significant opportunity in ‘downstream solar’ deployment firms that can deliver lower cost power at utility scale. For example, groSolar, an early national solar developer and installer, was one of our investments back in 2006. The company built 500 KW to 30 MW projects across the country and now leads the distributed energy division of EDF Renewable Energy.  Community Energy (CEI), an early wind developer that has gone on to develop hundreds of megawatts of solar projects in many emerging solar states – NC, GA, VA, MN, CO, PA, NJ, MA, and IN – was one of our investments in 2010.  CEI is responsible for the largest solar project in the Midwest, north of Minneapolis (pictured above), and in Virginia.

Through groSolar and Community Energy, we saw the potential to scale the delivery of low-cost power to states across the country with a mandate to increase renewable sources of energy, as well as utilities and corporate buyers.

In late 2014, we invested in NEXTracker, which had developed an elegant, low-cost, modular tracking system that greatly improves the power production on utility solar plants.  NEXTracker went on to be acquired in late 2015 by Flex and has scaled deployment of clean power globally, with installations in Chile, Mexico, India, Australia, Jordan, as well as the US.  The company has reached 9 GW of renewable energy capacity installed, including the largest North American project, a 750 MW installation in Mexico.

NEXTracker is a great example of the export opportunity for U.S. firms under the Paris Accord to assist developing countries for the low-carbon transition. Recent developments show countries like India, where NEXTracker has already sold 1 gigawatt of trackers.  India has canceled plans for coal plants and is committed to scaling low cost renewable energy generation.

In October 2015, we wrote 100% Clean Energy – the new Zero Waste.  Since then, many more companies have committed to 100% renewable power, including Facebook, IKEA, Apple, Walmart, Starbucks, UBS, Microsoft, Salesforce, HP, H&M, Goldman Sachs, and GM.  Solar and wind are often the lowest cost power option, cheaper than new fossil fuel power.  We have some threats to the US solar industry, such as the Suniva/Solar World trade dispute that may result in higher solar panel prices by later this year. Long-term, the continued trend should be towards lower cost, reliable power.

Clean power reliability will be strengthened by the recent drop in battery costs driven by electronics and electric vehicles.   Low cost batteries are enabling large-scale solar, plus megawatt scale energy storage, to become competitive with peaking natural gas plants that switch online when energy demand peaks.

There is so much more to be done in combating climate change, but we’re making real progress. If we can align policy consistent with the Paris Accords along with visionary entrepreneurs and investors, we can and must accelerate that progress.

Dave Kirkpatrick is Co-Founder and Managing Director of SJF Ventures.

 

 

Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.

Economic Perspective Q3 2017

By Jane Swan, CFA, Senior Wealth Manager

Despite hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and ongoing political chaos, markets climbed higher in the third quarter. The S&P 500 (U.S. large cap) was up 4.5 percent in the quarter, bringing year to date (YTD) growth to 14.2 percent. The Russell 2000 (small cap) was even stronger during the quarter, up 5.7 percent with YTD growth of 10.9 percent. If developed and emerging international markets hold their positions, they will be the best-performing risk asset classes for the first time in almost ten years. The MSCI EAFE (developed international equities) continued its rebound and was up 5.5 percent for the quarter and 20.5 percent for the year. Strongest of the major equity benchmarks was the MSCI Emerging Markets index, up 8 percent in the quarter and 28.1 percent for the year.

2017 Q3 Asset Class Returns

Within U.S. equity markets, the strongest performance came from the technology sector, up 8.7 percent in the quarter and 24.7 percent for the year. Market strength was also supported by advances in energy, telecom, materials, financials, and industrials. Health care, utilities and consumer discretionary sectors were also modestly positive in the quarter. Consumer staples was the only negative sector in the quarter. Despite strong growth in the quarter from energy and telecom, these are the only two sectors that are negative so far this year.

2017 Q3 Sector Returns

Fixed income returns remained positive, despite the two small interest rate hikes earlier in the year. US Treasuries were up 0.4 percent for the quarter and 1.6 percent for the year. Intermediate corporate bonds were up 0.6 percent for the quarter and 2.3 percent for the year. Intermediate municipals were up 0.7 percent for the quarter and 3.9 percent for the year. High-yield bonds, benefiting from continued economic expansion, were up 2 percent in the quarter bringing year to date return to 7 percent.

The run-up in high-yield bonds reflects further compression in the interest rate spread. The spread is the difference in yield paid on a Treasury bond and a high-yield (sometimes called “junk”) bond. Some view this spread as an indicator of future economic risk. If we anticipate continued economic strength, we do not recognize significant risk of default from even a low credit quality borrower. As a result, we are willing to buy the low-quality bond for just a small premium of additional income. If we believe the economy will be facing headwinds, we should require a higher increase in income when we buy a lower-quality bond. A contrary viewpoint suggests that investors can be overly influenced by stock market momentum. When markets are in long expansions, we seemingly forget that markets can go down. We forget to price in a premium for risky investments. It may take months or years to know if today’s narrow interest rate spreads were a sign of overly optimistic investors or an appropriate measure of a strong economy.

Effective Fed Funds Rate

While bondholders may seem complacent, many equity investors are feeling uneasy about the possibility of a significant market downturn (“correction”). The length and magnitude of this expansion has many wondering how long this will last. Starting about four-and-a-half-years ago, news headlines have frequently celebrated each new market high. With each new record came the question, “How long will the market’s run last?” While we won’t know the answer until it actually ends, it is helpful to understand how this expansion relates to other market expansions.

Measuring Market Expansions

Using the S&P 500 for reference and examining this market expansion in relation to prior market expansions, we see that the current bull market is one of the longest and strongest. However, it is not the longest nor is it the strongest. This expansion, having started in the beginning of March 2009, has lasted 103 months (8.6 years). That makes it the second-longest expansion. The longest expansion started in November 1990 and lasted until the dot-com bubble burst 118 months (9.8 years) later. To become the longest market expansion, our current growth would have to go for at least another 15 months.

Measuring the return of the expansion, we find a market gain of 243 percent from the prior low in 2009. There have been two greater market expansions in history. The greatest being that same expansion from the 1990s, when the market grew 399 percent. The second-greatest expansion was just after World War II. Beginning February of 1948, the market went up 246 percent in just over 8 years. To become the largest market expansion in history, our stock market would have to go up at least an additional 156 percent.

While the stock market has been growing significantly for a long time, these factors alone do not mean that an end is near.

There are several issues of greater concern than the length and magnitude of the expansion. A troubling aspect of this expansion is that it has left many behind. Real wage growth for non-supervisory workers dropped significantly in the 1980s and has not recovered. Suppressed wages hurt consumers’ ability to sustain growth in spending. The market has also seemingly shrugged off the increase in long-term potential risks from reduced regulations. These include reductions to environmental regulations and consumer protections, as well as regulations focused on preventing the kind of corporate risk-taking that led to the last economic decline. The market has been unphased by the inability of the branches of government to implement previously expected changes, such as building “the wall” or repealing the Affordable Care Act. It is unclear what, if any, portion of earnings forecasts or recent price appreciation is tied to optimism from financial analysts about possible tax cuts.

Growth in Earnings

For most of the last four years of this market expansion, great speculation has focused on the next bubble to burst. Would it be commercial real estate? Gold? The dollar? Or something else? Regardless of when, why and by how much the market retreats, your Veris Wealth Advisor is here to partner with you in structuring a portfolio that incorporates your spending goals across a variety of market cycles.

10 Years Later – Headed Toward a Brighter Future

By Casey Verbeck, Director, Business Development

As Veris marks our 10th anniversary we are optimistic. We’re emboldened by the fact that we launched in the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, and we succeeded because our clients’ demand for impact investing solutions is so strong and our team so committed.

We’re also optimistic because we see that impact investing and Veris are part of a much larger transformational ecosystem steadily gaining momentum. This ecosystem is advancing sustainability in business, investing, and society as a whole. It is pragmatically hopeful and touches most everything, large and small. It is self-organizing, ever expanding. It is guided by science, economics and spirit. Each part adds positive energy to this ever-expanding ecosystem. At work, at home.

This excerpt is from our recently published book celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Veris Wealth Partners. 10 Impacts In 10 Years is the story of our contributions to the world of impact investing and the heartening journey of our team. We created this reflection to recognize our clients and the collective progress we have made.

An Impactful Vision

In marking this milestone, it’s useful to start at the founding of our firm.

Ten years ago, the Veris founders – five entrepreneurs, including two impact investing advisory businesses – came together with an idea and a dream: To create a national Impact Private Wealth Management firm. The objective was to serve the growing needs of families, individuals and family foundations who want to go “all in” to create financial performance and impact with their wealth.

We felt a new day was emerging in which sustainable business and sustainable investing would integrate and change the way business operates and capital was invested. Ours was a vision in which sustainable businesses could change the world, and investors would choose to fund sustainable companies because they are the innovators and can deliver both financial performance and social benefit.

We believed, as did Generation Investment Management and others, that we were at a tipping point.  No longer would Socially Responsible Investing be primarily about what companies shouldn’t do. Instead, sustainable and impact investing focused on what companies could do to create positive change, by understanding the drivers of great companies and transformative businesses.

We wanted to be part of this new ecosystem, aptly described by the United Nations, “Business as an Agent of World Benefit.” We also understood that many of the world’s most pressing challenges could not be addressed via business alone.  That investing in NGOs and Community Banking was a critical part of building affordable housing, providing solar energy or clean drinking water in the villages of the world, and for empowering women through micro-finance.

A Vision Turns To Reality

With these dreams, plans, and thankfully a couple of hundred loyal clients, in August 2007 Veris opened our doors for business – just as the great financial crisis was beginning.  There were 10 of us, and we managed about $350 million in assets, mostly on the East Coast. In the following decade, we developed and grew our San Francisco office, and more recently created a Boulder office.  We are now 23 people. Amazingly, on June 13, the day of our 10th anniversary celebration at the Rubin Museum in New York, we hit $1 billion in assets under management.

We set out to be an independent firm, so we could stay completely focused on our clients, their needs and the kinds of impact investing they wanted across their entire portfolios. Importantly, we wanted to develop impact investments for all assets classes.

We also wanted to help steer our broader industry toward sustainable and impact investing.  And we knew that if we stuck to our mission –  if we didn’t mix up every type of investment style that might make excess returns – that Impact Investing would grow strongly.

We’ve done just that, and in the process, we have built dynamic  partnerships in our industry. We have been joined by many new families and their foundations seeking impact private wealth management. They want to achieve this with a firm of like-minded professionals and fellow investors who share their passion for what’s possible.

A Year Of Celebrations

To celebrate and honor our clients, partners and employees, Veris has been holding celebrations and client learning meetings at each of our office locations. The first was in New York on June 13 at the Rubin Museum, and our second was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on July 18. Our third will take place in San Francisco on September 26.

In Manhattan, 160 attended. We were very appreciative that many of our guests traveled for hours; many flew or came by train. The full-day event featured presentations from three of our Founders, Patricia Farrar-Rivas, Michael Lent and Steve Fahrer on “how we got here, what we have accomplished, and where we are going over the next decade.”

Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF, the sustainable and impact investing trade association, provided an overview of the extraordinary growth of our industry over the last decade.  From less than 10% of US assets managed for impact, to 25% and nearly $9 trillion today. One of the highlights of the day was a lengthy and weighty discussion with a multi-generational family who have worked with Michael for more than 20 years. The very reflective parents and their equally thoughtful Millennial children shared their common journey to impact investing, philanthropy and integrating their wealth into their lives.  There were many damp eyes as people pondered how all these questions might play out in their families, or even if they could really have the conversation.

Also well received were our five client-led breakouts on our key thematic areas: Gender Lens Investing, Community Wealth Building, Sustainable Food & Agriculture, Climate Solutions, and Millennials.  The passion shared in these intimate sessions were inspiring for us all.

I was personally thrilled to lead a conversation with Deval Patrick, Managing Director of Bain Capital’s new Double Impact Fund and the former Governor of Massachusetts. Deval was extremely articulate in explaining his shift from leading a state to building an impact investment fund at a very traditional private equity firm. He shared his hopes and his worries.  And he reminded us change-makers “that too often we whisper our successes, while we shout out our failures.”

On July 18, we had another terrific event.

Nearly 100 clients, colleagues and friends came to the Veris Portsmouth 10th Celebration and Farewell Gathering  for David Hills, a founding partner.  It was a very special night supported  by compelling remarks from keynoter Greg Watson, Director of Policy and System Design, E.F. Schumacher Center for a New Economics. Greg was formerly Secretary of Agriculture for Deval Patrick during his term as Governor of Massachusetts. Greg demonstrated that a lifetime of service in sustainable food and agriculture, both urban and rural, renewable energy, and creating more inclusive communities can be integrated for promising results.

Then, in a fireside chat, Veris partner Nicole Dolan discussed global and local sustainable business solutions for creating business as a force for change with Brad Sterl, founder and CEO, of Rustic Crust and Ken Locklin, Director, of Impax Asset Management. Rustic Crust is a New Hampshire company invested in by three Veris fund managers. Sterl provided a perspective on rural community job creation and sustainable food solutions.  Impax sub-advises the Pax Global Environmental Market Fund and Locklin offered a global market perspective on energy efficiency, renewable energy and climate solutions.  The audience was struck by the clarity that risk-taking and entrepreneurship drive real, positive change – be that in global solar projects or baking the best organic pizza dough in the U.S. from a rural New Hampshire town.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the evening was partner Alison Pyott’s farewell to David Hills, a founding Veris partner who has recently retired from the firm. In a heartfelt tribute, Alison and David recounted their collaboration, dilemmas and joys over the past decade working together and with clients. David shared some of his pioneering efforts over his 30-year career in impact investing and the depth of friendships he created. They made a bet who would tear up first. David lost.

Looking Ahead

In closing, I wanted to share the following excerpt is from our 10th anniversary book. It sums up how the team at Veris feels about the future.

To our clients, employees, colleagues and friends: Thank you for your support over the years.  We depend on the depth of your wisdom to do our work better. And to learn together.

We are optimistic as we head into the next decade, despite significant challenges.

 We’re hopeful because a new generation of investors and business leaders actively believe and demonstrate that sustainability and impact investing works! We are finally approaching the tipping point where this new generation sees the management power of sustainability.  They understand that Sustainability = Innovation.

We are also hopeful because of the unstoppable tide of impact in business-driven innovation. These companies invest in people, communities, creativity, and transformative technologies.

We know some don’t chare our optimism. We know the enormous challenges in front of us could thwart us. However, the wind in now at our back. Just 10 years ago, it was blowing against us.

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