Gustavo Bernal Torres
The ESG Mirage
MSCI, the largest ESG rating company, doesn’t even try to measure the impact of a corporation on the world. It’s all about whether the world might mess with the bottom line.
No single company is more critical to Wall Street’s new profit engine than MSCI, which dominates a foundational yet unregulated piece of the business: producing ratings on corporate “environmental, social, and governance” practices. BlackRock and other investment salesmen use these ESG ratings, as they’re called, to justify a “sustainable” label on stock and bond funds. For a significant number of investors, it’s a powerful attraction.
Yet there’s virtually no connection between MSCI’s “better world” marketing and its methodology. That’s because the ratings don’t measure a company’s impact on the Earth and society. In fact, they gauge the opposite: the potential impact of the world on the company and its shareholders. MSCI doesn’t dispute this characterization. It defends its methodology as the most financially relevant for the companies it rates.
Few factors explain why almost 90% of the stocks in the S&P 500 have wound up in ESG funds built with MSCI’s ratings. What does sustainable mean if it applies to almost every company in a representative sample of the U.S. economy?