Should “Green” Funds Invest in Fossil Fuels?

Marc Gunther Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking Rolling Stone story (Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math) and 350.org’s “Do the Math” divestment campaign raise important and difficult questions about fossil fuels. One that is starting to roil the world of socially-responsibly investing is this: How should mutual funds that strive to be “green” or “sustainable” or “socially responsible” deal with the fossil fuel companies in their portfolios? Should they divest, as McKibben argues? That was the topic of a column I wrote last week for the Guardian Sustainable Business, which generated some noteworthy responses. It’s part of the British newspaper...

An Actively Managed Green ETF: HECO

Tom Konrad CFA Deepwater Horizon Oil slick, as seen by NASA satellite, May 24, 2010 For a growing number of people, ecological responsibility means more than just recycling and changing our light bulbs.  Many have started to ask, “How much good does saving a few hundred gallons of gas with a hybrid car do, when the mutual funds in your 401k own companies that are allowing 6.6 million barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico, or fund misinformation about climate change?” For most, the answer...

Top Performing Clean Energy Funds in 2010

Tom Konrad CFA When Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) released their clean energy league tables for 2010, the top of the list was my favorite exchange traded fund (ETF), the Powershares Cleantech Portfolio ETF (AMEX: PZD), with an annual return of 7.6%. Second place was the Winslow Green Growth (WGGFX) mutual fund (7.4% return), which is one of what I consider to be the three best clean energy mutual funds. But the one I consider to be the best, the Gabelli SRI Green Fund (SRIGX) was nowhere to be seen, despite the fact that it returned 12.1% in...

Choosing The Right Clean Energy Mutual Fund or ETF

Tom Konrad CFA If you want to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency with just one fund, this is what you need to know. Over the last few months, I've written an extended series of articles looking at clean energy mutual funds and clean energy exchange traded funds (ETFs).  Defining Clean Energy For my purposes, a clean energy fund is one that primarily invests in companies involved in renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation, efficient and alternative fuel vehicles, and companies that are part of the supply chain for any of the above...

Renewable Energy and Cleantech Mutual Funds and ETFs: Does Tax Efficiency Matter?

Alternative Energy and Climate Change Mutual Funds, Part VI Tom Konrad CFA My recent article, In Clean Energy, Active Management Pays, started a bit of a controversy.  Rafael Coven, the Index Manager for The Cleantech Index (^CTIUS), which is the index behind the Powershares Cleantech Portfolio (PZD), left a comment on Barrons and sent me an email saying, "Your comparison of funds and ETFs ignores the tax efficiency differences which are very significant." Rafael is right that it's important for many investors to consider taxes before making an investment decision, and that ETFs are often more...

The Best Clean and Renewable Energy ETFs

Tom Konrad CFA For short term holders, the Powershares Wilderhill Clean Energy ETF (PBW) is the best If cost is the most important factor, an individual investor without the time or expertise to build a clean energy stock portfolio should choose one of the clean energy Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).  I recently reversed my former stance, and now believe that cost should not be the only factor, because the evidence suggests that, in clean energy at least, the active management available from a mutual fund or an advisor who works with individual stocks can...

How the Gabelli Green Growth Fund Got Its Five Stars

Tom Konrad, CFA An interview with John Segrich, CFA, portfolio manager at the the Gabelli Green Growth Fund (SRIGX). When I did my recent past performance comparison of clean energy mutual funds, I found that the Gabelli Green Growth Fund (SRIGX and SRICX) beat all its rivals by a long shot over the last three years, earning a coveted five-star rating from Morningstar.  In general, I'm a skeptic about short-term past performance: If you look at enough funds, sooner or later you'll find one that has had great performance by sheer luck.  Even when a few years'...

In Clean Energy, Active Management Pays

Alternative Energy and Climate Change Mutual Funds, Part V Tom Konrad, CFA Actively managed clean energy funds have been producing better returns than index funds, despite much higher expenses. I've long been critical of the costs of Alternative Energy mutual funds, but I now regret that stance.  Past Performance of Mutual Funds When I recently surveyed the performance of Alternative Energy mutual funds, I found the results were pretty good, at least in comparison to the oldest sector index fund, the Powershares Clean Energy Index (PBW).  See the following chart below, which shows...

Alternative Energy and Climate Change Mutual Funds, Part IV

Tom Konrad CFA Cherry picking the holdings of green energy mutual funds. So far in this series I've concentrated on trying to pick the best of the Alternative Energy and Climate Change Mutual Funds.  This is a difficult task, because while I found in Part III that most of the funds' performance has been better than comparable index ETFs, these mutual funds' costs are quite high, even by the standards of most mutual funds, as I discussed in Part I.  In part II, I tried looking at the sector breakdown of the funds' holdings, to see if...

Alternative Energy and Climate Change Mutual Funds, Part III

Tom Konrad CFA Past performance of green energy mutual funds. In part I of this series, I looked at the full costs of alternative energy and climate change mutual funds.  I concluded that they were quite expensive, ranging from over 2% per year, to almost 6%.  In a stock market that has historically produced returns of about 10.5% per year, but has been flat for the last decade, even 2.5% in expenses per year would have resuted in a substantial loss of value.  In order to make up for the drag on returns, these mutual funds will...

Alternative Energy and Climate Change Mutual Funds, Part II

Tom Konrad CFA Choosing the best green energy mutual fund. In part I of this series, I looked at the costs and expenses of eight Climate Change and Alternative Energy focused Mutual Funds.  I concluded that four out of the eight, the Firsthand Alternative Energy Fund (ALTEX), the Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy Fund (GAAEX), the Winslow Green Growth Fund (WGGFX), and the New Alternatives Fund (NALFX) each cost roughly 1.5% more in terms of expenses and trading costs per year than the typical Climate Change or Alternative Energy focused Exchange Traded Fund (ETF), with the other four...

Alternative Energy and Climate Change Mutual Funds, Part I

Tom Konrad CFA Understanding the costs of green energy mutual funds. It's been a bit over a year since I last looked at the mutual funds in the Clean Energy sector.  Each year, I comb through their  portfolios for new ideas on where to invest my own funds and those of my green-minded clients, with the added bonus of being able to help readers make better decisions about which fund, if any, is right for them. This year, I looked at the eight mutual funds from AltEnergyStocks' green mutual fund list.  In order of fund size,...

Why Investors Should Pay Attention to Portfolio 21’s Top 10 Green Companies

Bill Paul Not every investor wants to be a green investor, but every investor – institutional and individual alike – should be prepared to take advantage of a company’s greenness. According to a recent study sponsored by Environmental Leader, an online publisher, consumers are willing to spend more on products and services that they consider to be environmentally-friendly. That’s why 82% of respondents said they plan to use more green messaging in their marketing. But how can an investor tell a genuinely green firm from the phony ones that practice “greenwashing?” One place to look is Portfolio 21. As...

The Holdings of the Powershares Global Progressive Transport Portfolio ETF (PTRP)

Tom Konrad, CFA I included the Powershares Global Progressive Transport Portfolio (PTRP) as an investment option instead of three stocks in my Ten Clean Energy Stocks for 2010, as part of a simplified portfolio for small investors wanting to minimize costs by making fewer trades.  The other Exchange Traded Fund I used in this way was the First Trust Nasdaq Clean Edge Smart Grid Infrastructure Index Fund (GRID).  I took a look at the holdings of the Smart Grid ETF here, and they are not exactly what you would expect from the name.  Since it makes sense to know...

Is the New Smart Grid ETF GRID All That Smart?

Tom Konrad, CFA First Trust Launched a Grid Infrastructure Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) on November 17th.  Although the First Trust Nasdaq Clean Edge Smart Grid Infrastructure Index Fund (Nasdaq: GRID) is labeled a "Smart Grid" ETF to capture popular excitement around smart grid technology, it covers the whole grid infrastructure sector.  This broader focus is good for clean energy investors. I've been an advocate of investing in electric transmission and smart gird stocks since early 2007, and for almost a year now, a regular reader has been telling me to create a transmission ETF so he can buy...

Oil & Alt Energy Redux

Charles Morand Last week, I conducted an analysis showing the lack of evidence supporting claims that oil and alt energy returns are strongly correlated (claims that sometimes come from outfits as reputable as Bank of America Merrill Lynch).     I don't want to belabor this topic but I thought I would post the results of another, similar analysis I conducted following comments I received on how to improve the first one. In a nutshell, the comments suggested I do the following: 1) Look at daily correlations or even smaller periods, as "common knowledge" market...