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Investing Green in a White-Hot Market

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David Muhlbaum: Stock and fund investing meant to also help the environment is nothing new, but boy, has it been a hot sector this past year. In a market full of huge gains, how should you go green now? Executive editor Anne Kates Smith joins us with some stock and fund picks. Also, in a topsy-turvy 2021, Earth Day comes before Tax Day. We’ll explain. That’s all coming up on this episode of Your Money’s Worth. Stick around.


David Muhlbaum: Welcome to Your Money’s Worth. I’m senior editor David Muhlbaum, joined by my co-host, senior editor Sandy Block. How are you doing, Sandy?


Sandy Block: I’m doing good, David.


David Muhlbaum: Good. This podcast is going to drop just a few days before April 15th. And you know what that is, right?


Sandy Block: I know what it’s not. It’s not Tax Day.


David Muhlbaum: That’s right, Sandy. It’s not Tax Day. Yeah, of course, April 15th is traditionally the day when we’re all supposed to have filed our prior year’s taxes or filed for an extension, and traditionally we’d be telling you all sorts of smart moves to make if you’re a tax procrastinator, but this year, we’re not, not because we don’t want to be helpful, but because this year, April 15th is not Tax Day.


Sandy Block: No, this year, basically because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline has been extended to May 17, 2020. So you get an extra month. And that’s not just to file your taxes, but also important things like contributing to an individual retirement account or collecting a refund from three years back.


David Muhlbaum: Enjoy your month, I guess. Maybe you knew, maybe you didn’t. We got a study across the transom from NORC at the University of Chicago, a research outfit, about what Americans do know about their taxes and it was, well, not reassuring. We got some work to do, you and me, Sandy.


Sandy Block: Well, yeah. But our audience, they know stuff.


David Muhlbaum: Well, let us hope so. But they might know some people who don’t know as much.


Sandy Block: Right. So go ahead, tell me the bad news, I’ll try not to be smug.


David Muhlbaum: Okay. So the survey was framed as a pop quiz. Five questions about tax myths. Can’t do all five for reasons of time, but I’ll ask you one. No, I’ll do two. I’m going to do the one most people got wrong, and the one most people got right. The first question: People don’t have to pay taxes if they didn’t earn any income?


Sandy Block: If they didn’t earn any income? That’s wrong. There are plenty of forms of unearned income, interest, dividends, alimony, lottery winnings. But I only have to change one word to change the answer. If you didn’t have any income, you don’t have to pay any taxes.


David Muhlbaum: If you didn’t have any income.


Sandy Block: If you didn’t have any income, you don’t have to pay taxes. And this is skipping right over the earned income tax credit, which is really complicated.


David Muhlbaum: Which is a credit, so it comes after your tax obligation, but well, we’re getting in the weeds.


Sandy Block: As we do. So that was the question most people got right or wrong?


David Muhlbaum: That was the question most people got wrong. Fewer than a third of people got that one right.


Sandy Block: I’d say that’s a reflection of the fact that not a lot of Americans have unearned income. You work a job, you get a W-2 or a 1099 form, there’s your earnings. Okay, but what was the question that most people did well on?


David Muhlbaum: That question was: There are no taxes on side-hustle income?


Sandy Block: Oh, we just did side hustles on this podcast. Taxable, of course.


David Muhlbaum: Yeah. Right. And the respondents got that too. In fact, over 3/4 of respondents got it right. But overall, on the five questions in total, just one in 20 U.S. taxpayers, 5%, answered all five questions correctly. On average, respondents answered fewer than three questions correctly. The precise score was 2.89 out of five.


Sandy Block: Well, search with your extra month of time. Not for you, of course, but for your friend who really needs help.


David Muhlbaum: Of course.


David Muhlbaum: When we return: Green investing, it’s hot. What’s really green and what’s someone who wants to get into this sector, with such nosebleed prices, supposed to do now?


David Muhlbaum: Welcome back to Your Money’s Worth. Executive editor Anne Smith is joining us today to discuss the cover story, stories actually, from Kiplinger’s personal finance on green investing. Because, you know, Earth Day.


Sandy Block: Earth Day is every day.


David Muhlbaum: And every day is Earth Day, true, but it’s also April 22nd this year and every year and that’s just around the corner. So, welcome Anne, as we enjoy a beautiful spring day here, one of those days that makes you think, Hey, maybe everything really is okay in the world and the climate, et cetera, when it isn’t. Just read another grim headline from The Washington Post on a new record for carbon dioxide levels, as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Last year’s global temperature tied for the hottest on record with 2016. But speaking of heat, we appreciate that climate change is a hot-button issue that not everyone agrees on, we’re not here to debate that today. Rather, as Anne can tell us in more detail, investors are very eager to invest in stocks, funds, and bonds that claim to combat climate change, improve sustainability and other environmental goals. You know, follow the money. We are hoping that in our Kiplinger way, to give you guidance on doing that in a way that’s most profitable. Wow. Okay Anne, hi, thanks for joining us. Please excuse my lengthy preamble.


Anne Kates Smith: Happy to be here. It used to be, we’ve been writing about green investing for as long as I’ve been working at Kiplinger, which I’m not even going to go into it. It used to be that if you wanted to put your money where your beliefs were, when it came to investing in ESG stocks, and ESG stands for Environmental, Social, Corporate Governance values, then you had very few choices and you probably were going to sacrifice some returns. And so the investing philosophy back in the day was, make as much money as you can in the stock market and use those profits to support whatever causes you feel like supporting.


David Muhlbaum: Like write a check, make a charitable donation?

Anne Kates Smith: Exactly. With the money that you make. But these days the choices are more than plentiful, and you definitely don’t have to sacrifice returns. ESG investing has not just gone mainstream, it’s pretty much taken over. Even in 2020 when people were fleeing the stock market and more money flowed out of U.S. stock funds than went into them, that was not the case with sustainable funds. And those are not just climate funds, sustainable is another word for ESG. So it includes those social and corporate aspects as well, but they are popular investments and some of them are up, two, three, four, six fold. So, no more sacrifice.


Sandy Block: So Anne, thanks for explaining the acronym ESG. And as you pointed out, it covers a variety of investing goals. But the focus of this round of Kiplinger’s coverage was on the E, the environment. How come?


Anne Kates Smith: Well, because of Earth Day. We have done a lot of stories in the past year on other aspects of ESG, companies that are great to work for, for instance, and other stories. But this time we wanted to focus on the environmental aspect. Again, this is where the money is flowing. BlackRock, the huge investing giant recently did a survey and they found out that climate related risks are at the top of mind for investors who are investing in ESG funds. In other words, the E is top of mind in the ESG world. And the funds are, like I said, are just raking in money, $50 billion in 2020 into sustainable funds. There have been records set for three or four of the past years and that’s double the record set in 2019. And it’s 24% of inflows into all U.S. stock and bond funds last year. So, it’s just raining money on these ESG funds.


David Muhlbaum: So it’s white-hot. I imagine that presents hazards of its own, particularly for people who want to get in now. Like the market broadly speaking has been hitting new highs this year and a lot of those gains are concentrated in green stocks.


Anne Kates Smith: They have been. So, for instance, when we wrote about green stocks in 2020, our theme was that these stocks are going mainstream, that they’re being picked up widely by investors. And, in fact, the six stocks that we recommended in that 2020 story are up about 80% on average, just looking at my list here. We had one stock, TPI Composites, that makes the blades for wind turbines. So it was up 176%. Our worst performer was Waste Management. And even that was up more than 8%. And just for comparison, the S&P over that time period was up about 27%. So, the stocks have done very well.


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