Monday, September 09, 2013

Can Responsible Investing Go Mainstream?

The Washington Post and The New York Times approached "responsible" investing from opposite directions the other day.

Businesses’ focus on maximizing shareholder value has numerous costs. The Post's Steven Pearlstein sees socially responsible investing as a possible antidote for Wall Street's destructive short-term focus:
[C]orporate time horizons have become shorter and shorter. The average holding periods for corporate stocks, which for decades was six years, is now down to less than six months. The average tenure of a public company chief executive is down to less than four years. And the willingness of executives to sacrifice short-term profits to make long-term investments is rapidly disappearing.
But socially responsible investing can't gain real clout, Pearlstein observes, unless it sheds its liberal-to-the-point-of-naivetĂ© image. Perhaps that's already happening.

In Seeking Investments That Are Profitable and a Little Bit Green, the Times' Paul Sullivan reports that the responsible investing movement is becoming less single-minded, more pragmatic. Today's responsible investor, seeking well-run businesses that focus on the long term, might even buy shares in (avert your eyes, campus activists!) an oil company.

Will the pragmatic approach to socially responsible investing continue to gain traction? Will there continue to be a gender gap, or could more men learn to be thoughtful, long-term investors?

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