Jean Boivin, Head of BlackRock Investment Institute, together with Brian Deese, Global Head of Sustainable Investing, Elga Bartsch, Head of Marco Research, and Andre Bertolotti, Head of Global Sustainable Research and Data, all part of the BlackRock Investment Institute, share their insights on global economy, markets and geopolitics. Their views are theirs alone and are not intended to be construed as investment advice.
We have pointed to a tectonic shift toward sustainability, and how the global pandemic has accelerated this process. This highlights the need for real resilience in portfolios to guard against risks ranging from vulnerable global supply chains to the intensifying effects of climate change. We see room for sustainable assets to outperform in the long transition to a low-carbon world.
Water stress – when demand for water exceeds supply – is an underappreciated risk that cuts across regions, asset classes and sectors. It is a component of growing climate-related risks such as hurricanes, wildfires and flooding, and threatens public health, production facilities and global supply chains. Large cities will need to strengthen their water infrastructure. Within a decade, much of the world will lie in regions of high water stress, projections by the World Resources Institute show. Northern Africa is one high-risk zone, as seen by the red tones in the chart above. The risks also have geopolitical dimensions, as highlighted by a recent spat over a large hydroelectric project in Ethiopia that neighbors Egypt and Sudan fear could reduce water availability. Combining climate modeling with the geolocation of physical assets can help investors get a better handle on the risks to companies and their human capital.
Companies in water-stressed locations may need to spend more to source water, to raise water efficiency and to meet more stringent environmental regulations. Regulators are zeroing in on water-related risks: A recent European Central Bank report included water stress among the physical climate risks it may require financial institutions to manage and disclose.
The causes of water stress are varied. Population growth and urbanization increase demand for water and strain resources. At the same time, climate change is shifting the distribution of water supply by disrupting precipitation patterns. The agricultural, textile, energy, industrials, chemicals, pharmaceutical and mining industries account for around 70% of freshwater usage globally, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s 2018 Global water report. The risks from water stress are most acute in water-intensive industries. In the agricultural sector, reduced water availability for irrigation can lower crop yields. In electric utilities, water is critical for cooling thermal power plants. In real estate, climate-related risks such as water stress could accelerate a tenant preference for “green” buildings. And the creditworthiness of some countries, states and municipalities facing water shortages could come under threat due to rising costs to fortify water resources.
We believe increased asset flows into sustainable investing strategies in 2020 are part of a tectonic shift that could last decades. A societal shift toward sustainability and growing awareness of related risks are behind these flows. Climate-related events such as extreme weather are already causing real financial damage, as we detailed in Getting physical in April 2019. We believe many of the risks are not yet priced in by financial markets. A strategic tilt toward assets that score highly on sustainability may mitigate the risks, helping provide real resilience in portfolios.
Bottom line: Companies resilient to water stress and other climate-related risks may fetch a premium in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Better understanding and quantifying the risks can help investors mitigate exposures and potentially exploit any mispricing. Investors today have more options than ever before to integrate sustainability into portfolios. This includes thematic investing that targets specific sustainability trends – and new benchmarks that offer broad market exposures while providing a tilt to sustainability.
Activity has started to normalize in both Europe and North Asia, albeit with localized lockdowns to contain virus clusters. The pandemic is still spreading in the U.S. and many emerging markets. The unprecedented policy response has boosted risk assets. Europe has agreed on a historic recovery fund, but U.S. stimulus is now at risk of fading. Wrangling over the size and makeup of a new U.S. fiscal package has started as key benefits are set to expire and states face huge budget shortfalls. We could see a $1-1.5 trillion fiscal package that extends some (but not all) federal stimulus measures through late-2020.
U.S. consumers confidence is in focus this week amid a sharp rise in virus infections across many states. The pandemic’s spread is starting to weigh on mobility – a key gauge of economic activity, as detailed in our Midyear Outlook – as more people practice social distancing. The number of airport travelers has started to fall again and restaurant bookings have been flat. GDP data this week will show how hard the virus hit the U.S. and euro area economies in the second quarter.
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