How (not) to deal with missing data: An economist’s take on a controversial study

Link: https://retractionwatch.com/2024/02/21/how-not-to-deal-with-missing-data-an-economists-take-on-a-controversial-study/

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Excerpt:

I was reminded of this student’s clever ploy when Frederik Joelving, a journalist with Retraction Watch, recently contacted me about a published paper written by two prominent economists, Almas Heshmati and Mike Tsionas, on green innovations in 27 countries during the years 1990 through 2018. Joelving had been contacted by a PhD student who had been working with the same data used by Heshmati and Tsionas. The student knew the data in the article had large gaps and was “dumbstruck” by the paper’s assertion these data came from a “balanced panel.” Panel data are cross-sectional data for, say, individuals, businesses, or countries at different points in time. A “balanced panel” has complete cross-section data at every point in time; an unbalanced panel has missing observations. This student knew firsthand there were lots of missing observations in these data.

The student contacted Heshmati and eventually obtained spreadsheets of the data he had used in the paper. Heshmati acknowledged that, although he and his coauthor had not mentioned this fact in the paper, the data had gaps. He revealed in an email that these gaps had been filled by using Excel’s autofill function: “We used (forward and) backward trend imputations to replace the few missing unit values….using 2, 3, or 4 observed units before or after the missing units.”  

That statement is striking for two reasons. First, far from being a “few” missing values, nearly 2,000 observations for the 19 variables that appear in their paper are missing (13% of the data set). Second, the flexibility of using two, three, or four adjacent values is concerning. Joelving played around with Excel’s autofill function and found that changing the number of adjacent units had a large effect on the estimates of missing values.

Joelving also found that Excel’s autofill function sometimes generated negative values, which were, in theory, impossible for some data. For example, Korea is missing R&Dinv (green R&D investments) data for 1990-1998. Heshmati and Tsionas used Excel’s autofill with three years of data (1999, 2000, and 2001) to create data for the nine missing years. The imputed values for 1990-1996 were negative, so the authors set these equal to the positive 1997 value.

Author(s): Gary Smith

Publication Date: 21 Feb 2024

Publication Site: Retraction Watch

Exclusive: Elsevier to retract paper by economist who failed to disclose data tinkering

Link: https://retractionwatch.com/2024/02/22/exclusive-elsevier-to-retract-paper-by-economist-who-failed-to-disclose-data-tinkering/

Excerpt:

A paper on green innovation that drew sharp rebuke for using questionable and undisclosed methods to replace missing data will be retracted, its publisher told Retraction Watch.

Previous work by one of the authors, a professor of economics in Sweden, is also facing scrutiny, according to another publisher. 

As we reported earlier this month, Almas Heshmati of Jönköping University mended a dataset full of gaps by liberally applying Excel’s autofill function and copying data between countries – operations other experts described as “horrendous” and “beyond concern.”

Heshmati and his coauthor, Mike Tsionas, a professor of economics at Lancaster University in the UK who died recently, made no mention of missing data or how they dealt with them in their 2023 article, “Green innovations and patents in OECD countries.” Instead, the paper gave the impression of a complete dataset. One economist argued in a guest post on our site that there was “no justification” for such lack of disclosure.

Elsevier, in whose Journal of Cleaner Production the study appeared, moved quickly on the new information. A spokesperson for the publisher told us yesterday: “We have investigated the paper and can confirm that it will be retracted.”

Author(s): Frederik Joelving

Publication Date: 22 Feb 2024

Publication Site: Retraction Watch

NY Common Retirement Fund Announces New Measures to Protect State Pension Fund From Climate Risk and Invest in Climate Solutions

Link: https://www.osc.ny.gov/press/releases/2024/02/ny-common-retirement-fund-announces-new-measures-protect-state-pension-fund-climate-risk-and-invest

Excerpt:

The New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) will restrict its investments in eight integrated oil and gas companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., after a review of the companies’ readiness to transition to a low-carbon economy, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the Fund, announced today.

The evaluation of the Fund’s integrated oil and gas holdings is part of DiNapoli’s broader review of the transition readiness of energy sector investments that face significant climate risk. With today’s announcement, the Fund will be divesting its corporate bonds and actively managed public equity holdings in eight integrated oil and gas companies that it has determined are not transition-ready. In addition to Exxon, the companies to be divested and restricted in the coming months are Guanghui Energy Company Ltd., Echo Energy PLC, IOG PLC, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd, Delek Group Ltd., Dana Gas Co and Unit Corp. The value of these holdings is approximately $26.8 million as of Dec. 31, 2023.

DiNapoli also announced the Fund has met its initial goal of committing $20 billion to the Sustainable Investments and Climate Solutions program, and has set a new goal of investing $40 billion in that program by 2035. With the program, the Fund invests in sustainable investments including clean energy generation, energy storage, resource efficiency, and green infrastructure across all asset classes. As part of the expansion of this program, DiNapoli also announced the Fund would increase its climate index investments by 50% to over $10 billion over the next two years, with the longer-term goal of doubling it by 2035.

Publication Date: 15 Feb 2024

Publication Site: Office of the Comptroller of NY State

‘Too few’ public pension funds address climate in proxy voting — report

Link: https://www.pionline.com/esg/too-few-public-pension-funds-address-climate-proxy-voting-report?utm_source=PIDailyWrap&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20240123

Excerpt:

“Too few” public pension funds are addressing climate-related financial risk when it comes to proxy voting, according to a report released Jan. 23 by nonprofit organizations Sierra Club, Stand.earth and Stop the Money Pipeline.

The report, “The Hidden Risk in State Pensions: Analyzing State Pensions’ Responses to the Climate Crisis in Proxy Voting,” looked at 24 public pension funds with a collective $2 trillion in assets, including the $241.7 billion New York City Retirement Systems and state pension funds in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

The pension funds were graded on their proxy-voting guidelines, proxy-voting records, and data transparency.

On proxy-voting guidelines, no pension system received an A grade, but three of the five New York City pension funds covering city employees, the Board of Education and teachers, earned a B for addressing systemic risk and climate resolutions. Half of the 24 pension funds studied earned an F.

….

“The findings of this analysis are clear: Far too few state pensions are taking adequate steps to address climate-related financial risks and protect their members’ hard-earned savings, raising serious concerns about their execution of fiduciary duty,” the report’s executive summary said.

….

Amy Gray, associate director of climate finance for Stand.earth, said it is disappointing to see many funds not using proxy-voting strategies to address the financial risks of climate change. “This report is a stark reminder that pension funds can — and must — do so much more to wield their massive investor power,” Gray said in the news release.

Author(s): Hazel Bradford

Publication Date: 23 Jan 2024

Publication Site: P&I

The Hidden Risk in State Pensions: Analyzing State Pensions’ Responses to the Climate Crisis in Proxy Voting

Link: https://stand.earth/resources/the-hidden-risk-in-state-pensions-analyzing-state-pensions-responses-to-the-climate-crisis-in-proxy-voting/

Report PDF: https://stand.earth/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/The-Hidden-Risk-in-State-Pensions-Report.pdf

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Excerpt:

A first-of-its-kind report, the Hidden Risk analyzes the proxy voting records and proxy voting guidelines of the 19 public pensions that are in states where a state financial officer has indicated it is a priority issue both to advocate for more sustainable, just, and inclusive firms and markets , and to protect against climate risk.

Ahead of the 2024 shareholder season, a first-of-its-kind report The Hidden Risk in State Pensions: Analyzing State Pensions’ Responses to the Climate Crisis in Proxy Voting,” from Stand.earth, Sierra Club and Stop the Money Pipeline, analyzes proxy voting records, proxy guidelines, and voting transparency of 24 public pension funds in the USA collectively representing over $2 trillion in assets under management (AUM).

These pensions are based in states where a state financial officer is a member of For the Long Term, a network that advocates for more sustainable, just, and inclusive firms and markets and strives to protect markets against climate risk.

The pensions analyzed include the pension systems of New York City and the states of CaliforniaColoradoConnecticutDelawareIllinoisMaineMarylandMassachusettsMinnesotaNevadaNew MexicoOregonRhode IslandVermontWashington, and Wisconsin.

Author(s):

Stand.earth
Sierra Club
Stop The Money Pipeline

Publication Date: 23 Jan 2024

Publication Site: Stand.earth

Climate risk vs. interest-rate risk

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2024-01-18/coinbase-trades-beanie-babies

Excerpt:

An important meta-story that you could tell about financial markets over the past few years would be that, for a long time, interest rates were roughly zero, which means that discount rates were low: A dollar in the distant future was worth about as much as a dollar today. Therefore, investors ascribed a lot of value to very long-term stuff, and were not particularly concerned about short-term profitability. Low discount rates made speculative distant-future profits worth more and steady current profits worth less.

And then interest rates went up rapidly starting in 2022, and everyone’s priorities shifted. A dollar today is now worth a lot more than a dollar in 10 years. People prioritize profits today over speculation in the future.

This is a popular story to tell about the boom in, for instance, tech startups, or crypto: “Startups are a low-interest-rate phenomenon.” In 2020, people had a lot of money and a lot of patience, so they were willing to invest in speculative possibly-world-changing ideas that would take a long time to pay out. (Or to fund startups that lost money on every transaction in the long-term pursuit of market share.) In 2022, the Fed raised rates, people’s preferences changed, and the startup and crypto bubbles popped. 

I suppose, though, that you could tell a similar story about environmental investing? Climate change is, plausibly, a very large and very long-term threat to a lot of businesses. If you just go around doing everything normally this year, probably rising oceans won’t wash away your factories this year. But maybe they will in 2040. Maybe you should invest today in making your factories ocean-proof, or in cutting carbon emissions so the oceans don’t rise: That will cost you some money today, but will save you some money in 2040. Is it worth it? Well, depends on the discount rate. If rates are low, you will care more about 2040. If rates are high, you will care more about saving money today.

We have talked a few times about the argument that some kinds of environmental investing — the kind where you avoid investing in “dirty” companies, to starve them of capital and reduce the amount of dirty stuff they do — can be counterproductive, because it has the effect of raising those companies’ discount rates and thus making them even more short-term-focused. And being short-term-focused probably leads to more carbon emissions. (If you make it harder for coal companies to raise capital, maybe nobody will start a coal company, but existing coal companies will dig up more coal faster.)

But that argument applies more broadly. If you raise every company’s discount rate (because interest rates go up), then every company should be more short-term-focused. Every company should care a bit less about global temperatures in 2040, and a bit more about maximizing profits now. Maybe ESG was itself a low-interest-rates phenomenon.

Anyway here’s a Financial Times story about BlackRock Inc.:

BlackRock will stress “financial resilience” in its talks with companies this year as the $10tn asset manager puts less emphasis on climate concerns amid a political backlash to environmental, social and governance investing.

With artificial intelligence and high interest rates rattling companies globally, BlackRock wants to know how they are managing these risks to ensure they deliver long-term financial returns, the asset manager said on Thursday as it detailed its engagement priorities for 2024.

BlackRock reviews these priorities annually as it talks with thousands of companies before their annual meetings on issues ranging from how much their executives are paid to how effective their board directors are.

“The macroeconomic and geopolitical backdrop companies are operating in has changed. This new economic regime is shaped by powerful structural forces that we believe may drive divergent performance across economies, sectors and companies,” BlackRock said in its annual report on its engagement priorities. “We are particularly interested in learning from investee companies about how they are adapting to strengthen their financial resilience.”

There is a lot going on here, and it is reasonable to wonder— as the FT does — whether BlackRock’s shift from environmental concerns to high interest rates is about the political and marketing backlash to ESG. But you could take it on its own terms! In 2020, interest rates were zero, and BlackRock’s focus was on the long term. What was the biggest long-term risk to its portfolio? Arguably, climate change. So it went around talking to companies about climate change. In 2024, interest rates are high, and the short term matters more, so BlackRock is going around talking to companies about interest-rate risk.

I don’t know how AI fits into this model. For most of my life, “ooh artificial intelligence will change everything” has been a pretty long-term — like, science-fiction long-term — thing to think about. But I suppose now “how will you integrate large-language-model chatbots into your workflows” is an immediate question.

Author(s): Matt Levine

Publication Date: 18 Jan 2024

Publication Site: Bloomberg

ESG Crime

Link:https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2024-01-17/making-esg-a-crime

Excerpt:

Oh sure whatever:

Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire are seeking to make using ESG criteria in state funds a crime in the latest attack on the beleaguered investing strategy.

Representatives led by Mike Belcher introduced a bill that would prohibit the state’s treasury, pension fund and executive branch from using investments that consider environmental, social and governance factors. “Knowingly” violating the law would be a felony punishable by not less than one year and no more than 20 years imprisonment, according to the proposal.

Pensions & Investments reports:

“Executive branch agencies that are permitted to invest funds shall review their investments and pursue any necessary steps to ensure that no funds or state-controlled investments are invested with firms that invest New Hampshire funds in accounts with any regard whatsoever based on environmental, social, and governance criteria,” the bill said.

The New Hampshire Retirement System “shall adhere to their fiduciary obligation and not invest with any firm that will invest state retirement system funds in investment funds that consider environmental, social, and governance criteria, as the investment goal should be to obtain the highest return on investment for New Hampshire’s taxpayers and retirees,” the bill said.

Investors aren’t allowed to consider governance! Imagine if this was the law; imagine if it was a felony for an investment manager to consider governance “with any regard whatsoever.”

….

I’m sorry, this is so stupid. “ESG” is essentially about considering certain risks to a company’s financial results: You might want to avoid investing in a company if its factories are going to be washed away by rising oceans, or if its main product is going to be regulated out of existence, or if its position on controversial social issues will cost it sales, or if its CEO controls the board and spends too much corporate money on wasteful personal projects. Obviously ESG in practice is also other, more controversial things:

  1. If you care about the environment, social issues, etc., you might want to invest in companies that you think are environmentally or socially good, whether or not they are good financial investments.
  2. You might incorrectly convince yourself that the stuff you think is environmentally or socially good is also good for the bottom line: You might have a wishful estimate of how quickly the world will transition away from fossil fuels, to justify your desire not to invest in oil companies. You might tell yourself “this company’s stance on social issues will cost it lots of customers” when really the customers don’t care, but you do.

But if you make it a crime for investors to consider certain financial risks then you get too much of those risks.

In particular, I suspect, you get too much governance risk. If every investor tomorrow said “okay we don’t care about the environment,” most companies probably wouldn’t ramp up their pollution: Their executives probably don’t want to pollute unnecessarily, polluting probably wouldn’t help the bottom line, and many companies just sit at computers developing software and couldn’t pollute much if they wanted to. But if every investor tomorrow said “okay we don’t care about governance,” then, I mean, “governance” is just a way of saying “somebody makes sure that the CEO is doing a good job and doesn’t pay herself too much.” If the investors don’t care about that, then a lot of CEOs will be happy to give themselves raises and spend more time on the corporate jet to their vacation homes.

Author(s): Matt Levine

Publication Date: 17 Jan 2024

Publication Site: Bloomberg

As ESG Investments Soften and Pressure Grows on Allegedly ‘Woke’ Finance Giants, Conservative Investment Firms Scour for Missed Opportunities

Link: https://www.nysun.com/article/as-esg-investments-soften-and-pressure-grows-on-allegedly-woke-finance-giants-conservative-investment-firms-scour-for-missed-opportunities

Excerpt:

In May, the United Kingdom’s version of the Securities and Exchange Commission will begin enforcing its pledge to crack down on so-called greenwashing by companies wishing to trade on the label of being green-friendly.  

The Financial Conduct Authority’s rules, announced in late November, come as U.S. traders await stronger regulations from the SEC. That body moved in September to curb misleading marketing practices by requiring 80 percent of funds that claim to be “sustainable,” “green,” or “socially responsible” to actually be so. 

The sustainability disclosure requirements are now deemed a necessity after regulators found “environmental, social, and corporate governance” analysts at Goldman Sachs and Germany’s DWS Group were promoting investments that were not as ESG-friendly as they claimed. 

“The portfolio managers weren’t necessarily doing all of the work that they said they were doing,” the associate director of sustainability research for Morningstar Research Services LLC, Alyssa Stankiewicz, said. “They didn’t have documentation or data maybe related to the ESG-ness of these investments.”

At the same time as ESG-friendly firms are facing accusations of insincerity, they’re also coming under pressure from state pension funds in states with Republican-controlled governments that don’t want their employees’ retirement funds affected by what they view as politicized, left-leaning investing strategies.

Author(s): SHARON KEHNEMUI

Publication Date: 16 Jan 2024

Publication Site: NY Sun

US Senate committee investigating Citizens Insurance over inability to cover losses

Link: https://nbc-2.com/news/state/2023/12/01/us-senate-committee-investigating-citizens-insurance-over-inability-to-cover-losses/

Excerpt:

The federal government has launched an investigation into Florida’s largest home insurance company.

Citizens Insurance, the governor, and other state leaders received a letter informing them that a Senate budget committee is looking into the state-run company.

Here’s why a Senate budget committee is looking into the company.

Citizens insure $586 billion worth of property, and they have just over $15 billion in their reserves to pay out on claims. If a major hurricane hit the state, they could be short over $571 billion, leaving everyone in the state on the hook to pay the shortfall.

The letter from the Senate committee investigating the state backed company expresses concern it may be unable to cover its losses. A claim the governor confirmed while visiting Fort Myers last year.

….

Mark Friedlander with the Insurance Information Institute said a private insurer would not be allowed to operate in the State of Florida with those financial dynamics.

Seven private companies went insolvent in the last year and a half in Florida.

“Citizens, unlike a private insurer, could never go insolvent,” Friedlander noted.

That’s because the state could initiate a hurricane tax to cover its costs which would require everyone who owns property or a car to pay a hurricane tax.

Author(s): Dave Elias

Publication Date: 4 Dec 2023

Publication Site: NBC 2, Florida Weekly

Letter to Citizens Property Insurance Corporation from Senate Committee on the Budget

Link: https://www.budget.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/letter_to_citizens.pdf

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Excerpt:

As of 2022, Citizens’ market share for homeowners multi-peril policies was approaching 20 percent, having more than doubled since 2020. As private insurers in Florida continue to go insolvent or exit the state, Citizens’ market share will likely continue to grow. At 20 percent market share, Citizens’ losses could be as high as $36 billion in the scenario studied by Swiss Re or $162 billion in the scenario studied by Cambridge and Munich Re (assuming that 60 percent of total losses are insured). If Citizens had to raise $162 billion to cover losses, that would result in an approximately $20,000 assessment for every homeowners insurance policyholder in Florida.

….

To that end, please respond to the following requests for information and documents by December 21, 2023:

1. What modeling or other analysis has Citizens done to estimate its total potential exposure to various worst case hurricane scenarios? What is the upper range of Citizens’ potential losses? Please provide all documents and communication relating to modeling, analysis, and estimates of Citizens’ potential losses.

2. What modeling or other analysis has Citizens done to estimate its market share over the next decade? What does Citizens project its market share to be in each of the next 10 years? Please provide all documents and communication relating to modeling, analysis, and estimates of Citizens’ future market share.

3. What modeling or other analysis has Citizens done to determine its ability to fully pay out claims resulting from various loss scenarios? Please provide all documents and communication relating to modeling, analysis, and estimates of Citizens’ financial position and (in)solvency under such scenarios.

4. What are Citizens’ current assets? What is Citizens’ total reinsurance coverage? What are the maximum total claims Citizens would be able to pay out without having to levy an assessment on Florida policyholders? Please provide all documents and communication relating to modeling, analysis, and estimates of Citizens’ current assets, reinsurance, and ability to pay claims.

5. What communications has Citizens had with Governor DeSantis, Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworsky, their staffs, or any other state officials regarding Citizens’ current or future solvency? Please provide copies of these communications.

6. What communications has Citizens had with Governor DeSantis, Insurance Commissioner Yaworsky, their staffs, or any other state officials regarding what Citizens and/or the State would do if Citizens were unable to cover its losses? Please provide copies of these communications.

7. Has Citizens contemplated asking for a federal bailout if it were unable to cover its losses? Has Citizens discussed the possibility of a federal bailout with Governor DeSantis, Insurance Commissioner Yaworsky, their staffs, or any other state officials? Please provide copies of these communications.

Author(s): Sheldon Whitehouse

Publication Date: 30 Nov 2023

Publication Site: Senate website

It’s Easy To Make Oil Companies ESG

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2023-07-12/it-s-easy-to-make-oil-companies-esg#xj4y7vzkg

Excerpt:

You can do this with anything! Absolutely anything:

  • Horrible Coal Inc. wants to raise money.
  • It sets up a special purpose vehicle, Hypertechnical Investments Ltd.
  • Horrible Coal issues bonds to Hypertechnical Investments.
  • Hypertechnical issues its own bonds to ESG funds: “We are just a little old investment firm, just two traders and two computers, no carbon emissions here! And our credit is very good, because we have no other liabilities and our assets are all investment-grade bonds. ‘Which investment-grade bonds,’ did you ask? Sorry, I’m not sure I heard you right, you’re breaking up. Anyway we’ll look for your check, bye!”

Though my made-up names are silly, and in the actual Aramco case one of the not-an-oil-company SPVs is named “GreenSaif Pipelines Bidco.” “Pipelines” is right in the name! The only way you would think that GreenSaif Pipelines Bidco “had no direct links to the fossil-fuel industry” is if (1) you started reading the name but stopped after you got to the “Green” part (plausible!) or (2) you never read the name at all, never thought about it, just looked at the balance sheet and saw only shares of stock, not pipelines or oil wells, and said “ah, stock, well, that’s green enough.”

Author(s): Matt Levine

Publication Date: 12 July 2023

Publication Site: Money Stuff at Bloomberg

Data Vis Dispatch, July 11

Link: https://blog.datawrapper.de/data-vis-dispatch-july-11-2023/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Welcome back to the 101st edition of Data Vis Dispatch! Every week, we’ll be publishing a collection of the best small and large data visualizations we find, especially from news organizations — to celebrate data journalism, data visualization, simple charts, elaborate maps, and their creators.

Recurring topics this week include pollution, transportation, and high temperatures. Plus: an opportunity to work on the Dispatch yourself as our Werkstudent*in.

Author(s): Rose Mintzer-Sweeney

Publication Date: 11 July 2023

Publication Site: Datawrapper