Stock market says: CSR = $$

posted by Tara Knight

I feel one of the most pervasive characterizations of CSR is that companies experience a financial penalty as result of subscribing to or integrating CSR practices and policies into their business. Of course, the recent Wall Street Journal  “The Case Against CSR” op-ed is one example of the disconnect that many people have of the value of CSR to a profitable business (Boston College’s The Voice of Corporate Citizenship provides an excellent overview of some of the commentary.)

Making a business case for CSR within a company whose corporate culture believes that integrating CSR comes with a significant cost to the bottom line is a huge challenge.   Recently I have been circulating a couple studies with my colleagues that have been really helpful in reframing this “CSR costs money” debate.

An August 2010 working paper from Harvard Business School, The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Investment Recommendations delves into how sell-side analysts perceive CSR information, and how this information affects their recommendations. The researchers reviewed a large sample of US firms over 16 years, examining the ways corporate CSR activity is communicated to investors through analysts, and how it this affects public equity markets. Analysts’ recommendations can substantially affect stock prices and trade volume. The researchers found that firms with strong CSR strategies are perceived to be value-creating, especially over time, and this is reflected in analyst’s positive recommendations for these firms.

Another collaborative study, Does Corporate Social Responsibility Affect the Cost of Capital? from Principles for Responsible Investment, used a sample of 12,915 U.S. firms. This study found firms with a better CSR score had a lower cost of equity capital – even after controlling for firm-specific issues or type of industry. The study found that CSR investment particularly in improving responsible employee relations, environmental policies, and product strategies substantially contributed to reducing a firms’ cost of equity.

It’s clear that investors are looking for, and paying attention to CSR information. Investors with Bloomberg’s Professional market data service for example are able to access carbon disclosure information supplied to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) by the world’s largest firms.  Analysts and investors are certainly accessing information about CSR policies and practices, and considering this in their investment decisions. CSR may need investment, but whether environmental, social or governance related – smart companies are leveraging strong CSR  practice as a positive factor in improving their market valuation.

@TaraKnightHK

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