SRI on the Fourth of July

Whether by luck or grace, depending on your viewpoint, I was a healthy baby born on the Fourth of July – so to me it’s not only a special day for the country. On most July 4th weekends in my life I have been proud to be a citizen of the USA. 

Not so much this year. Since that fateful election back in November, I’ve felt mostly embarrassed for my country or, to be clear, for my country’s leadership. As David Remnick remarks in a current article for The New Yorker magazine, “Every day, Trump wakes up and erodes the dignity of the Presidency a little more. He tells a lie. He tells another……He trolls the press, bellowing ‘enemy of the people’ and ‘fake news.’” And on and on. It remains hard for me to believe that such a person has become, and is, President of the United States.

Friends and clients have been concerned about their investments. When, they ask, will the fiasco that is the Trump Administration ruin our business environment in the same way it has unhinged our politics and our public discourse? When will the markets discern that Trump’s policies, assuming he can accomplish anything concrete at all, will in fact be damaging to American workers and to the overall economy?

Yet the markets continue to rise. The second quarter numbers are in. U.S. markets turned in their third-best first half of the year since 2000. The broadest index of U.S. stocks, the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index, was up 8.73% in the first half. The Wilshire U.S. Large Cap Index was up 9.27% - the Russell Midcap Index 7.99%. Even international stocks, having lagged U.S. stocks for most of the post-2009 upturn, have joined the party. The EAFE Index of European and Far East stocks was up 11.83% in the first half. Although U.S. economic growth appears to be slowing down of late, there is no indication yet that a recession is imminent.

Market-wise, it appears the fireworks are appropriate. SRI investors, however, think about market returns from a different perspective. Surging market returns reflect a growing economy, but in an era of irresponsible leadership what might that indicate? Could it be the growing economy this market is contemplating might also be an unsustainable one? Capitalism can work that way. The triumph of business without responsible regulation and oversight, and the emotional bull markets that often accompany it, can blow up. Bubbles burst. Memories of 2008-09 fade fast.

Should SRI investors, therefore, be running for cover? Having counseled my clients for years to maintain their investment plans and to ride out unpredictable but inevitable market downturns to obtain longer-term profits, I’d be disingenuous if I said yes. Smart investors never react in fear.

There is a bigger and better reason to stay the course, however. SRI investors, at least the ones I’ve met, are generally hopeful and intelligent people. Hopeful and intelligent people know the only successful global economy in the long term will be a more just and sustainable economy. If that is the future economy SRI investors are intelligently investing in, and helping bring about, they are bound to be winners.

SRI on the Fourth of July? It’s more important, and a better strategy, than ever.