Graduation Year

2019

Date of Submission

12-2018

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Economics

Reader 1

Darren Filson

Rights Information

2019 Jack G Lori

Abstract

In my Senior Thesis, I explore the growth of socially responsible investing (SRI) practices in U.S. equity markets and abnormal sin stocks returns. I analyze the historical performance of socially responsible ETFs and portfolios of current sin stocks—alcohol, tobacco, gaming, and aerospace & defense stocks. I propose that as socially responsible investing practices continue to grow in U.S. equity markets, more industries will eventually be deemed sinful—such as sugary beverages, fast food/sugary food, biotech & pharmaceuticals, and tech/social media. I examine two sinful industries—alcohol and tobacco—by comparing the performance of these sinful portfolios before and after their industries were widely perceived as sinful.

I explored these topics for a few key reasons. First, socially responsible investing practices in U.S. equity markets have exploded in popularity over the last decade. Every year, we see increasing amounts of money screened for environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. Despite its increase in popularity, many people have claimed that socially responsible investing isn’t financially responsible investing—it underperforms as compared to common benchmarks such as the S&P 500. On the other hand, existing literature has supported the claim that investing in sin stocks generates abnormal returns for investors. I hypothesize that these two areas of portfolio management are connected—as socially responsible investing practices continue to grow, more industries will eventually be widely perceived as sinful. If the sin stock anomaly does exist and portfolios of sin stocks do generate abnormal returns, individuals and institutions can benefit from an immediate and long term investment strategy by investing in these “future” sinful industries now.

Using three distinct capital asset pricing models—the Fama-French 3 Factor Model, the Fama-French 3 Factor Model plus Momentum, and the Fama-French 5 Factor Model—I come to four main conclusions. First, investing in socially responsible ETFs does not generate positive abnormal returns; in some instances, it generates statistically significant negative abnormal returns. Second, across the Fama-French 3 Factor Model, the Fama-French 3 Factor Model plus Momentum, and the Fama-French 5 Factor Model, portfolios of sin stocks from 1977-2018 generate statistically significant positive abnormal returns. Third, during the same time horizon, portfolios of future sin stocks exhibit similar levels of abnormal returns, especially portfolios of biotech & pharmaceutical stocks and portfolios of tech/social media stocks. Finally, portfolios of alcohol and tobacco stocks generated statistically significant abnormal returns after being widely perceived as sinful as compared to before they were widely perceived as sinful.

My research has implications for practicing portfolio managers. First, socially responsible investing isn’t financially responsible investing. Second, portfolio managers should consider how the growth of socially responsible investing practices will impact perceptions of what is sinful. Anticipating which industries will become sinful can yield a profitable investment strategy. Third, I promote a profitable investment strategy in the short- and long-term time horizon. The results are clear: go long on sin and short on SRI.

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