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12% Decline in Number of S&P 500 Companies Citing “ESG” on Earnings Calls in Q3 vs. Q2

Earnings

By John Butters  |  December 7, 2021

During each corporate earnings season, it is not unusual for companies to comment on their ongoing corporate goals and initiatives. Given the growing focus on environmental, social, and governance factors by investors, did companies in the S&P 500 comment on these factors during their earnings conference calls for the third quarter?

How Many S&P 500 Companies Commented on “ESG” on Q3 Earnings Calls?

FactSet Document Search (which allows users to search for key words or phrases across multiple document types) was used to answer this question. Through Document Search, FactSet searched for the term “ESG” in the conference call transcripts of all the S&P 500 companies that conducted earnings conference calls from September 15 through December 1.

number-sp500-companies-citing-esg-earnings-calls

Of these companies, 134 cited the term “ESG” (in reference to environmental, social, and governance factors) during their earnings calls. This number marks the third-highest overall number of S&P 500 companies citing “ESG” on earnings calls going back at least 10 years. At the sector level, the Financials (25) and Industrials (25) sectors have the highest number of S&P 500 companies citing “ESG” on earnings calls for Q3. However, the Energy (52%) and Utilities (46%) sectors have the highest percentages of companies that have cited “ESG” on their Q3 earnings calls during this period.

number-sp500-companies-citing-esg-earnings-calls-q321-vs-q221

percent-sp500-companies-citing-esg-earnings-calls-q321

On a quarter-over-quarter basis, there was a 12% decline (134 vs. 152) in the overall number of S&P 500 companies citing “ESG” on earnings calls in Q3 2021 relative to Q2 2021. At the sector level, six of the 11 sectors recorded a decrease in the number of companies citing “ESG” on a quarter-over-quarter basis, led by the Consumer Staples (-6), Real Estate (-5), and Industrials (-4) sectors.

What Drove the Decrease in Citations for “ESG” During Earnings Calls in Q3 Relative to Q2?

During the third-quarter earnings season, a record-high number of S&P 500 companies discussed “inflation” and “supply chain” on earnings calls for the third quarter. As a result, some companies may have placed a higher priority on discussing the impact of inflation and supply chains rather than ESG initiatives on their earnings calls for Q3, which potentially could have contributed to the sequential decrease. As noted above, the Consumer Staples and Industrials are two of the three sectors that saw the largest declines on a sequential basis. The Industrials sector had the highest number of companies citing “inflation” and “supply chain” on Q3 earnings calls, while the Consumer Staples sector had the highest percentage of companies citing “inflation” and “supply chain” on Q3 earnings calls.

Again, it should be noted that although there was a sequential decline in the number of S&P 500 companies citing “ESG” on earnings calls in Q3 2021 relative to Q2 2021, there was still a substantial year-over-year increase (81%) in the number of S&P 500 companies citing “ESG” on earnings calls in Q3 2021 relative to Q3 2020.

Citations of "ESG" vs. ESG Ratings

It is also interesting to note that S&P 500 companies that cited “ESG” on their earnings calls for Q3 have higher ESG ratings on average relative to S&P 500 companies that did not cite “ESG” on their earnings calls for Q3.

Using Truvalue Labs SASB scores (which are derived from a natural language analysis of a range of data sources regarding company performance and sorted into 26 ESG categories defined by SASB) for each S&P 500 company, FactSet calculated an average Insight score (which measures a company’s longer term ESG track record) and an average Momentum score (which measures the trend of a company’s performance over a trailing 12-month period) for these two groups of companies. The companies that cited “ESG” on their Q3 earnings calls have a higher average Insight score (57.1 vs. 54.7) and a higher average Momentum score (60.3 vs. 54.5) than the companies that did not cite “ESG” on their Q3 earnings calls. These companies also had higher median Insight and Momentum scores as well.

sp500-average-esg-ratings

Thus, it would appear that companies that are making more progress on their ESG initiatives and scoring higher on ESG ratings may be more prone to discuss their ESG initiatives and their progress during their earnings calls. FactSet will continue to monitor the ESG scores of these two groups of companies going forward to see if these higher scores are consistent over time.

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The information contained in this article is not investment advice. FactSet does not endorse or recommend any investments and assumes no liability for any consequence relating directly or indirectly to any action or inaction taken based on the information contained in this article.

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John Butters

Vice President, Senior Earnings Analyst

Mr. John Butters is Vice President and Senior Earnings Analyst at FactSet. His weekly research report, “Earnings Insight,” provides analysis and commentary on trends in corporate earnings data for the S&P 500 including revisions to estimates, year-over-year growth, performance relative to expectations, and valuations. He is a widely used source for the media and has appeared on CNBC, Fox Business News, and the Business News Network. In addition, he has been cited by numerous print and online publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The New York Times, MarketWatch, and Yahoo! Finance. Mr. Butters has over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry. Prior to FactSet in January 2011, he worked for more than 10 years at Thomson Reuters (Thomson Financial), most recently as Director of U.S. Earnings Research (2007-2010).

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