BOSTON - Apple Inc, criticised in the past for greenhouse gas emissions, use of toxic materials and the hiring of underage workers, has improved its practices and earned better scores from groups such as Greenpeace. That's good news for environmentally-aware mutual funds that hold Apple for another big reason - it makes money.
The Cupertino, California-based maker of the iPhone, the world's biggest public company by market capitalisation, has adopted a slew of green policies such as expanded product recycling and using solar power at its data centers. For managers who have made it a favourite of the largest "green" mutual funds tracked by Thomson Reuters' Lipper unit, the improvements bolster the appeal of a stock that's risen 15 per cent this year, 19th best among the Standard & Poor's 100 index.
The confluence of a rising price and improving environmental performance make Apple "the one stock you just can't ignore," said Anthony Tursich, senior portfolio manager of the $498 million Portfolio 21 Global Equity Fund, a green fund that bought Apple in 2011 after the company began providing more emissions data.
Tursich's biggest holding is Google Inc, which he bought only after it made progress on renewable energy, reflecting how top US corporations are embracing green goals, and how the funds jump on those firms once they start making those environmental moves.
Environmental fund managers may be broadening their shopping lists in part because they have more money to deploy: For the 12 months ended April 30 investors put US$1.9 billion of new money into the 72 funds tracked by Lipper that use environmental criteria in their investment decisions. That's still tiny relative to the US$247.6 billion that went into all US equity funds, but represents a 5 per cent inflow that Lipper research head Tom Roseen said was significant. The bulk of the new money, more than US$1 billion, went into the dominant US$9.5 billion Parnassus Core Equity Fund, Lipper said.
Apple is the top holding of the Parnassus fund, which bought most of the shares in 2013, the year the fund rose 34 per cent and beat 72 per cent of peers, according to Morningstar. Through June 13 the fund was up about 7 per cent in 2014, beating 87 per cent of peers.
Apple is also the top holding of the US$2.9 billion Calvert Equity Portfolio and the US$118 million Green Century Balanced Fund, and is the third-largest stock in the US$2 billion Pax World Balanced Fund, according to the funds' latest filings.
Fund managers cited a mix of reasons for warming up to Apple, including reforms pushed by Chief Executive Tim Cook and the stock's outlook. It is up 15 per cent in 2014 through Monday on enthusiasm for its iPhones and other pending products, as well as a stock split and a dividend increase.
Apple had taken hits from activist groups like Greenpeace, which in 2010 called it "very weak" on climate and emissions matters, and has faced scrutiny over the hiring of children at factories that make its products.