ESG did not immunize stocks during the COVID-19 crisis, but investments in intangible assets did

Elizabeth Demers*, Jurian Hendrikse, P.P.M. Joos, Baruch Lev

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

141 Citations (Scopus)


Environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) scores have been widely touted as indicators of share price resilience during the COVID‐19 crisis. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, we present robust evidence that once industry affiliation, market‐based measures of risk and accounting‐based measures of performance, financial position and intangibles investments have been controlled for, ESG offers no such positive explanatory power for returns during the COVID crisis. Specifically, ESG is insignificant in fully specified returns regressions for each of the Q1 2020 COVID market crisis period and for the full COVID year of 2020. By contrast, a measure of the firm's stock of investments in internally generated intangible assets is an economically and statistically significant positive determinant of returns during each of the Q1 market implosion and full 2020 COVID year periods. Our results are robust to alternative measures of returns, as well as for using Refinitiv, Refinitiv II and MSCI data to capture ESG performance. We conclude that ESG did not immunize stocks during the COVID‐19 crisis, but those investments in intangible assets did.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-462
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Business Finance & Accounting
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2021


  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • COVID-19
  • economic crisis
  • ESG
  • greenwashing
  • intangible assets
  • share price resilience


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