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Sustainability Index Drops Tesla, Prompting Insult from Musk

“You can’t have a racial equity lawsuit and be considered a top E.S.G. name,” she added.

Passive index funds, which collectively direct about a third of all the assets invested in the stock market, are required to match their portfolios to the index they track. Getting included in or removed from an index can impact a company’s stock price. General Electric’s shares, for instance, fell 3 percent shortly after it was announced in mid-2018 that the company, an original member of the Dow Jones industrial average, was being removed from that index.

But the drop in Tesla’s share price of more than 30 percent since the end of March was more likely the result of concern about Mr. Musk’s offer to buy Twitter and a broader shift in how investors view technology stocks.

S&P reported that there were $65 billion in assets invested in funds tied to the index at the end of December 2020, the most recently available figure. That’s far smaller than the $13 trillion that is in funds tied to the more widely followed S&P 500 index, of which Tesla remains a member. That $65 billion is also small compared to Tesla’s overall market value of nearly $750 billion. And only a portion of the holdings of those E.S.G. funds are in Tesla.

What’s more, of the $65 billion tied to the E.S.G. index, only $11 billion of that money is invested in passive index funds, which would be required to sell their Tesla stakes. The rest of the money is in funds that benchmark their performance against the S&P 500 E.S.G. index. Many of those funds are actively managed by portfolio managers. Those funds aren’t required to sell their Tesla holdings, but they might do so in order to not deviate too far from the index that they are compared to by investors.

“Tesla is just simply not an open-and-shut E.S.G. case,” said Jon Hale, who directs sustainability research at mutual fund tracking firm Morningstar. “While it’s clear the company’s product is beneficial to the environment, Tesla is now a big company and it also has an impact on employees and customers, and those issues concern E.S.G. investors.”

Several other prominent companies were also dropped from the index in April when S&P determined they no longer met the criteria for membership. They included Chevron, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and News Corp.

Even if ejections do not impact the value of a company’s shares, they could have an impact on a company’s actions. “Elon Musk and Tesla may be the exception,” Mr. Hale said. “But the flip side of that is very few companies want to be E.S.G. laggards in the current environment.”

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