UNCW Develops Blue Economy Financial Index

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Dec 1, 2023
The UNCW Blue Economy Index plans to be made public in early 2024, said All Blue member Richard Keary. (File Photo)
Wilmington could soon be featured on stock exchanges around the world in a financial index developed at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

The UNC Wilmington Blue Economy Financial Index is in the early stages of production, expected to publish to a few hundred fiancial media outlets in early 2024. The Alliance for the Blue Economy and UNCW students collaborated on the project with the goal of measuring the health of the Blue Economy, or economic activity associated with the ocean.

Once the index is live on media outlets like Yahoo Finance and Bloomberg, investors will be able to view it and gauge the overall health of the Blue Economy. The index is comprised of publicly traded companies within the Blue Economy. While no local companies will be included in the index, the hope is for Wilmington to be associated with the Blue Economy and put on the map as a Blue Economy hub, said Richard Keary, a long-time financial consultant and member of All Blue.

UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship took an  interest in bolstering the Blue Economy years ago, the CIE’s Director, Heather McWhorter said. Events like All Blue 201, its event on Dec. 5, will teach community members about the Blue Economy. Keary and UNCW students will present about the Blue Economy Index at the sold-out event.

Keary founded Global ETF (exchange-traded fund) Advisors in 2009 after a career in the finance industry focusing on ETFs, a type of index fund. When Keary moved to Wilmington three years ago, he began volunteering at the CIE and joined All Blue.

When he discovered the CIE didn’t have a measuring tool for the success of the Blue Economy, Keary offered to develop a financial index. Since Keary's offer, the process has been a collaborative effort between Keary, the CIE and UNCW’s Cameron School of Business, Keary said.

Miran Hossain, an assistant professor of economics and finance at UNCW, teaches a finance-major elective in which students research the Blue Economy and will eventually be involved in maintaining the index. Once the index is launched, students will monitor the index, help market the index to investors and calculate performance measurements, Hossain said. 

This semester is the course's inaugural class, but the course will remain in the business school so students can work on the index after it launches. Hossain said he will continue to instruct the class and maintain the index.

“The key challenge in this index construction is how to define a company as a Blue Economy company,” Hossain said. “The revenue construction of the companies is available on the database called FactSet.”

FactSet is a digital financial data and analytics company that can help those creating the Blue Economy Index determine what companies should be included based on the amount of revenue deriving from the oceans, Hossain said.

Eventually, the thousands of global Blue Economy companies will most likely be narrowed down to the low hundreds to be included, Hossain said, indicating the top 100 or 300 companies in the Blue Economy.

UNCW has not licensed the index yet; the next step to licensing would be hiring a financial agent to adjust the index as the stock market changes. A contract with an agent is being drafted and signed now, to be finalized by the start of next week, Keary said. After an agent is signed on, UNCW will work to license the index so it can be invested in on global stock exchanges. 

“We put a ton of work into this,” McWhorter said. “It provides really good thought leadership for Wilmington and UNCW with this huge global economy.”

Keary said he hopes the index will draw attention to the Blue Economy, but also inspire people to innovate within the Blue Economy. And he wants those innovations to start in Wilmington.

“Why we're talking about this and why we want to bring people to Washington to work on these things is it's our livelihood here,” he said. “The ocean is what makes Wilmington.”
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