Governor Moves to Bar Florida SBA From ESG Investing

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/governor-moves-to-bar-florida-sba-from-esg-investing/

Excerpt:

The latest anti-ESG onslaught from Republican state officials is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign to forbid the Florida State Board of Administration from adopting environmental, social and governance investing tenets. At the moment, SBA doesn’t appear to be a devotee of ESG.

The governor, an outspoken conservative, plans to propose at an SBA meeting on August 15 that the body’s fiduciary duties must exclude ESG. “From Wall Street banks to massive asset managers and big tech companies, we have seen the corporate elite use their economic power to impose policies on the country that they could not achieve at the ballot box,” DeSantis said in a statement.

DeSantis, a possible GOP presidential contender in 2024, declared that “we are protecting Floridians from woke capital and asserting the authority of our constitutional system over ideological corporate power.” He also plans to push through legislation banning the SBA from making ESG-themed investments and requiring them to focus on maximizing returns.

Author(s): Larry Light

Publication Date: 5 Aug 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Biden’s ESG Tax on Your Retirement Fund

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/bidens-esg-tax-on-your-retirement-fund-pension-planning-regulation-climate-change-investment-returns-portfolios-11658245467?st=4e8f8bvbqr4vurf&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink

Excerpt:

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote in 2020 that “sustainable investing is the strongest foundation for client portfolios.” Al Gore said in 2021 that “you don’t have to trade values for value. Green can enhance returns.” These claims haven’t aged well: ESG (environmental, social and governance) funds have trailed the market since the beginning of the year and are badly underperforming the sectors they shun, including oil, gas and coal.

That may spur retirement fund managers to reconsider their commitments to ESG funds. But new ESG-favoring regulations may come to the rescue. Last year the U.S. Labor Department proposed a regulation that would tell retirement-fund managers to consider ESG factors such as “climate change” and “collateral benefits other than investment returns” when investing employees’ money.

This would encourage America’s perpetually underfunded pension plans to invest in politically correct but unproven ESG strategies. It would also violate retirees’ basic right to have their money invested solely to advance their financial interests.

….

The new regulation may also expose fiduciaries who don’t consider ESG factors to lawsuits. Already, activist shareholders are pursuing litigation against public companies that don’t take ESG-approved steps. NortonLifeLock was sued for allegedly breaching its fiduciary duties by telling investors it was committed to “diversity” when it had no racial minorities on its board. Exxon was sued for allegedly misleading investors by failing to disclose the likely effect of climate change on its bottom line. To date, courts have generally found that no reasonable investor would make investment decisions based on board diversity or, as one judge put it, “speculative assumptions of costs that may be incurred 20+ or 30+ years in the future.”

Author(s): Vivek Ramaswamy and Alex Acosta

Publication Date: 19 Jul 2022

Publication Site: WSJ

Proxy battles are usually an inefficient use of public pension systems’ resources

Link: https://reason.org/commentary/proxy-battles-are-usually-an-inefficient-use-of-public-pension-systems-resources/

Excerpt:

Viewers of Berkshire Hathaway’s 2022 Annual Meeting recently learned that some public pension funds feel strongly about how the corporations they own stock in should be governed. At the Berkshire meeting, a group of three pension systems offered a series of shareholder resolutions, all of which were rejected. While there may be instances where it is reasonable for public pension funds to try to influence corporate decision-making, the pension funds should determine whether proxy fights can appreciably enhance the value of their assets before picking a fight.

….

Pension funds and other institutional investors sometimes withhold their support for corporate-endorsed board candidates and submit resolutions. But changing the outcome of corporate elections is typically an uphill battle. According to ProxyPulse, only 2.2% of corporate board candidates failed to obtain majorities during the 2021 proxy season. Sullivan & Cromwell found that only 9% of shareholder proposals submitted were ultimately ratified. 

In comparison, the prospects for shareholder resolutions being adopted appear to be improving. ProxyPulse found that the mean share of votes for shareholder proposals increased from 34% in 2017 to 40% in 2021. The threat of a shareholder proposal passing may also be encouraging boards to go ahead and adopt some recommended policies. 

Between January 1, 2020, and April 30, 2022, pension funds filed 81 forms with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which they disclosed shareholder solicitations, accounting for over 10% of all such disclosures filed during this period. Shareholders who send letters to other shareholders asking them to vote against recommendations of management in their proxy statements disclose the fact that they have done so on SEC Form PX14A6G

Author(s): Marc Joffe

Publication Date: 27 May 2022

Publication Site: Reason

NYC Comptroller Lander and Trustees Announce $7 Billion Milestone in Climate Solutions Investment

Link: https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/nyc-comptroller-lander-and-trustees-announce-7-billion-milestone-in-climate-solutions-investment/

Excerpt:

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and trustees of the New York City Retirement Systems announced that investments in climate solutions have now reached more than $7 billion across all systems and asset classes as of the end of 2021, well exceeding the $4 billion goal set by three of the funds in 2018. These investments in companies that are helping to facilitate a just transition to a low carbon economy build on the $4 billion divestment by three of the five funds from companies that own fossil fuel reserves, which is expected to be completed later this year.

This milestone surpasses the goals set by the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS), Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), and Board of Education Retirement System (BERS), in 2018 to double their investments in climate solutions from $2 billion to $4 billion by 2022. In October 2021, the three Systems adopted a goal to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. As part of this commitment, the three Systems set a goal to reach a total of $37 billion in climate solutions investments by 2035, in line with a total of $50 billion across all five Systems by 2035.

The climate solutions in the New York City Retirement Systems’ portfolio includes investments in companies that derive a majority of their revenue from climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience activities, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, pollution prevention, and low-carbon buildings. Climate solutions investments in the Systems’ portfolios have grown consistently and greatly in the last several years, more than doubling in value since 2018.

Author: Brad Lander

Publication Date: 5 April 2022

Publication Site: NYC Comptroller’s Office

Deutsche Bank raided by authorities over ESG ‘greenwashing’ claims: ‘We’ve found evidence that that could support allegations of prospectus fraud’

Link: https://fortune.com/2022/05/31/deutsche-bank-dws-esg-greenwashing-raid-evidence-seized-whistleblower-fixler/

Excerpt:

German law enforcement officials raided the offices of Deutsche Bank on suspicion of the fraudulent advertising of sustainable investment funds at its DWS unit, dealing yet another setback to CEO Christian Sewing’s attempts to move on from years of corruption scandals.

The investigation revolves around allegations—leveled by a former DWS manager—that the retail money management business engaged in “greenwashing,” in which environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments are sold under false claims.

Roughly 50 officials from the Frankfurt public prosecutor, German securities regulator BaFin, and the federal criminal police office BKA were deployed to the headquarters of the two financial institutions to seize evidence on Tuesday.

“The allegations are that DWS has been advertising so-called ESG financial products for sale as being particularly green and sustainable when they actually weren’t,” a spokesman for the public prosecutor told Fortune, which has been looking into the claims since January. “In the course of our investigations we’ve found evidence that could support allegations of prospectus fraud.”

Author(s): CHRISTIAAN HETZNER

Publication Date: 31 May 2022

Publication Site: Fortune

Pensions watchdog warns about climate risk in rebuke of HSBC banker who downplayed danger

Link: https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uk-pensions-regulator-says-pension-schemes-should-not-ignore-climate-change-2022-05-23/

Excerpt:

UK pension schemes should not ignore climate change, a senior executive at The Pensions Regulator said on Monday, the first watchdog to weigh in after a top HSBC banker was suspended after playing down the financial risks of climate change.

Regulators across the world have been putting pressure on the financial services industry to take climate change into account when calculating risks to their business models.

Stuart Kirk, a senior HSBC banker in charge of sustainable investments, had said at an industry event last week that central bank policymakers and other global authorities were exaggerating the financial risks of climate change. read more

The bank has since suspended him pending an internal investigation, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

Publication Date: 23 May 2022

Publication Site: Reuters

Illinois Pension Funds Are Slow To Pull Out of Russian Assets

Link: https://www.bettergov.org/news/illinois-pension-funds-are-slow-to-pull-out-of-russian-assets?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=55511662-b854-49ee-8d24-b2010db00a33

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Despite strong rhetoric from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other top state officials demanding public pension funds divest more than $100 million in Russia-based assets, state lawmakers now say they won’t act until the Fall veto session.

A key legislative proposal to force the pullout in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine died in a Senate committee awaiting a vote.

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, declined to be interviewed for this report, but his staff suggested the Senate had too little time before the session closed on April 9. The House bill — which passed by a vote of 114-0 on April 5 — was never taken up in the Senate chamber.

….

Using pension investment decisions as a way to prompt social change has long been controversial. In the past, Illinois funds have divested from companies and funds related to Sudan, Iran and businesses that boycott Israel following direction from lawmakers.

The Illinois State Board of Investments creates a prohibited list of companies for the funds to consider. The most recent list does not contain companies or funds connected to the Russian invasion.

“How, as a society, should we think about our pension systems assets?” Amanda Kass, Associate Director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois – Chicago, asked. “I also see this kind of scrutiny of investing in Russian assets as part of this larger movement.”

Author(s): Jared Rutecki

Publication Date: 5 May 2022

Publication Site: Better Government Association

A Guide To The Public Pension Funds Divesting From Russia

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizfarmer/2022/03/11/the-pension-plans-divesting-from-russia/

Excerpt:

As economic sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine spread, state and local public pension plans are looking at selling off their Russian-related assets and some are already doing so.

Lawmakers in at least a dozen states are pressuring their pension funds to divest from Russian-related investments. Divestment isn’t likely to have much impact on the funds themselves as Russian-domiciled investments make up less than 1% of most (if not all) state portfolios. But collectively, it sends a message. For example, California’s CalPERS is the largest pension fund in the world and it alone holds nearly $1 billion in Russian assets.

However, it’s likely that at least some (if not all of) these funds will be selling at a loss. Here is a snapshot of what’s happening across the U.S.

Author(s): Liz Farmer

Publication Date: 11 March 2022

Publication Site: Forbes

Public Pensions’ New Quandary: Coping With Geopolitical Turmoil

Link: https://www.governing.com/finance/public-pensions-new-quandary-coping-with-geopolitical-turmoil

Excerpt:

Arguably, trustees and investment teams need a serious conversation with portfolio managers who are overweight in companies and countries that could foreseeably lose favor and stock exchange value. To ground that dialog, some form of risk analysis is required. One protocol could be as primitive as routinely identifying which major corporate equity and debt holdings in a system’s portfolio have cost and revenue exposure of more than 10 or 15 percent in such potentially at-risk regimes, and prodding managers to trim down those geopolitically vulnerable positions unless there is a clearly compelling undervaluation thesis. Another sensible approach would be to require underweighting of major companies relative to a benchmark index, based on their percentages of autocrat-nation revenues.

Ultimately at a fiduciary level, if a pension fund’s total worst-case exposure to all earnings and income derived from autocratic nations is an insignificant fraction of its total portfolio, the composite risk is probably not worth losing sleep over, on purely financial grounds. But politics could still enter the theater stage for pension boards that ignore this issue.

Pension consultants and risk advisers have a new role to play in this dialog. ESG investing is now under fire, so a healthy ESG+G discussion is especially timely. If nothing else, informed advisers can help investment teams and trustees identify where their portfolios might contain a blind-side risk that hasn’t received enough attention.

Author(s): Girard Miller

Publication Date: 10 May 2022

Publication Site: Governing

I Finance The Current Thing

Link: https://allenfarrington.medium.com/i-finance-the-current-thing-7ea204230315

Excerpt:

Passive investing is most often celebrated as a marvel of risk/reward packaging for the retail investor, who surely doesn’t have the time or energy to do the job of a professional capital allocator. It’s a fair assumption that they have their own job doing something productive in the real economy. Is this arrangement worth sacrificing? Would sacrificing it be ESG-friendly? Yes, absolutely it would, but we will return to this further down.

Passive investing relies on the notion of an index, or, a numerical weighting of every publicly listed company in a given geography, above a certain size, etc. which is determined by relative size and expressed as a percentage of the whole. If the value of all shares outstanding multiplied by their current market price (or, “market capitalization”) of Company A is 1% of the total of all the companies in an index, then it makes up 1% of that index, and its shares are 1% of those held by a passive investment instrument.

The existence of indices is the bane of the lived experience of investment professionals who take Schumpeter a little more seriously and do not allocate by algorithm but by analysis of business fundamentals. “Performance” is measured relative to an index, on the understandable but perverse realization that index investing, which relies only on an algorithm, is much cheaper for the client. If your non-passive (or “active”) manager returned you 50%, you might think that is fantastic, but if the index went up 60% then you paid for nothing. In fact, technically they underperformed by 10%. No performance fees — even on 50%! — and probably also fired.

….

When SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce voiced the lone dissent against the inclusion of “climate risks” in company prospectuses recently, her argument was basically my own above: these are risks. Although the concept is incredibly technically involved, real investors know how to deal with risks and do not need to be condescended to about which deserve their attention more than others. “We are not the securities and environment commission,” Peirce warned, adding, “at least not yet.” Quite right. I would hope not ever if the rule of law is to be taken seriously, and exactly this kind of regulatory capture via backdoor-compliance enforcement of virtue signaling is to stop.

But could we probe deeper still? ESG is an attack vector, but what is the attack surface? Without intending to be flippant, I think it is centralization. Capital markets are centralized institutions and they are being attacked. So far, so bleak. Can we do anything about it? And what was that Thiel talk actually about, again?

Author(s): Allen Farrington

Publication Date: 21 April 2022

Publication Site: Medium

Influential fund manager Green Century tells insurers to drop Big Oil

Link: https://www.marketwatch.com/amp/story/influential-fund-manager-green-century-tells-big-insurers-to-drop-big-oil-11645049047?twclid=11498308136175906819

Excerpt:

Green Century Capital Management tried to use shareholder muscle to persuade at least a trio of insurance companies to drop fossil-fuel clients.

So far, the insurance firms aren’t biting; all three have filed no-action requests with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The resolutions, in advance of proxy season this spring, call on Chubb CB Travelers TRV and The Hartford HIG to take this bold step as private-sector efforts to curb global warming from the burning of coal, oil CL00 and gas NG00 pick up, alongside global government action.

The insurance resolutions represent the first time that shareholders have laid down this sizable challenge to this industry for what the activists say are its contributions to the climate crisis

Author(s): Rachel Koning Beals

Publication Date: 17 Feb 2022

Publication Site: MarketWatch

City Of Chicago Shunning Fossil Fuel Investments. Who Benefits? Russia. – Wirepoints

Link: https://wirepoints.org/chicago-shunning-fossil-fuel-investments-as-nation-struggles-with-higher-energy-costs-wirepoints/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

The timing on Wednesday was impeccable. I was looking at the price of oil, which was up four percent that day and about to pass $100/barrel. Energy stocks were up over one percent despite a horrible day for the rest of the market.

That’s when an email popped up with a story in Crain’s headlined “Chicago moving to divest from fossil fuels.”

….

So, with inflation raging, gasoline moving towards $4.00/gallon and Russia murdering Ukrainians with the help of American oil purchases, Chicagoans can take comfort knowing that the city will refuse to invest in oil and other fossil fuel production and thereby “will be sending a message that Chicago is permanently leaving dirty energy in the past and welcoming a clean energy future for generations to come.”

That’s from Chicago Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin. She and members of the City Council, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s support, are pushing for an ordinance to mandate that the city divest its funds from fossil fuel companies, as Crain’s reported.

In fact Conyears-Ervin had already made oil and gas divestment office policy. The new ordinance would make the change permanent going forward. Her office has already removed $70 million in fossil fuel-associated bonds from the city’s portfolio, she says.

How wise has it been lately to be shunning fossil fuel investments? Here’s a chart comparing performance year-to-date of the S&P 500 to XLE, an ETF basket of mostly oil and gas companies. While the market in general is down some 10% the oil and gas stocks are up over 21%.

Author(s): Mark Glennon

Publication Date: 25 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Wirepoints