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Thursday, February 2, 2023

US buyers shrink back from company local weather proposals

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One factor to start out: DWS chief govt Asoka Wöhrmann has resigned from the German asset supervisor following a raid by about 50 police on its Frankfurt workplaces. Authorities in each Germany and the US have been investigating allegations of greenwashing by DWS’ former sustainability head Desirée Fixler – learn our current interview along with her right here.

It all regarded so promising for the US’s rising band of inexperienced activist shareholders. Fresh from a file haul of profitable climate-related firm proposals final yr, they hoped to go nonetheless additional with a good greater variety of resolutions forward of this yr’s proxy season.

But it now seems to be just like the tide of investor help is popping in opposition to these resolutions. A strong sign to that impact got here final month, with BlackRock’s assertion that it will help fewer inexperienced proposals than final yr. The big asset supervisor stated the proposals have been turning into more and more far-reaching, to the extent that they might intrude with executives’ skill to do their job.

Many within the non-governmental sector — and within the monetary trade — criticised BlackRock’s stance. But from the end result of current shareholder votes, it’s clear that Larry Fink’s firm is way from alone in its leeriness in direction of the rising wave of local weather proposals. Last week was a living proof, with local weather resolutions voted down — with some essential exceptions — at firms starting from Amazon to ExxonMobil.

In as we speak’s version, we dig into new knowledge that reveals simply how stark the drop-off in investor help has been within the US this yr. But we now have sharply contrasting information from Australia, the place billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes has proven that inexperienced shareholder campaigns — if executed with adequate savvy and sources — can nonetheless trigger a giant upset. Corporate leaders shouldn’t chill out simply but. (Simon Mundy)

So a lot for that file yr of local weather proposals . . . 

ExxonMobil is now the fifteenth largest holding in BlackRock’s largest ESG fund © Bloomberg

Late final week, BlackRock disclosed on its web site that it spared ExxonMobil and Chevron a thrashing on the local weather change points.

At each firms’ annual conferences, BlackRock did vote for one climate-related proposal at every of the 2 oil majors. But because it previewed earlier in May, BlackRock supported these proposals as a result of they known as for extra disclosures round local weather change dangers.

The extra demanding shareholder proposals — requires the businesses to really cut back carbon emissions — have been voted down by BlackRock and different massive asset managers.

BlackRock’s choice to drag punches underscores an rising pattern from annual conferences in 2022. Last yr, a file variety of environmental proposals handed with majority help at massive US firms. That success might need emboldened activists to file extra aggressive proposals in 2022, however asset managers have been unwilling to comply with alongside, in accordance with an evaluation that Georgeson, a company governance consultancy, has shared solely as we speak with Moral Money. This evaluation seems to be on the early voting tendencies for voting season year-to-date.

The variety of environmental shareholder proposals submitted to firms has jumped this yr to 172 at Russell 3000 firms, up from 124 for all of 2021. But “early voting results suggest damped support,” in accordance with the Georgeson report.

Only 20 per cent of environmental proposals have handed with majority help thus far this yr, in contrast with a 3rd final yr, Georgeson stated. This shift means that regardless of “heightened ambitions” from climate-focused shareholders this yr, the majority of buyers have shied away from placing critical strain on firms, Georgeson stated.

This comes amid heightened political tensions within the US across the ESG agenda. Some conservative politicians, notably former vice-president Mike Pence, have hammered BlackRock and different proponents of ESG investing for concentrating on oil firms. (Never thoughts that Exxon is now the fifteenth largest holding in BlackRock’s largest ESG fund — up from thirty eighth on the finish of 2021).

“This tension may be a driver behind some of the recent pullback in support of proposals from asset managers like BlackRock,” Georgeson stated.

The voting season statistics that Georgeson highlighted reveal one indicator, however don’t inform the total story. Activists and firms can each declare victory when points are resolved earlier than going to a shareholder vote.

Of 39 shareholder proposals tracked this season by the Climate Action 100+ investor group, at the very least 22 have been withdrawn, after firms reached settlement with the dissident shareholders. As CA100+ noticed, that reveals how critically firms are taking these climate-related shareholder proposals — even when lots of them nonetheless wrestle to safe help from asset managers. (Patrick Temple-West)

Australian billionaire attracts blood with local weather marketing campaign

Mike Cannon-Brookes
Mike Cannon-Brookes has overturned the technique of AGL Energy, Australia’s largest carbon emitter © Bloomberg

Australia was the scene of a giant inexperienced showdown this week, when software program billionaire and local weather activist Mike Cannon-Brookes used the playbook of company raider Carl Icahn to overturn the technique of energy firm AGL Energy, the nation’s largest carbon emitter.

In distinction with Icahn’s most up-to-date foray — an unsuccessful bid to push McDonald’s on animal welfare requirements, utilizing a tiny shareholding — Cannon-Brookes has put critical cash behind his marketing campaign, and has been getting outcomes.

The Sydney-based Atlassian co-founder and co-chief govt amassed an 11.3 per cent stake in AGL and satisfied sufficient different shareholders to hitch him in blocking the corporate’s plan to spin off its three massive coal crops right into a separate entity. That plan would have allowed AGL to run the crops effectively into the 2040s, whereas ringfencing that enterprise from its extra ESG-friendly operation offering electrical energy to households. Cannon-Brookes argued the plan was inconsistent with the Paris objectives, and wished the crops closed down by the early 2030s.

By final weekend it was clear Cannon-Brookes had the votes — together with a public endorsement from massive Australian pension fund Hesta — forcing the corporate to desert the demerger and its chief and chair to resign.

Cannon-Brookes, who’s Australia’s third-richest individual with a private fortune of about US$20bn, in accordance with the Australian Financial Review, will now push for the corporate to stay intact and use its massive buyer base, its possession of well-connected factors on Australia’s electrical energy grid, and its dependable money circulate to put money into renewable technology and shut its coal crops early.

Some analysts predict Canadian funding group Brookfield will be a part of Cannon-Brookes in one other bid to take the corporate non-public, following their unsuccessful joint bid for the group in February — a neater proposition now that Cannon-Brookes is AGL’s largest shareholder.

AGL invited third occasion bids on Monday, so the story is way from over.

Zoe Whitton, a companion at Sydney-based local weather advisory and funding firm Pollination, advised me the saga had implications past AGL and Australia. She predicted Cannon-Brookes’ success would begin a pattern of inexperienced company raids and takeover bids for emissions-intensive firms which can be struggling to decarbonise.

“It is really interesting that what would have been considered a reasonable transition for a utility 10 years ago has now quite conclusively been viewed by shareholders as an insufficient transition,” she stated. “It is our view that highly funded, disruptive, sometimes slightly audacious interventions in companies that have assets that need to transition are probably going to be the norm in the future.”

She stated this might lengthen past utilities to harder-to-abate sectors reminiscent of supplies and industrials. This pattern, she stated, could be led by “a growing group of investors [that] can see an opportunity of gaining control of assets and putting them on a transition pathway.”

Executives in Australia’s energy sector, talking on background, inform me they’re anticipating a wave of takeover bids — not simply from billionaires and transition funds reminiscent of Brookfield. They say worldwide oil majors are additionally all in favour of Australia’s huge renewables and inexperienced hydrogen potential as a strategy to transition to a low-carbon enterprise mannequin. (James Fernyhough)

Chart of the day

US households’ fuel spending soars

This chart might assist clarify the rising backlash within the US to the ESG agenda, which some conservatives have linked with rising gas costs. Spending on petrol now accounts for practically 4 per cent of private consumption spending within the nation, up from a bit over 1 per cent a few years in the past. That continues to be under the degrees reached within the early Nineteen Eighties, and simply earlier than the 2008 world monetary disaster. But the rapidity of the most recent surge in gas spending is extraordinary by the requirements of current years.

Smart learn

  • Can African nations obtain large-scale progress with out hovering carbon emissions? Is a deal with renewable power the important thing to the continent’s future prosperity – or a distraction from the precedence of getting energy to 600mn individuals who at present lack it? From Kenya, David Pilling plunges into one in all Africa’s hottest and most essential debates.

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Source: www.ft.com

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