Russia Diverts Pension Contributions To Plug Other Budget Holes

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CREDIT: Natalia Mikhaylenko, RBTH

For the second straight year, Russia has decided to freeze its contributions to its pension funds and instead use the money to plug budget holes elsewhere.

Russia says the money will be used for more pressing needs elsewhere in the budget. But critics claim the action could be a costly one. Russia Beyond The Headlines reports:

For the second year in a row, the Russian government has decided to freeze the portion of pension contributions allocated for investment.

Contributions for 2013, amounting to some 550 billion rubles ($15.2 billion), have already been frozen, with the government intending to do the same with a further 700 billion rubles’ worth of pension savings for 2014.

The move, which the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection says is necessary in order to finance current pension payments, will leave major Russian companies without investment and will force banks to raise interest rates.

The negative effects are already being felt by ordinary Russians: At the end of last year, minimal interest rates for individuals started at 8 percent, whereas in 2014 loans have become 2 percent more expensive, with interest rates starting at 10 percent.

This year’s situation will be further exacerbated by the departure of foreign investors, Baranov adds.

“This will result in the cost of loans and debt refinancing growing in 2015 for banks and corporations, for the federal and regional finance ministries. It is hard to estimate the exact figure that they will have to pay extra, but it will be comparable with the amount of frozen funds, i.e. the very same 700 billion rubles or maybe even more,” Baranov says, predicting the potential consequences.

Russia’s pension funding is experiencing turbulence due to a demographic shift that has more people retiring and less people contributing to the system. From RBTH:

Sergei Khestanov, an economist for the ALOR Group, explains that the deficit in the Pension Fund has occurred because of the country’s demographic decline. The population is aging, and while 20-30 years ago there were 6 workers to one pensioner, now there are fewer than two, and their contributions do not cover current needs.

That demographic shift won’t be reversing itself anytime soon. So while the pension freeze helps plug current shortfalls, it only exacerbates future problems.

Reuters reported earlier this month that there was “deep disagreement” among Russian officials regarding the contribution freeze.

Which Pension Fund Is Best At Investing In Private Equity? The Results Are In

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Reuters PE Hub recently surveyed 160 public pension funds across the country in an attempt to pinpoint the fund with the highest-performing private equity portfolio.

The results of the survey were released this month, and the fund with the best performance from private equity was the San Diego City Employees Retirement System (SDCERS). From KUSI News:

SDCERS’ private equity portfolio consists of 45 different funds, with commitments of $580 million. The survey noted 47 percent of SDCERS’ funds performed in the top 25 percent of all funds surveyed. The private equity program invests in all types of assets and strategies globally, including buyouts, special situations and venture capital funds.

“The success of SDCERS’ private equity program can be attributed to the thoughtful way in which the program was constructed, and the quality of the dialogue between staff and consultants,” SDCERS CEO Mark Hovey said. “I am proud of our investments team and the Board of Administration, who work tirelessly to secure a retirement future for more than 200,000 members through an effective investment strategy focused on delivering long-term results.”

SDCERS shouldn’t be confused with the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association, which gained notoriety this week when the Wall Street Journal reported on the fund’s heavy reliance on alternative investments.

SDCERS was 68.6 percent funded as of 2013.

 

Illinois, Kentucky Pension Funds Benefit From $17 Billion Bank of America Settlement

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A handful of pension funds will be receiving large chunks of change after Bank of America agreed today to pay $17 billion to end a Justice Department probe into the bank’s sale of toxic mortgage securities.

The Justice Department alleged that Bank of America violated federal law when it marketed and sold investment vehicles tied to shoddy home loans and misled investors about the quality of the investments.

Many pension funds were major investors in such investment vehicles and sustained major losses on those investments during the financial crisis.

But some funds will be getting a chunk of that money back, including numerous Illinois funds and the Kentucky Retirement System. From Red Eye Chicago:

For Illinois, the $16.65 billion national settlement means a cash payment of $200 million for the state’s pension system, making it whole for losses sustained as a result of the risky investments.

The Illinois pension entities that will receive the payments under Thursday’s deal are the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System and the Illinois State Board of Investment, which oversees pension plans for state employees, the General Assembly and judges.

Kentucky’s payout is substantially smaller than that of Illinois, but the KRS will still see some relief. From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Kentucky Retirement Systems will get $23 million from Bank of America’s $16.65 billion national settlement with the federal government over accusations that the bank improperly dumped “toxic” mortgage-backed securities on the market, helping fuel the economic recession of 2008.

This isn’t the first major settlement stemming from toxic investments that have benefited pension funds. Earlier this year, CalPERS and CalSTRS received over $100 million combined when CitiGroup agreed to a $7 billion settlement.

Illinois was a beneficiary of the CitiGroup settlement as well, as three Illinois funds received a combined $45 million as reparations for their investment losses.

 

Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr CC License

Troubled Dallas Fund Returns 4.4 Percent For 2013

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The Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund (DPFPF) knew 2013 wasn’t going to be a great year for investment returns. They knew this because 2012 wasn’t a great year, and neither were the five years prior.

Even as numerous funds across the country have struggled with maintaining strong investment returns over that period, the DPFPF was performing worse than most.

Bad investment results are what led to the June firing of top administrator Richard Tettamant. Still, the fund had hoped a 13 percent return was in the cards for 2013—not an overly impressive number, given the S&P 500 had returned around 25 percent over the same period.

But that didn’t come to fruition. DPFPF’s return data was released this month, and the fund posted a grim 4.4 percent return for 2013, failing to meet its lofty 8.5 percent assumed rate of return.

What makes DPFPF different from other funds? For one, asset allocation.

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According to the Center for Retirement Research, the average public pension fund allocates around 49 percent of its investments to equities, 7 percent to real estate and 27 percent to fixed-income strategies.

The DPFPF, on the other hand, invests significantly less in equities and bonds and significantly more in real estate. Its real estate investments did not do well.

Nor did its private equity investments. The fund says 45 percent of its private equity allocation is placed in two investments: Huff Energy and Red Consolidated Holdings.

Red Consolidated Holdings was flat on the year. But Huff Energy returned a negative 29.7 percent for 2013, which brought down the entire private equity portfolio.

This year isn’t an anomaly for the DPFPF. The fund has consistently under-performed its peers. From Dallas News:

Over the past five years, it has earned an annual return of 8.6 percent, according to preliminary figures from its consultant. That placed it 97th among about 100 similar-size funds, the consultant reported. The median annual return during that period was 12.2 percent.

In 2012, the fund earned 11.4 percent on its investments. The median annual return for similar funds was 12.2 percent.

The fund’s investment staff received big bonuses in 2013 nonetheless. That’s because the bonuses aren’t determined by how the fund performs relative to its peers. Instead, staff receive bonuses if investment performance beats the assumed rate of return.

Since the assumed rate of return for the DPFPF sits at 8.5 percent, the 2012 investment performance (11.4%) triggered the bonuses even though the fund under-performed relative to its peers.

Tettamant’s base salary in 2012 was $270,000, and he received over $100,000 in bonuses between 2012 and 2013.

Photo by Taylor Bennett via Flickr CC License

As Some Pension Funds Phase Out Hedge Funds, Others Phase Them In

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There were big headlines earlier this month when CalPERS announced its decision to chop its hedge fund allocation by 40 percent. The news was big not just because it was CalPERS, but because the decision followed in the wake of similar decisions made by smaller funds around the country.

The Los Angeles Fire & Police Pension System might not be a mammoth like CalPERS, but it was still a big deal when the $18 billion fund decided to phase out hedge funds entirely. The fund says it will save around $13 million in fees annually as a result of the decision, which re-allocated $550 million from hedge funds into other asset classes.

“We need to show that we are willing to walk away from managers that are charging us exorbitant fees,” Emanuel Pleitez said in a video interview with Pensions & Investments.

But it’s not just fees. Past experiences inform future investments, so when the Louisiana Firefighters Pension Fund drastically chopped its hedge fund allocation, it was hard to blame them.

That’s because the Firefighters Fund in 2008 had made a $15 million investment in Fletcher International Ltd, a Cayman Islands-based hedge fund.

Sometime in 2012, Fletcher stopped picking up their phone. The Firefighters later found out that was because Fletcher had gone bankrupt. Just like that, they’d lost 100 percent of their $15 million investment.

As a result, the Firefighters Fund reduced its hedge fund investments by nearly 90 percent. Now, only 0.6 percent of the fund’s assets are dedicated to hedge funds, according to Pensions & Investments.

Anecdotal evidence aside, there’s very little indication the movement away from hedge funds is a larger trend.

In fact, if there is a trend, it may be moving towards more hedge fund investments, not fewer. Sticking with anecdotes for a moment, Pensions & Investments reports that a handful full of pension funds are looking to make their first foray into hedge funds:

Among recent first-time hedge fund investors and searchers:

-Illinois State Universities Retirement System, Champaign, will soon begin a search for either hedge fund or fund-of-funds managers for a new 5% allocation for the $16.9 billion defined benefit plan it oversees;

-The $5.1 billion City of Milwaukee Employes’ Retirement System hired Allianz Global Investors to manage $62.5 million in an absolute-return strategy in July;

-The $1.1 billion St. Paul (Minn.) Teachers’ Retirement Fund Association hired EnTrust Capital Management LP to manage $55 million in a customized hedge fund-of-funds separate account in May.

A recent survey revealed that institutional investors are planning on increasing their alternative allocations by 5 percent annually, as opposed to 1 or 2 percent for traditional investments.

McKinsey, the firm behind the survey, said the prevailing sentiment among respondents was that the bull market won’t last forever. But pension funds’ assumed annual rates of return—which usually sit between 7 and 8 percent—won’t change anytime soon.

It’s for precisely that reason that institutional investors are turning to hedge funds, writes McKinsey & Co:

“With many defined-benefit pension plans assuming, for actuarial and financial reporting purposes, rates of return in the range of 7 to 8% — well above actual return expectations for a typical portfolio of traditional equity and fixed-income assets — plan sponsors are being forced to place their faith in higher-yielding alternatives.”

That doesn’t necessarily translate to investing with hedge funds. But often, it does.

And it’s not just about chasing high returns, the report said:

“Gone are the days when the primary attraction of hedge funds was the prospect of high-octane performance, often achieved through concentrated, high-stakes investments. Shaken by the global financial crisis and the extended period of market volatility and macroeconomic uncertainty that followed, investors are now seeking consistent, risk-adjusted returns that are uncorrelated to the market.”

Only time, and piles of financial reports, will reveal which direction the trend ultimately goes.

The Lawsuit That Could Legalize Pay-To-Play For Pension Fund Investments

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Here’s a scenario to chew on:

An investment firm makes a campaign contribution to a city mayor. Later, the mayor appoints members to the city’s pension board. The pension board decides to hire the aforementioned investment firm to handle the pension fund’s investments.

Does something seem fishy about that situation?

The SEC says yes, and they have rules in place to prevent those “pay-to-play” scenarios.

But a recent lawsuit says no: investment managers should be able to donate money to whichever politicians they choose, even if those donations could present a conflict of interest down the line.

The lawsuit, filed last week by Republican committees from New York and Tennessee against the SEC, wants the court to affirm that political donations are free speech—and, by extension, current SEC pay-to-play rules are unconstitutional.

Under the SEC’s current rules, investment advisors can’t make donations to politicians that have any influence—direct or indirect—over the hiring of investment firms.

In many states, it’s the job of the governor or mayor to appoint members to the state or city’s pension board—the entity that controls pension funds’ investment decisions.

The lawsuit claims that it’s not fair to make investment firm employees choose between their career and their First Amendment rights.

But does the lawsuit have a shot?

If past court decisions are any indication, it certainly has a fighting chance. David Frum writes:

It’s a good guess that the federal courts will listen sympathetically to the challenge to the SEC rule. The Supreme Court has made clear that campaign contributions are protected free speech, both for individuals and for corporations. While protecting against corruption remains a valid basis for restricting contributions, the Court has defined corruption narrowly: In the words of the majority opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC, the most recent major campaign-finance case, corruption is “an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties.” And as Justice John Roberts wrote in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, the courts “must err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it.” It seems very conceivable that the courts will find the SEC rule overly broad.

It should be noted, the SEC didn’t put these rules in place for no reason.

Over the course of a few years in the mid-2000’s, then-New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi accepted over $1 million in campaign donations and gifts from investment firm Markstone Capital.

Hevesi, who at the time was the sole trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, subsequently decided that the Fund should make a $250 million investment with Markstone.

Hevesi eventually pled guilty to corruption charges and served a little less than two years in prison. He is banned from holding public office again. The case was the catalyst for the pay-to-play rules the SEC currently has in place.

But Frum, in a piece written for the Atlantic today, wonders aloud whether the SEC rule targets the right people. Frum writes:

It’s a valid question whether the SEC rule is actually achieving anything.

The people with the most sway over state pension-funds decisions are not always—nor even often—elected officials. And those who exert the most effective influence over them are not always—nor even often—campaign contributors.

Frum points that it’s often placement agents who are helping to pull strings from behind the scenes. That’s been the case in California, Dallas, New Mexico and Kentucky, and those are just the high-profile ones.

From Frum:

In our belief that it’s politicians who are always and everywhere to blame for everything that goes wrong in a political system, we consign to the financial pages the abundant evidence that the most fundamental vulnerability of state pension plans to corrupt influence is located less in politicians’ need for campaign funds, and much more in the weak governance of state pension plans themselves.

As the New York Republicans’ case against the SEC winds its way through the courts, and if it begins to succeed, you’ll hear a lot of agitated discussion about what this all means for campaign finance, for Chris Christie, and for American elections. But the most important trouble—and the most disturbing practices—are located quite elsewhere. It will be worth keeping that in mind.

That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the SEC rule should be repealed and the floodgates opened.

It just means that the stuff happening behind closed doors—the opaque world of placement agents—is what we should be worried about, too.

Here’s a summary of current pay-to-play regulation:

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Photo by Truthout.org via Flickr CC License

Canada Pension Plan’s Quarterly Returns Come Up Short; New $500 Million Investment On Horizon

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The numbers are in for the Canada Pension Plan’s investment performance over the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, and the country’s largest pension fund probably isn’t thrilled with the results.

The CPP returned 1.6 percent over the three month period ended June 30. Far from disastrous, the performance still falls short of its peers: the median return of Canadian pension funds over the same period was 3 percent.

In a statement, Canada Pension Chief Executive Mark Wiseman said: “All of our programs reported positive investment returns during the quarter and we continued to further diversify the portfolio globally across various asset classes.”

To that end, the Canada Pension Plan’s Investment Board also announced today that it will be allocating an additional $500 million to investments in the U.S. industrial sector.

Specifically, the investments are in warehouse facilities in high-demand areas of California that will subsequently be leased out. From a CPP press release:

The six logistics and warehouse developments GNAP has committed to are:

  • GLC Oakland – 375,000-square-foot Class-A warehouse distribution facility recently completed in Oakland, California, adjacent to the Oakland International Airport.
  • GLC Rancho Cucamonga – two warehouse distribution facilities totaling up to 1.6 million square feet in Rancho Cucamonga, California, 40 miles west of Los Angeles, in the Inland Empire West submarket.
  • Commerce Center Eastvale – three logistics warehouses providing in excess of 2.5 million square feet located in Eastvale, California, 50 miles west of Los Angeles, in the Inland Empire West submarket.
  • GLC Fontana – 640,000-square-foot warehouse distribution facility located in Fontana, California, 50 miles west of Los Angeles, in the Inland Empire West submarket.
  • GLC Compton – 100,000-square-foot distribution facility in Compton, California, a prime infill location within the South Bay submarket of Los Angeles.
  • GLC Santa Fe Springs – three warehouse distribution facilities totalling up to 1.2 million square feet located in Santa Fe Springs, California, a prime infill location within the Mid-Counties submarket in Los Angeles.

The CPP already had allocated $400 million to the Goodman North American Partnership (GNAP), a joint venture formed between the CPP Investment Board and Goodman Group.

 

Photo: “Canada blank map” by Lokal_Profil. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Survey: Pensions Funds Will Continue To Increase Alternative Investments

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Often, media narratives don’t properly reflect the reality of a situation.

For example, news has been breaking over the past few weeks of pension funds decreasing their exposure to hedge funds and alternatives. That includes CalPERS, who plan to chop their hedge fund investments dramatically. The reason: high fees associated with those investments are eating into returns.

But according to a new report, pension funds are planning to increase their allocations toward alternatives, more than any other asset class, for years to come.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. surveyed 300 institutional investors about their future plans investing in alternatives. (McKinsey defines “alternatives” as hedge funds, funds of funds, private-equity funds, real estate, commodities and infrastructure investments.)

As for the question of whether funds will continue to invest in alternatives, the answer was a resounding yes: the respondents indicated they would like to increase their exposure to alternatives by 5 percent annually.

The reportnotes that pension funds believe their traditional investments, which have been garnering great returns as the bull market saunters on, run the risk of not meeting actuarial return assumptions in the medium-term, or when the market comes down off its high. At that point, pension funds want to be invested in higher-yielding instruments to meet return assumptions. From CFO Magazine:

McKinsey suggests that the bull market, now more than five years old, can’t be expected to continue indefinitely. Indeed, the report says institutional investors that manage money for pension plans are moving more money into alternatives out of “desperation.”

“With many defined-benefit pension plans assuming, for actuarial and financial reporting purposes, rates of return in the range of 7 to 8% — well above actual return expectations for a typical portfolio of traditional equity and fixed-income assets — plan sponsors are being forced to place their faith in higher-yielding alternatives,” McKinsey writes.

But, the consulting firm notes, the rapid growth of alternatives is not simply the result of investors chasing high returns. “Gone are the days when the primary attraction of hedge funds was the prospect of high-octane performance, often achieved through concentrated, high-stakes investments. Shaken by the global financial crisis and the extended period of market volatility and macroeconomic uncertainty that followed, investors are now seeking consistent, risk-adjusted returns that are uncorrelated to the market.”

The Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions fund is at least one fund going against the grain here: it recently took 100 percent of its money out of hedge fund investments.

After Massive Investment Losses, Michigan Pension Funds Benefit From Settlements with AIG, Private Equity Firms

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AIG revealed in an SEC filing this week that it plans to pay out a massive sum of money to settle an ongoing lawsuit claiming the firm misled investors on the quality of certain investments prior to the 2008 financial crisis.

The total settlement: $970.5 million. And certain pension funds in Michigan will likely see a chunk of that change. That’s because they lost a significant chunk of change when they bought investment vehicles from AIG prior to 2008.

The State of Michigan Retirement Systems says it lost between $110 million and $140 million due to AIG.

Detroit’s General Retirement System as well as the Saginaw Police and Fire Pension Board say they lost millions more, as well.

All told, those funds could receive a combined payout totaling eight figures. From Crain’s:

This week, AIG disclosed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission it would pay $960 million under a mediation proposal to settle the consolidated litigation, on behalf of investors from that period.

[…]

The lawsuit alleges AIG executives gave false and misleading information about its financial performance and exposure to residential mortgage backed securities in the run-up to the financial market collapse.

The $54.8 billion Michigan systems — a group of plans administered by the state Office of Retirement Services for former police officers, judges and other state and public school employees — became lead plaintiff for the class in March 2009, after informing the court of its nine-figure losses.

The federal Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 says a court should presume a plaintiff is fit to lead class actions like this one if it “has the largest financial interest in the relief sought by the class.” In fact, it had about double the losses of any other plaintiff seeking the same lead role — so its piece of the nearly billion-dollar pie may be larger than most.

The bolded is important, because it means that the State of Michigan Retirement Systems will almost certainly be receiving the highest payout of any of the plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, another Michigan fund—the Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit—was the beneficiary of another settlement today.

Three private equity firms settled a seven-year-long lawsuit today that alleged the firms colluded and fixed prices in leveraged buyout deals. The firms—Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), Blackstone, and TPG—settled for $325 million.

Among the suit’s plaintiffs were public pension funds that held shares in the companies that were bought out by the firms at “artificially suppressed prices, depriving shareholders of a true and fair market value.” From DealBook:

The lawsuit, originally filed in late 2007, took aim at some of the biggest leveraged buyouts in history, portraying the private equity firms as unofficial partners in an illegal conspiracy to reduce competition.

As they collaborated on headline-grabbing deals — including the buyouts of the technology giant Freescale Semiconductor, the hospital operator HCA and the Texas utility TXU — the private equity titans developed a cozy relationship with one another, the lawsuit contended. Citing emails, the lawsuit argued that these firms would agree not to bid on certain deals as part of an informal “quid pro quo” understanding.

In September 2006, for example, when Blackstone and other firms agreed to buy Freescale for $17.6 billion, K.K.R. was circling the company as well. But Hamilton E. James, the president of Blackstone, sent a note to his colleagues about Henry R. Kravis, a co-founder of K.K.R., according to the lawsuit. “Henry Kravis just called to say congratulations and that they were standing down because he had told me before they would not jump a signed deal of ours,” Mr. James wrote.

Days later, according to the lawsuit, Mr. James wrote to George R. Roberts, another K.K.R. co-founder, using an acronym for a “public to private” transaction. “We would much rather work with you guys than against you,” Mr. James said. “Together we can be unstoppable but in opposition we can cost each other a lot of money. I hope to be in a position to call you with a large exclusive P.T.P. in the next week or 10 days.” Mr. Roberts responded, “Agreed.”

The settlement now awaits approval from the Federal District Court in Massachusetts.

Could Climate Change Deplete Your Pension?

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If oil, gas and coal companies were to face serious financial difficulty, the average person might anticipate the annoyance of a higher heating bill, or having to cough up more cash to fill up at the gas station.

They probably don’t think about their pension—but maybe they should.

Earlier this year, members of the British Parliament sent out a clear warning to the Bank of England and the country’s pension funds: watch out for the carbon bubble.

The “carbon bubble”? Here’s a quick explanation from the Guardian:

The idea of a carbon bubble – meaning that the true costs of carbon dioxide in intensifying climate change are not taken into account in a company’s stock market valuation – has been gaining currency in recent years, but this is the first time that MPs have addressed the question head-on.

Much of the world’s fossil fuel resource will have to be left unburned if the world is to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, the environmental audit committee warned.

To many, it probably sounds like a silly term. But its potential implications are serious enough that many in the UK are starting to worry about its effect on the global economy, and that includes pension funds—UK pension funds are particularly exposed to fossil fuel-based assets, as some estimates say 20 to 30 percent of the funds’ assets are allocated toward investments that would be seriously harmed by the burst of the “carbon bubble”.

But some experts say pension funds in the US should be worrying about this, too, because it’s a global issue. From The Ecologist:

If the impetus to prevent further climate change reaches the point where measures such as a global carbon tax are agreed, for example, then those fossil fuel reserves that have contributed to the heady share price performance of oil, gas and coal companies will become ‘unburnable’ or ‘stranded’ in the ground.

But even if we continue business as usual, value could begin to unravel.

Because to continue with business as usual would require an ever increasing amount of capital expenditure by the industry to explore territories previously off limits – the Arctic, for example and the Canadian Tar Sands – tapping these new resources, quite apart from being a bad idea environmentally, is hugely expensive.

Dividends – the payments earned by shareholders as a reward for keeping their shares, have come under increasing pressure as companies have had to spend their money on more exploratory drilling rather than rewarding shareholders.

So some shareholders are already feeling the impact and rather than see their dividends further eroded, might prefer to sell their shares in favour of a more rewarding dividend stock.

Some don’t have the stomach for all those hypotheticals. But it’s hard to deny the policy shifts in recent years leading us towards a lower-carbon world. That includes regulation in the US, Europe and China that cuts down emissions and encourages clean energy.

That trend doesn’t look to be reversing itself in the near future, and those policies are most likely to hurt the industries most reliant on fossil fuels.

There’ve been calls in the US for public pension funds to decrease their exposure to those industries. From the Financial Times:

US pension funds have ignored calls from city councils and mayors to divest from carbon-intensive companies, despite concern about the long-term viability of their business models.

At least 25 cities in the US have passed resolutions calling on pension fund boards to divest from fossil fuel holdings, according to figures from 350.org, a group that campaigns for investors to ditch their fossil fuel stocks.

Three Californian cities, Richmond, Berkeley and Oakland, urged Calpers, one of the largest US pension schemes, with $288bn of assets, and which manages their funds, to divest from fossil fuels. Calpers has ignored their request.

Calpers said: “The issue has been brought to our attention. [We] believe engagement is the best course of action.”

Pension fund experts point out that it is difficult to pull out of illiquid fossil fuel investments, or carbon intensive stocks that are undervalued, provide stable dividends or are better positioned for legislative change.

CalPERS isn’t the only fund that doesn’t want to divest. Not a single public fund has commited to divesting from carbon-reliant companies.

To some, CalPERS’ policy of “engagement” rather than divestment probably sounds like a cop-out. But some experts think the policy could be effective.

“With divestment you are not solving the problem necessarily, you are just not part of it.” Said George Serafeim, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “With engagement you are trying to solve the problem by engaging with companies to improve their energy efficiency, but you are still part of the mix.”

Photo: Paul Falardeau via Flickr CC License


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