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Canada’s biggest pension managers boost investments in high-carbon oil sands

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Canada‘s biggest pension managers boosted their investments in the country’s major oil sands companies in the first quarter of 2021, raising questions about the funds’ recent commitments to greening their portfolios.

The cumulative investment by the country’s top five pension funds into the U.S.-listed shares of Canada‘s top four oil sands producers jumped to $2.4 billion in the first quarter of 2021, up 147% from a year ago, a Reuters analysis of U.S. 13-F filings show. Much of that increase, which bucked a declining trend since 2018, came from rising prices of shares already owned, but the funds also purchased more shares.

The five funds, in order of size, are Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP), British Columbia Investment Management Corp (BCI) and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP), which together manage more than C$1.4 trillion ($1.2 trillion) in assets.

Governments, companies and investors around the world have stepped up pledges to drastically reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Some large pension managers, including the New York State Pension Fund and Norway’s largest pension fund KLP, have exited oil sands companies.

Canadian pensions face pressure to balance a mandate to be environmentally responsible with their fiduciary duty to maximise returns. Canada‘s oil sands are a high-carbon industry, yet their rising shares prices are tempting for investors.

Some Canadian pension funds say they favour continuing to invest in fossil fuel producers to help those firms transition toward producing cleaner energy.

“We have a big problem with pension funds saying we believe in engagement, not divestment, but there’s no sign of this engagement,” said Adam Scott, director of pension activist group Shift. “The very act of owning them (oil sands companies) implies the funds do not support transition.”

While first-quarter exposures to oil sands firms have risen, annual reports show three of the five pension funds decreased their overall energy exposure in 2020 from 2019. But the 13-F filings present a more up-to-date picture.

For details on Canadian pensions exposure to top oil sands producers:

Compared with same period in 2018, the funds’ investments in the four oil sands firms were down 0.9%.

While the Reuters analysis is restricted to four companies – Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy and Imperial Oil – it provides a glimpse into the funds’ investments in northern Alberta’s oil sands, the source of the highest emissions-per-barrel oil on the planet, according to a 2020 report from consultancy Rystad Energy.

CDPQ, OTPP and PSP decreased their cumulative exposure to energy to C$22.2 billion in 2020, from C$28.2 billion in 2019, according to annual reports.

But CPPIB, which manages C$497.2 billion in assets, saw exposure to fossil fuel producers rise 51.5% to C$17.6 billion at the end of March 2021, after falling for at least five years. The fund’s investments in renewable energy producers rose 16% to C$7.7 billion over the last year by comparison.

CPPIB declined to comment on the 13-F holdings data.

BCI’s annual reports do not break out energy investments as a percentage of overall holdings. Spokesman Ben O’Hara-Byrne said numerous factors affect changes in holdings, so percentages should not be used to derive assumptions about BCI’s response to environmental, social and governance (ESG) “integration efforts.”

A spokeswoman for PSP Investments said many of the investments were held in so-called “passive” portfolios containing a mix of assets based on a stock index designed to match overall market moves.

CDPQ did not comment specifically on its oil sands holdings, but a spokesman said fossil fuels represent a very small share of total assets owned by fund, which is targeting a carbon neutral portfolio by 2050.

OTPP has also committed to a net-zero portfolio by 2050 and will focus on climate-friendly investments that help shift away from fossil fuels, a spokesman said.

Randy Bauslaugh, co-Chair of McCarthy Tétrault’s Pension Funds Group, on Wednesday said in a new paper that pensions have a legal responsibility to take into account the risks of climate change.

“Pension fund fiduciaries who fail to consider or manage climate-related financial risks and opportunities, may find themselves personally liable for economic, reputational or organizational loss resulting from that failure,” he wrote.

($1 = 1.2049 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Maiya Keidan and Nia WilliamsEditing by Denny Thomas and David Gregorio)

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More China coal investments overseas cancelled than commissioned since 2017

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More China-invested overseas coal-fired power capacity was cancelled than commissioned since 2017, research showed on Wednesday, highlighting the obstacles facing the industry as countries work to reduce carbon emissions.

The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) said that the amount of capacity shelved or cancelled since 2017 was 4.5 times higher than the amount that went into construction over the period.

Coal-fired power is one of the biggest sources of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions, and the wave of cancellations also reflects rising concerns about the sector’s long-term economic competitiveness.

Since 2016, the top 10 banks involved in global coal financing were all Chinese, and around 12% of all coal plants operating outside of China can be linked to Chinese banks, utilities, equipment manufacturers and construction firms, CREA said.

But although 80 gigawatts of China-backed capacity is still in the pipeline, many of the projects could face further setbacks as public opposition rises and financing becomes more difficult, it added.

China is currently drawing up policies that it says will allow it to bring greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by 2030 and to become carbon-neutral by 2060.

But it was responsible for more than half the world’s coal-fired power generation last year, and it will not start to cut coal consumption until 2026, President Xi Jinping said in April.

Environmental groups have called on China to stop financing coal-fired power entirely and to use the funds to invest in cleaner forms of energy, and there are already signs that it is cutting back on coal investments both at home and abroad.

Following rule changes implemented by the central bank earlier this year, “clean coal” is no longer eligible for green financing.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s biggest bank by assets and a major source of global coal financing, is also drawing up a “road map” to pull out of the sector, its chief economist Zhou Yueqiu said at the end of May.

 

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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Bank of Montreal CEO sees growth in U.S. share of earnings

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Bank of Montreal expects its earnings contribution from the U.S. to keep growing, even without any mergers and acquisitions, driven by a much smaller market share than at home and nearly C$1 trillion ($823.38 billion) of assets, Chief Executive Officer Darryl White said on Monday.

“We do think we have plenty of scale,” and the ability to compete with both banks of similar as well as smaller size, White said at a Morgan Stanley conference, adding that the bank’s U.S. market share is between 1% and 5% based on the business line, versus 10% to 35% in Canada. “And we do it off the scale of our global balance sheet of C$950 billion.”

($1 = 1.2145 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Nichola Saminather; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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GameStop falls 27% on potential share sale

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Shares of GameStop Corp lost more than a quarter of their value on Thursday and other so-called meme stocks also declined in a sell-off that hit a broad range of names favored by retail investors.

The video game retailer’s shares closed down 27.16% at $220.39, their biggest one-day percentage loss in 11 weeks. The drop came a day after GameStop said in a quarterly report that it may sell up to 5 million new shares, sparking concerns of potential dilution for existing shareholders.

“The threat of dilution from the five million-share sale is the dagger in the hearts of GameStop shareholders,” said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive officer of Longbow Asset Management. “The meme trade is not working today, so logic for at least one day has returned.”

Soaring rallies in the shares of GameStop and AMC Entertainment Holdings over the past month have helped reinvigorate the meme stock frenzy that began earlier this year and fueled big moves in a fresh crop of names popular with investors on forums such as Reddit’s WallStreetBets.

Many of those names traded lower on Thursday, with shares of Clover Health Investments Corp down 15.2%, burger chain Wendy’s falling 3.1% and prison operator Geo Group Inc, one of the more recently minted meme stocks, down nearly 20% after surging more than 38% on Wednesday. AMC shares were off more than 13%.

Worries that other companies could leverage recent stock price gains by announcing share sales may be rippling out to the broader meme stock universe, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Capital.

AMC last week took advantage of a 400% surge in its share price since mid-May to announce a pair of stock offerings.

“It appears that other companies, like GameStop, are hoping to follow AMC’s lead by issuing shares and otherwise profit from the meme stocks run-up,” Ablin said. “Investors are taking a dim view of that strategy.”

Wedbush Securities on Thursday raised its price target on GameStop to $50, from $39. GameStop will likely sell all 5 million new shares but that amount only represents a “modest” dilution of 7%, Wedbush analysts wrote.

GameStop on Wednesday reported stronger-than-expected earnings, and named the former head of Amazon.com Inc’s Australian business as its chief executive officer.

GameStop’s shares rallied more than 1,600% in January when a surge of buying forced bearish investors to unwind their bets in a phenomenon known as a short squeeze.

The company on Wednesday said the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had requested documents and information related to an investigation into that trading.

In the past two weeks, the so-called “meme stocks” have received $1.27 billion of retail inflows, Vanda Research said on Wednesday, matching their January peak.

 

(Reporting by Aaron Saldanha and Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bengaluru and Sinead Carew in New York; Additional reporting by Ira Iosebashvili; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Shounak Dasgupta, Jonathan Oatis and Nick Zieminski)

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