To be sure, the previous administration went out of its way to prevent private retirement plans from taking ESG (environmental, social or governance) factors into consideration for investment decisions. But now that the Biden administration finalized the new rule this past week, plans will be able to select socially and environmentally responsible investments without fear of unfair regulatory interference. More importantly, it recognizes that a lack of positive ESG factors can increase an investment’s risk and threaten its future viability. This is a major step in the right direction.
Over the last 25 years, there has been a regulatory back-and-forth over the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) guidance on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Under Democratic administrations, the DOL has looked favorably at ESG considerations like sustainability and equality and has not seen them as inconsistent with ERISA’s dual fiduciary and loyalty duties. And it stands to reason: ESG deficiencies can represent major risks involving an investment’s long-term growth, legal liability and public perception.
Predictably, the previous administration’s DOL released a regulation that imposed new standards on ESG usage by ERISA plans simply to shield investments that are demonstrably irresponsible when it comes to ESG factors. But a new Biden administration DOL rule released Oct 13, rightfully ends this “ping-pong” between administrations, to remove any doubt of what’s been clear all along: ESG factors are meaningful, material investment criteria.
Plan sponsors now have clear guidance to support integrating sustainable investing strategies into defined contribution plan design — namely, to rely on a well-documented, prudent process that emphasizes materiality, diversification, risk and return in evaluating the duty of care, while relying on “prudent experts” as needed.
Given sustainable investing is trending relatively recently in the U.S. Defined Contribution (DC) plan marketplace, DC plan-specific regulatory guidance and case law has been limited.
The Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association (DCIIA) and the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) have both recently released guides for integrating more ESG options in retirements plans. We define “sustainable investing” as an investment philosophy that seeks to generate financial value by incorporating environmental, social and governance values. This umbrella term includes multiple approaches, such as integrating ESG factors into a fund, as well as funds that incorporate macro ESG-themes. Portfolios are considered sustainable when decision-makers weigh the impact of ESG factors along with other traditional financial metrics in portfolio construction and investment management processes.
Sustainability challenges represent urgent, material risks and opportunities for investors. Just in the past few years, climate impacts have wreaked havoc, destroying lives and costing businesses, governments and investors hundreds of billions of dollars. Extreme inequality and racial injustice, laid bare by the pandemic, have driven social unrest and changed the landscape for corporate governance and stakeholder engagement. These intersectional issues of climate change and social equity are critical factors for fiduciaries to consider in the investment process. They increase both portfolio risk and the systemic risk.
As communities and governments around the world grapple with these issues, we are experiencing a transformational shift. People are demanding a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions while protecting workers and vulnerable communities and addresses inequality and injustice in the process.
Further, the scale of sustainable investment commitments, especially in the higher education space, is growing and impacting the market. Several endowments have moved on fossil fuel divestment and fossil fuel free investing (including recent announcements from Harvard, Boston University, MacArthur Foundation), Net Zero Portfolio commitments (Harvard, Stanford, Penn, Arizona State, Michigan) and racial equity (University of California, University of Chicago, Warren Wilson College). Now it is time for retirement plans to keep pace and include strong ESG options.
As Bill McKibben recently noted, “These divestments are so large that they’re starting to have deep effects on the ability of the fossil fuel industry to expand.”
It is time for regulation to catch up with reality. With the new ERISA rule in place, the legal framework for how retirement plans can finally analyze risk and value in ways that makes sense for all stakeholders as the market transforms to meet the social, environmental and even existential challenges we face today. And, as important, it allows employees to invest their values to help bring about a world that can support these institutions over the long term, and leaves no one behind.
Georges Dyer is co-founder and executive director of the Crane Institute of Sustainability, and leads its flagship initiative, the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN).
Ford sees $8.2 billion gain on its investment following Rivian’s IPO – Driving
Ford continues to gain, despite abandoned plans to jointly develop an EV with the startup
Ford Motor Co. expects to record a gain of $8.2 billion in the fourth quarter on its investment in RivianAutomotive Inc. after the electric-truck maker’s blockbuster initial public offering late last year.
The legacy automaker disclosed the gain Tuesday along with several special items it intends to report when Ford releases earnings on Feb. 3. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company will also reclassify a non-cash gain of about $900 million on the Rivian investment from the first quarter of last year as a special item, meaning it will be excluded from the full-year adjusted results, according to a statement.
The disclosures show Ford continues to gain from its connection to the startup even after the auto giant exited Rivian’s board in September and subsequently announced it had abandoned plans to jointly develop an electric vehicle. Ford, which has invested a total of $1.2 billion in Rivian since early 2019, has a 12 per cent stake that the company has said was valued at more than $10 billion in early December.
Rivian delays big battery packs to prioritize more deliveries
Tesla doubles down on accusations rival Rivian stole its battery secrets
Since a November listing that was the largest IPO of 2021, Rivian has been on a roller coaster. The shares peaked at more than $172, but have tumbled 57 per cent since then as the company faced new competition in the electric-vehicle market. Rivian was briefly valued at more than $100 billion, then more valuable than Ford, but Ford has subsequently reclaimed the lead after it topped $100 billion in value for the first time last week.
Ford shares were little changed in after-hours trading Tuesday in New York, while Rivian climbed less than one per cent.
ByteDance reorganizes strategic investment team, causes panic – Yahoo Movies Canada
What a roller coaster day for China’s tech industry. TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has dissolved its strategic investment team, sending worrying messages to other internet giants that have expanded aggressively by investing in other companies.
At the beginning of this year, ByteDance reviewed its “businesses’ needs” and decided to “reduce investments in areas that are not key business focuses,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.
ByteDance isn’t halting external investments outright, though; instead, the investment team will be “restructured” and “integrated across the various business lines to support the growth” of its business.
In other words, some members from its strategic investment team, which has backed 169 companies, according to Chinese startup database IT Juzi (some deals may not be public), will be reassigned roles in other business departments and continue to invest there.
The “restructuring” still stirred up a wave of panic in the industry. China’s cyberspace regulator has drafted new guidelines that will require its “internet behemoths” to get its approval before undertaking any investments or fundraisings, Reuters reported, citing sources. Some Chinese media outlets also reported similar drafted rules.
“Behemoths” refer to any internet platform with more than 100 million users or more than 10 billion yuan ($1.58 billion) in revenue, said Reuters’ sources. That rule, if true, will put a slew of Chinese internet giants, from Tencent, Alibaba, Pinduoduo, JD.com to Baidu, under regulatory review for their investment activities. Tencent in particular is famous for its expansive investment portfolio, which earns it the moniker “the SoftBank of China.”
In a surprising turn, China’s cyberspace regulator said that the “rumored guidelines for internet companies’ IPO, investment and fundraising are untrue.” Furthermore, the authority will “investigate and hold relevant rumormongers responsible in accordance with the law.”
ByteDance’s motive for restructuring may indeed be to generate more synergies between its external investments and internal businesses. We don’t know for sure yet. But there are signs that China’s antitrust action on its internet darlings are nowhere near the end.
Tencent recently sold a great chunk of its shares in two of its most important allies, Chinese online retailer JD.com and Singaporean video games and e-commerce conglomerate Sea. While antitrust pressure wasn’t cited as the cause for its divestments, speculation is rife that China is continuing to blunt the monopolistic power of its largest interent platforms. A handful of them have received various degrees of fines for violating anticompetition rules, but a pause on their investment game will carry much greater consequences. The question now is who’s next.
CSA shines a light on greenwashing – Investment Executive
Greenwashing has become an issue for regulators who worry that investors could be intentionally or inadvertently misled about the green credentials of the funds they buy.
“In addition to leading investors to invest in funds that do not meet their objectives or needs, greenwashing may also have the effect of causing investor confusion and negatively impacting investor confidence in ESG investing,” the CSA warned in its notice setting out the new guidance.
The regulators reported that targeted reviews of investment funds’ continuous disclosure in this area revealed a number of shortcomings. Some funds had potentially misleading disclosure, the CSA found, while others featured inadequate reporting to investors on investment strategies, proxy voting practices and ESG performance.
Many funds “lacked detailed disclosure” about the specific ESG factors considered in their investment strategies and how those factors are evaluated.
Regulators also found that many funds provided more detailed ESG disclosure in their marketing materials than in their prospectuses; that most funds didn’t detail portfolio changes that were driven by ESG considerations; and that more than half of the funds that use proxy voting as part of their ESG strategies didn’t set out specific voting policies.
“In addition, the vast majority of the funds reviewed did not report on their progress or status with regard to meeting their ESG-related investment objectives,” it said.
In the wake of that review, the regulators indicated they don’t believe current disclosure requirements need to be revised to specifically address ESG factors. However, the CSA said “regulatory guidance is needed to clarify how the current disclosure requirements apply to ESG-related funds and other ESG-related disclosure in order to improve the quality of ESG-related disclosure and sales communications.”
The new guidance doesn’t add requirements for fund managers, but it does provide insight into areas where firms may be falling short of meeting existing disclosure expectations.
For investment funds, the regulators are hoping that guidance will be enough by bringing “greater clarity to ESG-related fund disclosure and sales communications to enable investors to make more informed investment decisions.”
Among other things, the guidance recommends that funds that aim to generate a measurable ESG outcome report their results to investors.
“For example, where a fund’s investment objectives refer to the reduction of carbon emissions, investors would benefit from disclosure in the fund’s [performance report] that includes the quantitative key performance indicators for carbon emissions,” it said.
On marketing materials, the CSA said that “a sales communication that does not accurately reflect the extent to which a fund is focused on ESG, as well as the particular aspect(s) of ESG that the fund is focused on, would both be misleading and conflict with the information in the fund’s regulatory offering documents.”
It also said that the use of fund-level ESG ratings, scores or rankings may be misleading. Reasons include conflicts with the rating provider, cherry-picking positive scores, and failing to disclose qualifications or limitations to a rating or ranking that would supply added context.
“Interest in ESG investing is on the rise and this enhanced and practical guidance will play an important role in helping investors make informed decisions about ESG products, as well as preventing potential greenwashing,” said Louis Morisset, chair of the CSA and president and CEO of the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), in a release.
The CSA indicated that it will continue to review ESG-related disclosures as part of its continuous disclosure reviews.
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