Two more notches in the fossil-fuel-free belt
Following up on this post from a couple weeks ago, here are two more striking indications that fossil fuel investing is becoming a losing game. An analysis by Canadian research company Corporate Knights has found that 14 of the world’s largest institutional investors would have done much better over the past 3 years if they had divested from their major fossil fuel holdings and expanded investment in environmentally-oriented companies they already own. The fourteen have a collective total of just over a trillion dollar in holdings, a figure that would have been 22 billion dollars (2%) higher had they divested. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was especially hard-hit; it totals about $40 billion, and left $1.9 billion (4.6%) on the table by sticking with its fossil fuel holdings. The divestment criteria used is similar to the earlier comparison using the S&P 500 as a benchmark, targeting the Carbon Underground 200 (companies that have the largest as-yet-untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas), plus utilities that generate more than 30% of their power using coal.
Meanwhile, MSCI, one of the world’s leading providers of financial indexes, made a simple tweak in its All Country World Index (ACWI), simply dropping 124 companies that have large reserves of oil, gas, or coal on their books. The resultant fossil fuel free global index outperformed the ACWI by 60% in its first year (gaining 6.5%, versus 4.1%). Tom Kuh, head of ESG indexes for MSCI, stressed that “Carbon is increasingly becoming a factor that investors are looking at in understanding risk in their portfolios.” Responding to this concern, MSCI will be providing carbon footprints for all of its indexes beginning next year.
Of course, these short term outperformance results are in part fueled by the poor performance of classic energy companies in recent years, with priced depressed by oversupply. As Kuh notes, “The challenge for investors is to figure out whether what is going on with energy is cyclical or structural.” At the same time, though, chief executive Corporate Knights, observes, “Over the next few years, many oil stocks – if not coal utilities – could jump back, but in the long term, I don’t think a lot of prudent market watchers are betting that the carbon intensive sectors are going to outperform the market in general.”
“The number one complaint about divestment we’ve heard from fund managers is that it would cost them too much money,” said Jamie Henn, communications director at 350.org, the climate campaign that commissioned the new research. “As it turns out, they are dead wrong. The energy industry of the 21st century is going to look nothing like the fossil fuel industry of the 20th. Institutions that don’t change with the times stand to lose big and, as this new analysis shows, they already are.” 350.org are partners on the Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign.