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Saturday, Sep 25, 2021

Why investors should keep hold of “dirty” shares

Why investors should keep hold of “dirty” shares

City Comment: Selling environmentally unfriendly assets is not the answer to the problem
On the face of it, the JP Morgan fund in our story today is just doing the right thing.

Marathon Petrol and Raytheon Tech are on the UN’s naughty list when it comes to climate change and as responsible investors, they felt they had to dump the stocks.

Fair enough, brownie points won.

What JP Morgan doesn’t tell us is, to whom did it sell the them?

Probably, it just sold the shares via a broker into the open market, so it has no idea who bought them.

That’s sort of the point. The new owners just have to be people less concerned about the environment than JP Morgan, less concerned about the PR risk of owning these shares.

Being a responsible buyer of shares is one thing, how about being a responsible seller?

Legal & General, a leader on the ESG issue in the UK notes: “By divesting from entire sectors, investors lose their ability to exert a positive influence.”

So it holds shares in BP at least partly so it can influence company behaviour. It can claim some successes here at least with BP, but it largely gave up on Exxon, which wasn’t listening.

The risk must be that we end up with environmentally damaging assets owned by investors who couldn’t care less and want short-term profits, while responsible investors sit on the sidelines.

Both BP and Shell are exiting “dirty” assets as they look to cut their carbon emissions.

But if they only succeed in cutting their own dirty output, while the actual amount stays the same, what’s the point?

The best owners of grubby oil assets are stock market listed funds and governments that are answerable to voters.

Taking those assets off the market where they are at least visible is not the answer here.

Instead, how about “responsible” investors actively buy up dirty gas and oil companies, and force them to behave better?

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