#industrysuperfunds

ASIC climate change amateurs dictating terms to professionals

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The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) is now seeking more oversight on corporates reporting on climate change. Since when did ASIC hold any sufficient expertise in climate science? Wouldn’t it be nice if ASIC placed more faith in capital markets to self-determine those risks instead of forcing ideologies into boardrooms via new regulations?

Don’t laugh. It is already happening. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and ASIC  are “getting closer” to the action in boardrooms and the workplace. Already, boards have had visits from an organisational psychologist and company employees have received random calls from ASIC officers for “off-the-record” chats seeking “inside information” on the behaviour of their colleagues. APRA even want to sit in on board meetings to ensure governance oversight!

Climate change reporting is the next big thing ASIC is going after. Despite having no expertise in the field, ASIC wants to dictate terms. By its own admission, it has conducted studies with simplistic approaches which probably accurately assesses its amateur credentials.

Back in September 2018, ASIC released a report where it stated the following,

We undertook a high-level review of the prevalence of climate risk and climate-change-related content in annual reports for all listed companies for the calendar years 2011 to 2017 (inclusive). We searched approximately 15,000 reports and analysed the aggregated results across listed companies over time and by market capitalisation. We defined ‘climate change content’ as a reference to any of the following key terms: climate change, global warming, carbon emission, greenhouse gas, climate risk or carbon riskThis is a relatively simplistic approach which did not involve assessing the context within which our key terms were used. Our analysis was not designed to produce qualitative conclusions but rather to provide high-level insight into the prevalence of express disclosure on climate-change related topics in listed company annual reports.”

The unfortunate result for ASIC was the chart above. It fell from 22% to 14% over 5 years, during a time alarmists warned things were getting worse. Non-ASX300 companies reporting climate change fell from 18% to 10% of the total. How could that be? Maybe 90% of the ASX knows better than ASIC about the effects of climate change on their businesses?

Easier for ASIC to lean on a KPMG study that said 48% of CEOs surveyed saw climate change as a risk despite 58% being more worried about technological disruption and 54% concerned about territorialism. Or in other words, 52% of CEOs don’t see climate change is an issue and a whole band in the 48% that did probably felt pressured by their internal PR departments to comply with ESG malarkey, save getting caught out straying from the corporate realpolitik.

Will we see companies feel pressured to hire Chief Climate Change Officers (CCCOs) approved by the Climate Council run by Tim Flannery to appease ASIC? Will they determine the strategic direction of Harvey Norman? Or will shareholders prefer Gerry Harvey and Katie Page to lead that charge?

What constitutes compliance? How will ASIC aggregate the corporate climate change related information it garners in a way that produces qualitative results? Will the positioning of three new potplants in the boardroom be counted as sufficient reporting in climate abatement disclosure as affixing solar panels to the factory roof or switching the CEO’s car to an electric vehicle? Will the mere mentioning of the word “climate change” in an annual report suffice? Will ASIC get a warm fuzzy feeling if it conducts another 15,000 ‘CTRL F’ searches for words where 100% of corporates measure it? Job done? Will “name & shame” tables be produced to bash a mining company for having higher emissions than a tech start up?

It was only last week we were told that banks, insurers and super funds would be put through tough new climate change “stress tests” to be run by the  (APRA). We weren’t aware that APRA’s expertise extended to climate change either.

APRA should look at the 29% growth in assets within the 600,000 self-managed super funds (SMSF) which invest as much money as the very industry funds who lobby it to change the rules to force such disclosures as a guide. It probably says that more Aussies want to manage their own affairs instead of having nanny state rules that limit the scope of what they can invest in. Shouldn’t investors have a right to invest in tobacco, mining or gambling stocks if they see compelling value which assists the ultimate aim of putting more savings into retirement?

We pointed out that the industry funds collect the highest fees from those socially responsible (SRI) portfolios, even though they chronically underperform the market. If we look at YTD, 1 or 10-year performance all of the SRI portfolios as indicated by published performance (listed on their websites) of local Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) members, they have “underperformed” the benchmark index.

ACSI is behind this push for SRI. It even extends to pushing companies to have gender quotas, despite over half the members of ACSI failing to meet their own requirements. You can’t make this stuff up.

ASIC should promote free markets. It should rightly punish those companies that break laws. However, it should be up to shareholders to correctly assess risks. If climate change is a big deal then they can ask for their monies to be deposited into ACSI members’ SRI funds. The future growth of SMSFs will be a telling factor.  It will reveal those individuals looking to escape the grasp of limited investment options provided by rent-seeking industry funds looking to push their members into higher fee-paying products on the notion of saving the planet. Isn’t that just the type of red-flag the regulators should be looking to crack down on? Or does climate change grant get out of jail free cards? We all know the answer to that.

It is a disgrace. Amateurs dictating terms to professionals!