#SRI

Disney’s Double Standards

Never let social justice get in the way of the almighty dollar or RMB.

Disney is having a hard time explaining why it was happy to threaten to pull the company’s production apparatus from Georgia if the state passed a controversial ban on abortions performed after a fetal heartbeat is detected but was happy to shoot part of the film, Mulan, in the Xinjiang region in China where the government has been accused of oppressing the country’s Muslim-minority Uighurs.

Disney responded as follows:

The film is a celebration of female empowerment, based on a 1,500-year-old Chinese poem…The scenes in Xinjiang amount to just 78 seconds and were done to capture the region’s dramatic desert scenery and the historic Silk Road. Most of the movie was shot in New Zealand.

We don’t have an issue with corporations acting in the best interests of shareholders. We only wish they would be consistent in their application of social standards. Ideally, they should shut up.

Sadly, in an ESG consumed finance world, listed corporations are focused on making ever more woke gestures and statements to appease institutional funds who run guilt tripping rackets which coax gullible investors into thinking they are being socially responsible when in reality they’re forking over higher fees to line their pockets in a market structure ruined by low margins ETFs. It is a total con.

The things we do for ESG inclusion

You know, whenever we encounter racism, sexism or homophobia, the very first thing that pops into our head to lead that fight is Halliburton. The things companies will do to boost their ESG/SRI and CSR scores.

If Halliburton feels so strongly about it, perhaps they should cease all dealings with those Middle Eastern countries where homosexuality carries the death penalty. We are confident the shareholders will approve giving up 28% of revenue. Although to be fair, Halliburton did specify there is no place for it at Halliburton or America. Anywhere else must be acceptable.

The hypocrisy. What next? A commitment to go carbon neutral?

Disney inks new deal in woke fantasy

San Francisco 49ers Banner Mickey Mouse NFL Football House Flag

Seems Disney has caught the social justice bug. It has inked a deal with perpetual victim Colin Kaepernick, a man whose only claims to fame were kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and sacrificing the backup slot as a quarterback on the San Francisco 49ers NFL team.

After slamming America in a July 4th tweet about rejecting the “celebration of white supremacy” (a day he openly cheered under Obama), the very next tweet he celebrated the very open capitalist society that helped him attain a deal with a company run by an evil white man at the root of his oppression.

If Kaepernick had principles he would have rejected the deal for letting Disney use his cause for a pittance to promote its own corporate social responsibility goals to publish in the next annual report to appease woke investment firms which are in no place to lecture anyone on ethics or morals.

Kaep’s deal will extend across all Disney platforms, including Walt Disney Television, ESPN, Hulu, Pixar and The Undefeated. ESPN noted that the “partnership will focus on telling scripted and unscripted stories that explore race, social injustice and the quest for equity.”

We look forward to the next Pixar film about Kaepernick where it can teach kids about participation trophies and how feelings matter more than facts.

Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger made a typically woke PR drafted response,

During this unprecedented time, The Walt Disney Company remains committed to creating diverse and inclusive content that resonates and matters…Colin’s experience gives him a unique perspective on the intersection of sports, culture and race, which will undoubtedly create compelling stories that will educate, enlighten and entertain, and we look forward to working with him on this important collaboration.”

Kaep said, “I look forward to sharing the docuseries on my life story, in addition to many other culturally impactful projects we are developing.

Kaeprnick’s production company Ra Vision Media has hired Jemele Hill, a contributor to the left-wing The Atlantic newspaper, as a producer. She had no qualms besmirching all NASCAR fans as racists over the Bubba Wallace noose hoax. So we can be assured of the balance that will permeate across Kaep’s docuseries.

To cap off the joke, perpetual virtue signaller Alyssa Milano congratulated Kaepernick’s new contract on Twitter. Yes, the same Alyssa Milano that chastised the use of the name Washington Redskins when she had no qualms using her face to sell the team’s fashion line.

Good to see that if one screams victimhood loud and long enough, corporate America will join the scam to mint a dollar off the back of it and the supposed victims will have no qualms parking rage over white supremacy if they can make a decent buck themselves.

 

ESG in an airship

SumiChem.png

Sumitomo Chemical’s vision for sustainability, innovation and change. A wooden ship powered by propjets. Presumably, the plants are for carbon offset. At the very least, such make-believe probably accurately reflects the company’s true inner commitment to this nonsense. God bless Japan’s anime culture.

The company stated,

“The Annual Report 2019 starts with an image of boarding a Sumitomo Chemical airship, which is also on the front cover. This year, the beginning of the new Corporate Business Plan, we added a dialogue between the Chairman of the Board and the Outside Directors, a CFO’s message, and a section on ESG strategies to further enhance our content. We hope this Annual Report serves as a bridge to our stakeholders and communicates our efforts to create new value by mobilizing the entire Sumitomo Chemical Group.”

Whatever that means….

This can only end in tears

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As Sweden’s economy slows to the worst economic growth rate in 5 years under a negative interest rate policy, one would think the Swedish Central Bank (Riksbank) would be seeking to prudently manage its asset book on the basis of appropriate risk/reward as opposed to lecturing Australia and Canada on their respective carbon footprints. What we are witnessing is yet another discrete move by authorities to manipulate markets based on fantasy rather than fact.  The hypocrisy is extreme as we shall discover.

While the Riksbank should have complete freedom in how it wishes to deploy capital, we should view this is a pathetic sop to the cabal at the European Central Bank (ECB). Since when did central bankers become experts on climate change? The RBA is no better. Deputy Governor, Guy Debelle, gave a speech in March 2019 on the risks posed by climate change which based prophecies on the data accident-prone IPCC and Bureau of Meteorology. Why not seek balance? Easier to fold to group think so as not to be outed as a pariah. Utterly gutless. Our own APRA is also pushing this ridiculous agenda on climate change reporting. It is willful negligence.

While it is true that on a per capita basis, Australia and Canada’s emissions are higher than the global average, why doesn’t the Riksbank give us credit for lowering that amount 11.4% since 2000? Even Canada has reduced its carbon emissions by 7.3% over the last 18 years. Admittedly Sweden’s emissions per capita have fallen 21.9% according to the IEA. Greta will be happy.

Why hasn’t the Riksbank taken China or India to task for their 169.9% or 94.7% growth in CO2 emissions respectively? There are plenty of oil-producing nations – Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman that have worse per capita outcomes than Australia or Canada. Do these countries get special dispensation from the wrath of the Riksbank? Clearly.

The US has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. If the US has marginally lower emissions per capita (15.74t/CO2-e) than Australia (16.45t/CO2-e), isn’t a double standard to write,

The conditions for active climate consideration are slightly better in our work with the foreign exchange reserves. To ensure that the foreign exchange reserves fulfil their purpose, they need to consist of assets that can be rapidly converted to money even when the markets are not functioning properly. Our assessment is that the foreign exchange reserves best correspond to this need if they consist of 75 per cent US government bonds, 20 per cent German and 5 per cent British, Danish and Norwegian government bonds.

Essentially Riksbank commitment to climate change is conditional. The US which is responsible for 13.8% of global emissions can be 75% of holdings. Australia at 1.3% can’t. No doubt sacrificing Queensland Treasury Corp, WA Treasury Corp and Albertan bonds from a Riksbank balance sheet perspective will have little impact on the total. In short, it looks to be pure tokenism. The Riksbank has invested around 8% of its foreign exchange reserves in Australian and Canadian central and federal government bonds. So perhaps at the moment, it is nothing but substitution from state to federal. Why not punish NSW TCorp for being part of a state that has 85%+ coal-fired power generation?

At the very least the Riksbank admits its own hypocrisy.

The Riksbank needs to develop its work on how to take climate change into consideration in asset management. For instance, we need a broader and deeper analysis of the issuers’ climate footprint. At the same time, one must remember that the foreign exchange reserves are unavoidably dominated by US and German government bonds. The Riksbank’s contribution to a better development of the climate will, therefore, remain small. This is entirely natural. The important decisions on how climate change should be counteracted in Sweden are political and should be taken by the government and the Riksdag (parliament).

Still, what hope have we got when Benoît Cœuré, member of the Executive Board of the ECB, lecturing those on “Scaling up Green Finance: The Role of Central Banks.” He noted,

2018 has seen one of the hottest summers in Europe since weather records began. Increasing weather extremes, rising sea levels and the Arctic melting are now clearly visible consequences of human-induced warming. Climate change is not a theory. It is a fact.

Reading more of this report only confirms the commitment of the ECB to follow the UN’s lead and deliberately look to misallocate capital based on unfounded claims of falling crop yields and rising prices (the opposite is occurring) and rising hurricane and drought activity (claims that even the IPCC has admitted there is little or no evidence by climate change). Sweden is merely being a well-behaved schoolboy.

Cœuré made the explicit claim, “The ECB, together with other national central banks of the Eurosystem, is actively supporting the European Commission’s sustainable finance agenda.

CM thinks the biggest problem with this “agenda” is that it risks even further misallocation of capital within global markets already drowning in poorly directed investment. It isn’t hard to see what is going on here. It is nothing short of deliberate market manipulation by trying to increase the cost of funding to conventional energy using farcical concocted “climate risks” to regulate them out of existence.

Cœuré made this clear in his speech,

once markets and credit risk agencies price climate risks properly, the amount of collateralised borrowing counterparties can obtain from the ECB will be adjusted accordingly.

What do you know? On cue, Seeking Alpha notes,

Cutting €2bn of yearly investments, the European Union will stop funding oil, natural gas and coal projects at the end of 2021 as it aims to become the first climate-neutral continent.

All CM will say is best of luck with this decision. Just watch how this kneeling at the altar of the pagan god of climate change will completely ruin the EU economy. The long term ramifications are already being felt. The EU can’t escape the fact that 118mn of its citizens (up from 78m in 2007) are below the poverty line. That is 22% of the population. So why then does Cœuré mention, in spite of such alarming poverty, that taking actions (that will likely increase unemployment) will be helped by “migration [which] has contributed to dampening wage growth…in recent years, thereby further complicating our efforts to bring inflation back to levels closer to 2%.

Closer to home, the National Australia Bank (NAB) has joined in the groupthink by looking to phase out lending to thermal coal companies by 2035. The $760 million exposure will be cut in half by 2028. If climate change is such a huge issue why not look to end it ASAP? This is terrible governance.

Why not assess thermal coal companies on the merits of the industry’s future rather than have the acting-CEO Philip Chronican make a limp-wristed excuse that it is merely getting in line with the government commitment to Paris? If lending to thermal coal is good for shareholders in 2036, who cares what our emissions targets are (which continue to fall per capita)? Maybe this is industry and regulator working hand-in-hand?

The market has always been the best weighing mechanism for risk. Unfortunately, for the last two decades, global central bank policy has gone out of its way to prevent the market from clearing. Now it seems that the authorities are taking actions that look like collusion to bully the ratings agencies into marking down legitimate businesses that are being punished for heresy.

This will ironically only make them even better investments down the track when reality dawns, just as CM pointed out with anti-ESG stocks. Just expect the entry points to these stocks to be exceedingly cheap. Buy what the market hates. It looks as though the bureaucrats are set to make fossil fuel companies penny stocks.

ESG Blacklisted portfolio

ESG (Environment, Social Responsibility & Governance) blacklisted stocks. We all know deep in our hearts that vices are far more fun than virtues. Real Coke tastes better than Diet Coke. Full cream is better than skim. McDonald’s fries are tastier than mashed potato. CM made this point in yesterday’s piece on the irresponsibility of socially responsible investing for building a retirement nest-egg given the long term underperformance.

When all of this politically correct ESG investing meets a recession, these oversold anti-ESG darlings, many with gobs of free cash will look like total bargains. Suffice to say in a downturn, vices tend to be what people resort to.

All CM cares about is the G in ESG. Governance is a must for investing. E & S are merely subjective views which don’t automatically convert to shareholder value. Good governance goes without saying.

So perish the thought that CEOs, like Harvey Norman’s Katie Page are being attacked by the likes of Ownership Matters which thinks putting in a shareholder activist who has failed 49 times out of 49 to be appointed to ASX listed boards is a better bet? As Janet Albrechtsen of The Australian wrote,

A copy of the report obtained by The Australian reveals Ownership Matters has recommended that Stephen Mayne be elected to the board of the retailer, even though the 50-year-old has no corporate experience in retail or property, no corporate board experience and no corporate management experience…Harvey Norman has a market capitalisation of $5.2bn, and shares in the retailer have gained more than 32 per cent over the past year, outperforming the 16.4 per cent gain in the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 over the same period…The advice sent out on Monday has baffled Ms Page’s husband, the business’s billionaire co-founder Gerry Harvey, who remains its largest shareholder, retaining ­direct ownership of almost a third of the company. “I have been on a public company board as chairman since 1972, and I have never seen anything as bizarre as the fact that the best ­retail executive in Australia is to be replaced by a ratbag called ­Stephen Mayne who has been a proven failure … every time he’s run for a board seat,” Harvey said.

 

The irresponsibility of socially responsible investing

United Nations Sustainable Development Logo

Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) has been heavily pushed by members of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) for a while now. Apart from cynically cashing in on the generally higher fees generated by these “woke” funds, the returns have been nothing much to write home about. As Milton Friedman once said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.

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 ACSI members, they have “underperformed” the benchmark index. One outperformed in the 5-year category. Hardly anything to crow about. So as much as they might feel warm and fuzzy for turning these funds into virtue-signalling investment vehicles, the outcomes for the monies entrusted to them is far from ideal. While investors should bear ultimate responsibility for where they deploy retirement funds, do they realise how much money they are torching by believing in this nonsense?

So why do these funds try to bully top-performing companies to conform to their irrelevant ideals which on the face of it do not appear to be working? If one reads through the fine print, many superannuation administrators pat themselves on the back that they are aligning portfolios to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If one wants to champion best in class ethics, the UN is the last place anyone should look. Just look at the unethical scandal that occurred at UNAIDS. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what these SDGs are – eliminating hunger, wiping out poverty, promoting gender equality, good health, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy etc. All wonderful things in and of themselves, but surely if the market agrees with them,  shouldn’t share prices reflect that?

Friedman spoke of free-market economics, “Well, first of all, tell me: Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus [including the UN]. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.

In Australia,  it would seem that many high performing companies, that aren’t ‘compliant as they should be‘, are being pressured to increase diversity, women on boards and all manner of meaningless benchmarks preached by the ACSI and its members.

Take the 30% Club which pushes to have 30% women on boards. While this started in the UK in 2010, it has spread across multiple jurisdictions including Australia. The 30% Club emphatically quotes from a McKinsey study,  “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.” What this study doesn’t say is that the bottom quartile of companies maybe just poorly run, in spite of the genitalia of the board.

Don’t mistake the most important point to be made. If a board is best served by all women, you won’t hear a peep from investors if they can produce the best results. As soon as we start to try to enforce gender quotas, performance becomes predicated on chromosomes rather than capability. What next? Ensure fair representation of LGBT on boards? Religions? Races? Disabilities? Where does it stop when all that matters is ability that produces performance?

Take a look at the disaster that has befallen PG&E in recent times. In the interests of pandering to all these irrelevant SDGs, it can tell you the exact breakdown of the diversity of its workforce but can’t tell you the status of much of its infrastructure, some which have been directly responsible for the devastating wildfires in California. The company was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Did diversity help shareholders? If one’s house is on fire, do we worry about identity? Or who has the skillsets to put out the blaze the fastest? QED.

Yet our woke investors keep pushing these trends. IFM Investors waxes lyrical about its climate change, 30% Club and carbon disclosure project. Good for it. It has a choice. It should live by the sword and die by it. If that is what it wishes to focus on why not allow the free market to; a) decide whether superannuation holders want to deploy funds in such a manner and b) let corporates decide if SRI is good for their businesses.

Yet, the latest push by these socialist fund administrators is to ensure that companies conform to the ‘Modern Slavery Act.’ Are these people for real? Who are they to try to enforce federal law? Talk about self-imposed authority. It is a safe bet that 99%+ corporates listed on the ASX behave are compliant in this regard because if not the punitive outcomes will be severe.

Moreover, if some of these funds own stocks like Tesla in their international portfolios, perhaps they might consider such a hip and trendy investment has an indirect connection to child-slave labour in DR Congo where 70% of the world’s cobalt is mined to go into the Li-ion batteries.

There is one absolute truth in finance. In good times, any mug CEO can be successful. It is only when markets turn sour that the “quality” of decent management is truly appreciated in how they successfully manage to mitigate risk in an ugly downturn. In a difficult market climate, only the fittest survive and if companies have strayed off the reservation to appeal to investors, it will soon become self-evident in the results.

As we stare at the precipice of a potentially deep global recession, the previous paragraph will be all that matters. Because those corporates too busy hitting diversity targets, installing genderless bathrooms and ensuring they have double-checked all employees have complied with Earth Hour will be slaughtered when markets take a pounding.

These SDG focused funds will soon see that they are part of one giant herd and as performance starts to suffer in this crowded trade, the stampede toward the exit will reveal just how irresponsible the push to ram through such irrelevant metrics at the very companies who caved in was.

As a contrarian investor, the best investments will be in exactly those companies that shun(ned) this foolhardy exercise and forged a path in the spirit of Milton Friedman. Afterall they understood what it really means to be “free to choose.” So back up the truck in tobacco, mining and fossil fuel stocks on any pullback. After all, mean reversion will see these stocks outperform if nothing else.

Don’t forget Harvey Norman (HVN). How could it be that the company is worth 4x the combined value of Myer and David Jones, the latter two businesses focused on pleasing the United Nations rather than customers?  Hmmm.

Isn’t that the ultimate ready reckoner for these SDG funds? The market is always right. If the performance of the funds deployed isn’t making the grade, don’t attempt to force the best of breed to comply to your self imposed standards. Embrace companies that follow their lead. Not the other way around. It begs the question, what on earth are people who should believe in free markets doing to thwart it functioning efficiently?

Perhaps investors have the clearest indication of socialist activism by the very requirement to join the club. “ACSI drives strong ESG performance in companies in which our members invest because ESG creates long-term value…We use our collective impact to influence companies and financial markets in the interests of our members as long-term investors…Commitment to these beliefs is a pre-requisite for membership of ACSI.

Never has it been a more sound decision to set up an SMSF.