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BlackRock, European firms face Texas pension ban over energy policies

BlackRock, European firms face Texas pension ban over energy policies



A View of the New York Offices of the Financial Firm Blackrock in New York, New York on 12 January 2016.Texas agencies may bar BlackRock Inc and nine European firms from doing some business in the state after its Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Wednesday concluded the companies were boycotting the energy industry in violation of a new law.

In a document his office released on Wednesday, Hegar also flagged nearly 350 individual funds which he determined violated the law, though many investment companies dispute this.Hegar was required to draw up the list by the law passed last year to protect Texas' big oil and gas sectors. Under the law state agencies shall stop doing business with the listed companies or explain continued relationships, such as if they decide divestments would conflict with their fiduciary duties.Funds such as the $200 billion Teacher Retirement System, Texas' largest public pension fund, now have 30 days to report what money they have with the listed financial firms.Wall Street has been watching for the list's release as a bellwether for how aggressively Republican state officials like Hegar will pursue a growing campaign against corporate policies on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues they say hurt legitimate industries.Read MoreInvestors have continued to put money into ESG-oriented funds despite choppy markets this year.Other financial firms Hegar listed include Credit Suisse Group, BNP Paribas SA, UBS Group AG and Schroders PLC.Each of the companies was extensively screened on criteria like the pledges they had made to investor groups aiming to reduce emissions such as the Climate Action 100+ or whether they had set aggressive emission-reduction targets for portfolio companies, Hegar said in an interview.The 10 listed companies "are boycotting the oil and gas industry per the research and documentation that we've found. It's as simple as that," Hegar said.While BlackRock and the European firms have expressed concern about issues like climate change and how it could affect portfolio companies' financial performance, they continue to hold fossil fuel stocks and had previously argued their ESG concerns were shared by clients.BlackRock (BLK) is the world's largest money manager with some $8.5 trillion in total assets, including about $20 billion it runs for public funds in Texas. It has become a frequent target of critics on the right, but also from climate activists who say it does too little to cut global emissions and who have picketed its New York headquarters."Elected and appointed public officials have a duty to act in the best interests of the people they serve," BlackRock said in a statement. "Politicizing state pension funds, restricting access to investments, and impacting the financial returns of retirees, is not consistent with that duty."Hegar's list notably does not include large US companies including JPMorgan Chase & Co or Wells Fargo & Co. Most top US and European investors had lobbied hard to be excluded.One JPMorgan fund was included on the list, as were those from big US index fund providers Vanguard Group and State Street Corp.A JPMorgan spokeswoman said the bank looks forward to doing business with Texas public entities. Wells Fargo declined to comment. State Street, BNP and Schroders did not immediately comment.Vanguard, which had only five ESG-focused funds on Hegar's list, said it "does not boycott entire industries or sectors of the economy, and our focus on maximizing shareholder value remains unchanged."UBS objects to being included on the list, a spokesperson said. "We provided their office with extensive information on our policies and practices, demonstrating that UBS does not boycott energy companies even under a broad interpretation of Texas law."Credit Suisse "is not boycotting the energy sector as the bank has ongoing partnerships and strong client relationships in the energy sector," a spokesperson said. "We look forward to engaging with the Texas Comptroller to resolve this matter."


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