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ESG roundup: Hermes, News Corp, 'ecological' bonds, Green to Mainstream

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  • ESG roundup: Hermes, News Corp, 'ecological' bonds, Green to Mainstream

EUROPE - UK-based advisory Hermes Equity Ownership Services (EOS) is set to withhold support for News Corporation, the media company involved a phone hacking scandal, at its forthcoming shareholder meeting.

At the meeting on 21 October, Hermes EOS intends to withhold support on behalf of its clients from Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch, Arthur Siskind and Andrew Knight.

Since the phone-hacking allegations earlier this year, the advisory service has stepped up its engagement in relation to board composition and requested that News Corporation appoint a genuinely independent chair, replace family members and affiliated directors with credible outside directors and appoint an independent third party to conduct an investigation and report findings publicly.

Jennifer Walmsley, director at Hermes EOS, said: "News Corp has not reacted with sufficient urgency to investor concerns about its board composition and corporate culture. The time is right for the company to appoint an independent chairman to rebuild trust, help correct the governance discount and ensure the interests of all investors are properly represented."

Hermes EOS clients include the UK's Lothian pension funds, the National Pensions Reserve Fund of Ireland, PNO Media, PSP Investments, PKA, VicSuper, the BBC Pensions Trust and the BT Pension Scheme, which owns Hermes.

In other news, early next week, at a workshop on 17 October in Washington, the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) will launch a new risk assessment framework for government bonds that incorporates ecological risk.

The government bonds project, which was set up in collaboration with international think-tank the Global Footprint Network, has two aims: to investigate the connections between ecological risk and country-level risk in sovereign bonds and to develop a methodology to explore how credit rating agencies, investors and financial information providers can integrate ecological data into their respective models.

In particular, the analysis will look at the risks to countries whose populations and/or industries require more resources than is domestically available and that are hence reliant on ecological services from abroad.

Tightening constraints on resources and their potential impacts on national economies have been largely absent from financial analysis.

Yet such factors are thought to have growing implications for the long-term credit risk of many government bonds, especially those with long-dated maturities.

Meanwhile, Henderson Global Investors has said the accumulating ecological debt burden is on a larger scale than the financial crisis.

Speaking at the launch of the WorldWise Investor website in London, George Latham, head of SRI funds at Henderson Global Investors, said water scarcity, obesity, rising temperatures, an ageing population and other factors would lead to a growing ecological burden for the planet.

"If the financial crisis and the debt problem we built up was a big issue, then there is a bigger one coming - if we think about the way we live in ecological terms and our ecological annual allowance is equated to our income, then we are living on debt in a much greater sense than we ever were in terms of the savings rate.

"We live on our annual allowance until 21 August each year at the rate we are consuming at the moment. Beyond 21 August, the last four months of the year we are living on debt. We are living beyond our means in ecological terms and are using up more resources than is sustainable on an annual basis."

But socially responsible investment (SRI), despite steady growth for more than 30 years - and moving from an ethical, corporate responsible, thematic approach to a more integrated approach - remains a niche area, he conceded.

"The SRI industry should be set up to tip into the mainstream investment psyche of the financial services industry, but, although the industry has grown steadily over the past years, it is still a relative niche," he said.

"The problem has become particularly in the financial services world an issue around short-termism. We call ourselves investors, yet, according to a recent Mercer survey, across all markets, less than 10% of managers have a turnover in their portfolio of less than 33%- in other words, a holding period of more than three years."

Lastly, governments were said not to have been helpful to the course of renewable energy.

Speaking at Merrill Lynch's/Bank of America's recent Green to Mainstream seminar, Clare Brook, fund manager at WHEB Asset Management, said: "The clean tech sector exists despite the government trying to create a confusing environment. For wind manufacturers, for example, it is difficult to put in a five-year plan as governments change plans. And hedge funds exploit volatility in the sector caused by governments.

"There are exceptions - such as the German and Scottish governments - but generally governments are more harmful than helpful to the advance of renewable energy."

Brook also pointed out that, on the ground, environmental companies reported a positive attitude, although equities were unpopular and clean tech equities were "the most hated of the hated".

And with regard to water infrastructure expenditure, she added: "A lot of expenditure has been deferred. Deferred spending means a boom waiting to come in a few years' time."

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