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Nordea puts temporary block on Facebook shares

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Nordic financial group Nordea has banned investments in Facebook temporarily as it assesses the impact of multiple investigations into the social network’s handling of personal data.

The company has blocked purchases for its range of sustainability-themed Stars funds.

Katarina Hammar, head of Nordea’s responsible investment unit, said: “We have, of course, been aware of ESG-related risks in Facebook and other companies in the same business for some time.”

The bank initiated a thematic report in late 2017 specifically addressing data privacy risks within the technology space, among other issues, she said.

“We’re now pulling the brake because we see that the risks related to governance around data protection may have been severely compromised,” Hammar said. “Until we’ve had time to fully assess the breadth and width of this problem, we choose to quarantine the company.”

Almost $50bn (€41bn) was wiped off Facebook’s stock market value in two days after a whistleblower claimed Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed data from millions of Facebook users to build profiles on US voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election, according to a Reuters report.

Nordea said its Stars funds invest in companies with “top-of-class environmental, social responsibility and governance profiles”.

The Nordea Global Stars fund has nearly 2% of its portfolio invested in Facebook, the company said. While fund managers cannot buy shares during the quarantine period, they are allowed to sell off the shares already held.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Swedish national pension fund AP7 – which operates the default option in the country’s premium pension system – told local pensions newsletter Pensionsnyheterna that there was a need for more regulation of internet companies.

At the end of 2017, AP7 had 0.9% of its SEK396bn (€39.2bn) equity fund invested in Facebook stock.

“Companies like this did not exist 20 years ago and this is an unregulated area,” Johan Florén, head of communications at AP7, told the news service. “We must reach agreement on what such companies do and don’t do before you can decide what you action you are going to take practically.”

Florén said that, unlike Nordea, AP7 did not have a mechanism for “quarantining” a stock. “We can blacklist a company according to various criteria, but we don’t have this kind of intermediate position,” he said.

In September last year, AP7 claimed a legal victory over Facebook when the US firm backed down over plans to reclassify its stock.

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