The Dutch pension fund for the technology industry PME will sell another €230m in investments in coal as well as €56m in oil and gas stocks following revelations by a Dutch TV show.
The Dutch TV programme Pointer revealed on Wednesday that PME’s claim to have sold all of its fossil fuel investments last year was not entirely correct.
PME proudly announced in September 2021 that it was the first Dutch pension fund to have divested completely from fossil fuels, after selling €1.2bn worth in shares and bonds of fossil fuel firms. Back in 2018, PME had already announced it had divested from all coal producers.
When designing its exclusion policy back in 2018, PME had not realised it kept investing in coal mines indirectly through its holdings in some utilities that operate their own coalmines.
“The coal they produce is a direct input for their energy plants. Therefore, on paper these companies do not make any money with coal production. We hadn’t realised this,” a spokesperson for PME told IPE.
Besides, PME also turned out to invest some €420m in 21 companies active in the exploitation and/or distribution of fossil fuels.
PME has promised to sell its stakes in six of these companies, totalling €56m. “Companies that may play a role in the transition to green hydrogen will remain in the portfolio,” the pension fund said.
Responding to the findings of the TV programme, PME chief investment officer Marcel Andringa called them “really frustrating.” A spokesperson for PME added: “This should not have happened and we are very sorry that it did. In hindsight, our exclusion policy for fossil fuels should have been designed with more care.”
Contrary to other pension funds that decided to divest from fossil fuels, such as Horeca & Catering, the pension fund for the hospitality industry, PME did not establish clear guidelines.
Horeca & Catering for example only promised to divest from companies that derive more than 50% of their revenue from oil and gas. PME said it would stop investing in fossil fuels entirely, but could have known this was not correct, Pointer noted.
PME had based its exclusion on policies on Bloomberg and MSCI databases. As a result, the fund only excluded firms that derived the majority of their revenue from fossil fuels – just like Horeca & Catering.
“We chose this approach because it allowed us to easily compare our adjusted portfolio to standard benchmarks, but in hindsight this proved too simple as some companies to slip through,” PME said, mentioning mining giants Glencore, BHP Biliton and Hindalco as examples of such companies.
These firms operate coal mines, but were not regarded as coal miners by MSCI because they derive less than 50% of their revenue from it. That PME failed to see Glencore as a coal miner, is especially remarkable, since the firm calls itself “one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of seaborne traded thermal and coking coal” on its own website.
In order to prevent further mistakes in the future, PME will start using additional public data sources, including a list of fossil fuel firms published by German NGO Urgewald.
“By using Urgewald as a source we discovered several smaller oil and gas firms in our portfolio. These holdings will be eliminated,” PME says on its website.