Earlier this year, Larry Fink said BlackRock would sell its coal investments. He admonished executives who refused to disclose their climate risks and said public companies must serve all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Editorials in the business press accused him of virtue signaling, a cliché that means he was publicly expressing opinions intended to demonstrate his political correctness. It fell flat with the environmental activists and his shareholders.
A billionaire, Fink is chairman, CEO and co-founder of BlackRock. He and seven partners founded BlackRock in 1988 and the firm has grown steadily to become the world’s largest asset manager. The BlackRock name has nothing to do with coal.
In a letter to its clients, the BlackRock CEO announced a number of initiatives to place sustainability at the center of its investment approach, including an exit of investments that present a high sustainability-related risk, such as thermal coal production. “Climate change is driving a profound reassessment of risk and we anticipate a significant reallocation of capital,” Fink said.
These moves were not enough to appease climate activists. During BlackRock’s annual shareholder meeting in May, they staged demonstrations in cities around the world demanding that the firm change its investment model to be the climate leader it claims to be. They hoisted a 10-foot hot air balloon at BlackRock’s headquarters in Manhattan with a banner that read, “BlackRock: Hot Air on Climate.”
Propaganda distributed by some of these groups accused BlackRock of being the biggest single investor in the 50-plus companies that are actively building new coal-fired power plants. They wanted BlackRock to use its clout and its clients’ money to accomplish what they have been unable to do through legislation or regulation. And, they have a sympathetic ear with Fink. In his annual letter to CEOs, he wrote, “a commitment to stakeholders helps a company connect more deeply to its customers and adjust to the changing demands of society.”
Fortunately, BlackRock’s shareholders don’t agree with him. A resolution put forward by a Berkley, California-based nonprofit, “As You Sow,” asked BlackRock’s board to prepare a report on how to implement a stakeholder corporate purpose. As You Sow claims to empower shareholders to change corporations for good. The resolution drew less than 4% shareholder support and BlackRock’s board opposed it.
Despite all of the politically correct rhetoric, as an asset manager, BlackRock has a fiduciary duty to do its best to deliver strong returns for its clients (shareholders). They know it and so does BlackRock’s board.