Florida will be pulling $2 billion worth of pension funds previously under the management of financial mega firm BlackRock over concerns the firm’s infamous “Environmental, Social, and Governance standards” are prioritizing left-wing virtue signaling over returns.
“As Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, it’s my responsibility to get the best returns possible for taxpayers,” Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis said in a press release announcing the move.
“The more effective we are in investing dollars to generate a return, the more effective we’ll be in funding priorities like schools, hospitals and roads. As major banking institutions and economists predict a recession in the coming year, and as the Fed increases interest rates to combat the inflation crisis, I need partners within the financial services industry who are as committed to the bottom line as we are – and I don’t trust BlackRock’s ability to deliver.”
BlackRock, founded in 1988, is one of the world’s largest asset management companies, with $10 trillion under management. The firm has tried to become a leader in ESG investing, particular since CEO Larry Fink published his 2021 shareholder letter touting his lofty world-improving social goals.
“BlackRock CEO Larry Fink is on a campaign to change the world,” Patronis said.
“In an open letter to CEOs, he’s championed ‘stakeholder capitalism’ and believes that ‘capitalism has the power to shape society.’ To meet this end, the asset management company has leaned heavily into Environmental, Social, and Governance standards – known as ESG – to help police who should, and who should not gain access to capital,” he said.
ESG investing, also known as stakeholder capitalism, exists in tension with the fiduciary responsibility of asset managers that requires them to maximize returns for clients. The movement has nonetheless swept through the financial world, causing university endowment funds, public pension funds, and other large asset pools to abandon otherwise profitable investments in the energy sector and elsewhere.
But the evidence on ESG’s impact is far from clear.
A 2020 paper by researchers at the University of Iowa and University of South Carolina suggest companies are more likely to tout “stakeholder” initiatives in public communication when they expect earnings to come up short.
More recently, researchers from the London School of Economics and Columbia University has found that funds which tout the ESG label often invest in companies with worse records of compliance with labor and environmental laws compared to investments from non-ESG funds.
Sometimes stakeholder capitalism isn’t just meaningless virtue signaling — sometimes it’s more nefarious.
Critics say large firms, like BlackRock, use poor ESG ratings in order to lower the price of certain profitable companies, which they can then scoop up at a discount. They also note publicly traded corporations may do perverse or meaningless things to prop up ESG scores.
For example, many large publicly traded companies endeavoring to improve their “social” scores made large financial commitments in 2020 to various groups associated with the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
One of those groups — Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (GNF) — collected more than $90 million in donations, much of it from large ESG-seeking corporations, and at least some of that cash wound up in the hands of fraudsters who used the money on their own lavish lifestyles.
In September, an executive GNF was accused of wrongfully syphoning $10 million in donor money.
Before that, the New York Post discovered that GNF co-founder Patrisse Kahn-Cullor used part of the windfall to scoop up millions of dollars in real estate.
Although these corporate donations and others went towards questionable causes, they may nonetheless boost the ESG scores of the companies behind the donations.
Florida’s Dept. of Financial Services manages roughly $60 billion in taxpayer money.