Steven Meier, the chief investment officer for the New York City Retirement System, said a pullback on ESG efforts by major fund-management companies has little impact on the city’s pensions and their power to vote on shareholder measures seeking to change corporate policies.
(Bloomberg) — Steven Meier, the chief investment officer for the New York City Retirement System, said a pullback on ESG efforts by major fund-management companies has little impact on the city’s pensions and their power to vote on shareholder measures seeking to change corporate policies.
Large asset managers like BlackRock Inc. and Vanguard Group Inc. have reduced their backing of shareholder proposals on climate and social issues. BlackRock said in a report published last week that many of the proposed resolutions have become “unduly prescriptive.”
New York City pensions hold about $70 billion of US equities. Roughly 80% is passively managed and BlackRock is the largest external asset manager of the city’s pensions.
“There is a misconception in the marketplace that passive management means passive ownership,” Meier said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “We intend to be in these indices and these companies for years and decades, so we want to have the ability to impact performance of those funds.”
Meier said there are challenges for investors given the lack of uniformity surrounding companies’ ESG disclosures. And the five different pension plans he oversees, which include funds for New York City’s teachers and police, each have their own views on how to approach the issues of climate change and sustainability.
Even though pullback from large firms has little impact on the mechanics of how the city’s pensions vote on proposals, their moves may influence public opinion.
“BlackRock is a big important firm — a lot of people look at what they do,” Meier said. “The whole issue around ESG has become highly politicized, and that I think has something to do with perhaps them, at least on the surface, looking as though they’re pulling back from some of those commitments.”
A BlackRock spokesperson didn’t have an immediate comment.
–With assistance from Silla Brush and David Westin.
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