One of Britain’s biggest fund managers started selling shares in Exxon Mobil Corp, saying America’s largest oil company isn’t doing enough to address climate change.
Legal & General Investment Management, which oversees about $1.3tn and is one of Exxon’s top 20 shareholders, said some of its funds have already divested from the company and will ask its clients if it can withdraw more money.
The global oil industry has become increasingly unfashionable for investors as the transition away from fossil fuels raises doubts about its long-term future. Energy stocks currently make up 5% of the S&P 500 Index, down from 13% a decade ago.
The divestment affects a small portion of Exxon’s equity – Legal & General owns about 0.6% of the company, and the divesting funds hold just a fraction of that – but it intensifies pressure on the Texas firm, once the world’s largest public company. It will also be a fillip for campaigners who want investors to divest from the most polluting companies.
Divestment is a way to “hold Exxon accountable for something that’s really material for their future,” said Meryam Omi, head of sustainability at Legal & General Investment Management. “People in the street who have their own pension that’s going to mature in 30 years time don’t get a chance to talk to Exxon themselves.”
Exxon is the only oil major Legal & General is divesting, as competitors including Chevron Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc meet or exceed the insurer’s basic standards on climate change action. It would also use its remaining shareholding in the company to vote next year against the reappointment of the chairman, a role currently held by chief executive officer Darren Woods.
Exxon is the largest of 11 companies that Legal & General said it will exclude from its “Future World” funds because of climate change risk. Others include MetLife Inc, Subaru Corp, Hormel Foods Corp, Sysco Corp and Rosneft PJSC. Two companies it withdrew capital from last year for the same reason, Occidental Petroleum Corp and Dominion Energy Inc, will be added back to the funds because they addressed concerns raised by the insurer.
While standards differ by sector, Legal & General said it expects oil and gas companies to set targets to cut pollution in their own operations as a bare minimum. It also wants the company to disclose the volume of greenhouse gas emissions its operations and customers are responsible for each year.
“We’re on track to meet greenhouse gas reduction measures we announced last year which are expected to help significantly to improve emissions performance,” Exxon spokesman Scott Silvestri said in an e-mail. “They include a 15% decrease in methane emissions and a 25% reduction in flaring by 2020.”
Exxon already publishes an annual tally of emissions from its operations and is “providing solutions to consumers to help them reduce their emissions,” Silvestri wrote.
Legal & General declined to disclose the exact value of its divestment from the oil company. At the end of March, the stock made up 0.7% of one of the asset manager’s funds, according to its website. The overall value of that fund at the time was about £4.4bn ($5.5bn), suggesting the Exxon stake was worth more than $350 million.
Several other companies are “on the cusp” of divestment when it comes to climate action, according to Sacha Sadan, the director of corporate governance at the insurer’s investment unit, without saying which ones. And even those that were named as particularly strong on sustainability compared to their peers, such as Equinor ASA and French bank BNP Paribas SA, will be expected to continuously move their businesses away from polluting activities or risk being divested.
“This engagement is not about picking up the laggards, it’s about pushing up the whole industry,” said Omi. “We need to keep the pressure on.”
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