By Sarah Elmquist Squires
If changes to Wyoming’s administrative rules are finalized, investment brokers and agents will be mandated to disclose whether they consider “social criteria” in their investment strategy.
Called “ESG” investments – Environmental, Social and Governance investing uses criteria considering how well public companies safeguard the environment and their communities. Companies like Bloomberg, S&P Dow Jones Indices, JUST Capital, and other companies assign scores based on these criteria, with some investors weighing ESG scores and not only financial considerations when investing funds.
“I am deeply disturbed by the negative impact ESG investing has on the people of Wyoming,” Secretary of State Chuck Gray said. “ESG investments maliciously target Wyoming’s core industries by divesting from its coal, natural gas, and agricultural sectors. Also, ESG investing harms those whose hard-earned money is being invested through investment strategies which do not consider the highest financial return. With an increasing trend of mutual funds and brokerage firms being pressured by woke politicians to offer investment products which employ ESG principles, we must take an active role to protect our state and consumers.”
Just what is ESG?
While the rise of ESG investing has attracted vast sums of money across the globe and been touted as a way to keep investments green, financial experts say it’s not that simple. According to Bloomberg, ESG ratings “don’t measure a company’s impact on the Earth and society. In fact, they gauge the opposite: the potential impact of the world on the company and its shareholders.”
Harvard Business Review notes that while marketing materials for ESG investing may point to saving the planet and social goods, the fine print shows the efforts are aimed at identifying future conditions that could negatively impact the value of the investment.
When BlackRock launched the U.S. Carbon Readiness Transition in 2021 it collected more than $1 billion in a single day – but among the top holdings were Conoco Phillips, Chevron, and Exxon.
But do they perform?
University of Chicago researchers authored a Journal of Finance paper and examined Morningstar sustainability ratings of over 20,000 mutual funds – more than $8 trillion in investments. Those rated highest in sustainability attracted more money than those rated the lowest, but none of those lauded as high sustainability funds outperformed those with the lowest ratings. Other studies have suggested that highly rated ESG funds don’t necessarily even have good environmental and labor compliance records, either.
While ESG investing is complex and laden with fine print and what some call sustainability doublespeak, Secretary of State Gray wants full transparency when it comes to Wyoming investments. He’s proposed changes to chapters two, four, five and 10 of the state’s securities rules that would require disclosure by investment advisers, broker-dealers, and securities agents to their clients and customers when ESG ratings, or other “social objectives,” in their investment or commitment of customer funds. He called the move “the first concrete action taking on ESG in Wyoming.”
Public comments about the proposed rule change may be submitted online at http://rules.wyo.gov by searching for the rules change and using the “provide public comment” link. Comments may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments will be accepted until September 29, 2023. On that day, a public hearing will be held at the Cheyenne Capitol Extension Conference Center Auditorium at 10 a.m. Citizens may attend the hearing virtually by registering at https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMlcOmrrDwpGtxs1Q3djDbILQ0wzJWhFvPi#/registration.