Saturday, October 2, 2021
A while back, I posted about how there’s been some institutional investor support for the proposal that the SEC require not only public companies, but private companies, disclose climate change information.
Usually, of course, private companies aren’t required to disclose things – especially to institutional investors – on the theory that institutional investors can themselves bargain for the information that they need. (Yes, yes, there are kind of exceptions, like Securities Act Section 4(a)(7), etc). But the SEC and Congress have been gradually expanding which companies count as private, raising concerns that not only that they have assumed too much sophistication on the part of institutions (for example, institutional investors themselves have complained about opacity among the PE funds in which they invest), but also that the SEC and Congress have ignored the benefits of creating a body of public information across a wide swath of companies.
Which is why this article grabbed me:
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System and Carlyle Group Inc. helped rally a group of more than a dozen investors to share and privately aggregate information related to emissions, diversity and the treatment of employees across closely held companies. More firms and institutions are expected to join.
“We need to start a common language across all these participants so we can actually, in a sustained way, make some progress,” Carlyle Chief Executive Officer Kewsong Lee said in an interview. “By honing in on a set of common standards and common metrics, we start to standardize the conversations so we can really track progress. It’s really hard to do that right now.”
Blackstone Group Inc. and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, the country’s largest pension fund, are also part of the effort. Boston Consulting Group was tapped to aggregate the data.
Private-equity firms will be seeking to standardize and share data on greenhouse-gas emissions, renewable energy, board diversity, work-related injuries, net new hires and employee engagement. Calpers CEO Marcie Frost said she would like to see these metrics expand to include data such as C-suite diversity and employee satisfaction.
The article is framed as further evidence of a trend toward ESG investing, but for me the more relevant point is that investors are trying to band together to create a common pool of information about private companies that have been excepted from the public disclosure regime. You could, I suppose, call that a triumph of private ordering; I take it as evidence of a fundamental failure of the securities disclosure system. I suppose you could also tell a story about the privatization of what was once public infrastructure more generally, or the unholy marriage of privatization and environmentalism.