Friday, October 28, 2022

Should Antitrust Regulators Come for the ESG Cartel?

Two recent posts that might be related:

On Tuesday, Vivek Ramaswamy posted The ESG Fiduciary Gap on The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.  In that post, he noted that:

BlackRock is currently under investigation for antitrust violations precisely because of its coordinated ESG activism through groups like Climate Action 100+, Net Zero Asset Managers, and Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. Vanguard and State Street are members of many of the same groups. In fact, until recently, as Arizona’s Attorney General has observed, “Wall Street banks and money managers [were] bragging about their coordinated efforts to choke off investment in energy.” U.S. antitrust statutes are broad by design. They forbid competitors from entering into any agreement with the purpose or likely effect of reducing supply in a relevant market. Here, through these groups, BlackRock is cooperating with its competitors to make concerted efforts to decrease marketwide output in fossil fuels. That is no secret; it is the very purpose of these organizations. Net Zero Asset Managers, for example, makes clear that it has an “expectation of signatories” like BlackRock to force a “rapid phase out of fossil fuel[s],” including by, for example, refusing to finance new coal projects. If the CEOs of Exxon, Chevron, and Shell decided to cut gas production and prices then spiked, the DOJ Antitrust Division would be making arrests. But when the Big Three pressure them to do the same thing, it is praised as “ESG.”

Today, linked to a Freshfields blog, which noted that:

Led by antitrust officials in the US appointed by President Biden, authorities around the world have turned a critical eye towards private equity (PE), making PE the latest target in the global trend toward increased antitrust scrutiny.... The focus on PE in the US may inspire other regulators, in particular across the Atlantic. In Germany, a draft law is being discussed which would grant the Federal Cartel Office broad powers to address perceived “disruptions” of competition. Those powers are likely to include oversight of cross-ownerships and interlocking directorates. In 2020, the European Commission requested a study on the effects of common shareholdings by institutional investors and asset managers on European markets. While no major enforcement action has been taken since the report, the headlines generated by the DOJ may inspire the European Commission to have a renewed look at these issues in Europe. And in the UK, while the Competition and Markets Authority has recognized that highly leveraged private equity acquisitions are unlikely in themselves to impact competition, it has demonstrated a willingness to follow the European Commission in pursuing private equity owners for potential antitrust violations by their portfolio companies, as demonstrated most recently in relation to its case against excessive pricing for thyroid drugs.

And one might want to add the following from Amanda Rose (which I previously quoted here):

Traditional asset managers claim their commitment to ESG is motivated by a desire to improve long-term fund performance for the benefit of investors. But agency costs offer an alternative potential explanation: embracing the ESG movement may help asset managers curry political favor, enabling them to fend off greater regulation of the industry; it may advance the personal sociopolitical commitments of those who ran them; or it may offer a way to attract investors to fund offerings without imposing any meaningful limitations on how a fund is managed.

Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink


Post a comment