Hundreds of KiwiSaver, investment funds in Russian companies

28th Feb. 2022

Hundreds of KiwiSaver and investment funds are invested in Russian companies, including major state-backed institutions.

This article originally appeared in 1News and is written by Anna Whyte and Katie Bradford.

Hundreds of KiwiSaver and investment funds are invested in Russian companies, including major state-backed institutions.

Barry Coates, former Green MP and CEO of Mindful Money, a charity website that shows all the companies that KiwiSavers are investing in, said some of the companies could be considered as "financially propping up the Russian Government" in the invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainians in NZ plead with Ardern's Govt to sanction Russia.

Coates said the public should be assured their funds are not supporting the Russian state, "at a time of massive suffering for the people of Ukraine".

He said investments totalled over $100 million, which includes "holdings in KiwiSaver, retail investment funds, NZ Superannuation Fund and ACC".

"While the value of this investment is not globally significant, many New Zealanders will be concerned that their funds are being used to support Russian companies at a time when civilians are being terrorised and killed by Russian aggression.

"Fund holdings include major state-backed institutions, such as Sberbank, Gazprom and Rosneft, as well as Russian government bonds.

Sberbank is the Russian majority state-owned bank, Gazprom, the partly state-owned energy company, while Rosneft is a part state-owned oil and gas company. BP on Monday announced it would be exiting its almost 20 per cent share in Rosneft.

Coates said the majority of New Zealand investments are in Russian oil and gas companies, "such as the state-backed Gazprom and Rosneft, as well as large companies such as Novatek and Lukoil".

He said there was investment avenues from ACC and the NZ Super Fund, as well as "literally hundred of KiwiSaver funds and retail investment funds, that the public has their money in are also invested in Russian companies".

"Many of these companies are the big banks and fossil fuel companies in particular, that are very close to the Putin Government."

Coates said he was already seeing KiwiSaver providers begin divesting away from some of the Russian companies, while many investments in Russia "have absolutely tanked over past week".

"Although it may not be a direct impact on the Russian companies themselves, there's a really strong signalling effect when people divest from shares."

Mindful Money released details on Monday about which funds are invested in Russian companies and government bonds.

That also included Kiwi Wealth, the KiwiSaver scheme distributed by Kiwibank, the NZDF KiwiSaver funds and banks such as Westpac and ASB.

Some KiwiSavers are already pulling investments out of Russian state-linked companies and government bonds.

Westpac's KiwiSaver provider BT Funds Management told 1News prior to the invasion, "our exposure to investments in Russia made up less than 0.1 per cent of our holdings".

"In light of the current events and international sanctions against Russian entities, we are in the process of divesting all Government Bonds and Russian shares subject to sanctions across all our investment funds, including Westpac KiwiSaver.”

ASB told 1News that it and investment partner Blackrock "are actively assessing if ASB’s KiwiSaver Growth fund should continue to have exposure to Russian listed companies", with currently 0.25 per cent exposure of its KiwiSaver growth fund.

An ACC Investments spokesperson said ACC currently holds $31 million in Russian equity and corporate bonds.

"This figure includes equity and corporate bonds listed on either US or London stock exchanges in depositary receipts. ACC holds no Russian sovereign debt."

NZ Super Fund spokesperson Conor Roberts said there was approximately $9 million of shares from the Russian Federation, "covering retailing, media, telecommunication, banking and financial services, marketing, retail, chemical and mining companies".

"We are currently assessing the implications of Russia’s actions under our Responsible Investment policy regarding the Fund’s equity holdings and sovereign bonds."

On her response to the investments, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that "legally we are unable to direct those investment funds on how they make their investments".

"But I have been advised, for instance, that the Guardians of the Super Fund are going through their own process at the moment when it comes to any investments that may be linked to Russia and those responsible."

It also comes as Ukrainians in New Zealand are pleading with the Government to do everything it can to sanction Russia and send a message to the Russian Government - which includes seizing millions of dollars’ worth of Russian financial interests held here.

Land Information NZ told 1News that Russian investors own eight properties, totalling 2,500 hectares.

When asked if the Government would consider freezing assets of non- resident or non-citizen Russians in light of the invasion, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, "we haven't taken any options off the table", in an effort “to reinforce strong condemnation” of Russia's actions.