NZ Govt-backed investment funds to exclude some Russian investments

3rd March 2022

Originally published by Tamsyn Parker on The NZ Herald: Four New Zealand government-backed investment funds are to exclude Russian Federation sovereign debt and the securities of majority Russian state-owned enterprises.

Originally published by Tamsyn Parker on The NZ Herald  

Four New Zealand government-backed investment funds are to exclude Russian Federation sovereign debt and the securities of majority Russian state-owned enterprises.

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund, Accident Compensation Corporation, Government Superannuation Fund and National Provident Fund said today they will sell their directly-held assets as market conditions allow.

But they may continue to invest in companies domiciled in Russia.

A number of KiwiSaver investment providers said they had already pulled out of their Russian investments in light of Russia declaring war on Ukraine.

The four funds said their actions were in accordance with their responsible investment policies.

"The policies provide for sovereign bond exclusions when there is widespread condemnation or sanctions by the international community and New Zealand has imposed meaningful diplomatic, economic or military sanctions aimed at that Government.

"The New Zealand Government has strongly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and implemented a range of measures in response to Russia's actions. The Prime Minister has also stated the Government is looking at other moves it could make in response to the aggression."

When it came to majority Russian state-owned companies, the investors said they took into account relevant factors under their respective frameworks, including the strength and scale of the international response and the New Zealand Government's public position on the invasion, in addition to considering the actions of their peers, expert advice and other relevant factors.

"Given the serious nature of the issues, widespread condemnation of the invasion from the international community and by the New Zealand Government, and the close association of the companies to the Russian state through its majority ownership, the four investors considered exclusion the appropriate course of action."

But the investments funds have not applied a country-wide company exclusion for Russia.

"Companies are not excluded based solely on their Russian domicile as they may have no links or contribution to the aggression of the Russian state.

"The investors will monitor the activities of individual companies on a case-by-case basis in the event they are linked to the conflict and meet the threshold for conduct that would see them excluded."

Ethical investment expert and chief executive of Mindful Money Barry Coates said while the move by the Crown Financial Institutions was welcome it did not go far enough.

"The close complicity between the Kremlin and major Russian companies has been well-documented. There is not the separation of roles that we are used to in New Zealand, and the revenues from the major oil and gas producers and commodity producers make a crucial contribution to Russian government revenue that has funded the invasion of Ukraine."

He called on the funds and other New Zealand investment providers to divest from major Russian companies, particularly the major fossil fuel companies.

Coates said the other point that was disappointing was that these institutions were only now divesting - at a time when the value of their investment has plummeted.

"Responsible investment required analysis of risks on a forward-looking basis to avoid these kind of costs from unethical government or company practices. This is not only responsible investment, it is smart investment. The CFIs have undertaken to do this but are obviously falling short."

The NZ Super Fund had $3.13m in Russian Federation Bonds and $2.82m in equity investments including Sberbank of Russia, VTB bank and Gazprom as of February 24.

A NZ Super Fund spokesman said the market had shifted substantially since February 24 so the value of its holdings would be lower.

However, the investment is small in comparison to the size of the fund which was valued at $57.6 billion on March 1.

An ACC spokesman said it held $10.7m in Russian equity and corporate bonds but no Russian sovereign debt.

"Due to international sanctions and capital constraints imposed by the Russian government on the sale of assets, divestment may require time.

"Russian asset prices have been volatile and had dropped substantially before trading was halted. The extent of losses will be understood on the completion of the sale of assets; as noted above, divestment may require time."

When the funds will be able to sell the investments is unclear.

The Moscow Exchange has been on a trading halt since Monday and the Bank of Russia has banned brokers from selling securities held by foreigners as part of moves to restore calm to its investment markets after a rout last week.