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CORONAVIRUS: Investment Round-up: COP26 in doubt, CalPERS closes HQ, social investors, securities lending

The latest investment news relating to the COVID-19 outbreak

The COP26 global climate talks set to take place in Glasgow in November could be off, according to a report in the Financial Times citing unnamed officials. It quoted one source as saying it was “near impossible” to do the needed diplomatic work ahead of the summit. The FT quoted a government spokesperson as saying: “We continue to work towards hosting the event.”

The California Public Employees' Retirement System said it would close its headquarters in Sacramento and other offices for one day on Monday, March 16 due to Coronavirus. The largest US pension plan took the action after an employee showed symptoms of the virus. The employee went home immediately and has been self-isolating.

A group of social investors, including Big Society Capital, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Social Investment Business and others, have reiterated their commitment to organisations they work with. “We are actively working together on how we can adapt existing schemes and funds. We are also working with government and other funders to establish new programmes that may provide additional help. We recognise that grants and business support will be at least as important as social investment.” The group has created a dedicated page on Good Finance.

The World Resources Institute has argued that responding to the short-term economic downturn caused by the outbreak with bad long-term investments would not make sense. “Instead, we have an opportunity to use stimulus measures to boost growth following the COVID-19 health crisis to both curb air pollution and help address the climate crisis,” wrote Helen Mountford, Vice President for Climate and Economics at the think tank.

Impax Asset Management, the London-based sustainability boutique, says it has decided to bring forward its regular six-monthly review of “A-List” companies to ensure they are considering the medium and long-term implications of the coronavirus and the oil price war. CEO Ian Simm said the declaration that COVID-19 is a global pandemic will “likely lead to an aggressive slowdown in economic activity during the coming weeks and months”.

UniSuper, the $85bn (€45.7bn) Australian superannuation fund for the higher education and research sector, has instructed its custodian, BNP Paribas Securities Services, to suspend its stock-lending program effective immediately. UniSuper’s Chief Investment Officer, John Pearce said: “In a normally functioning market we’re comfortable lending our shares as we genuinely believe that it adds to market efficiency.” But he said “we are now in a market gripped by panic and we believe that restricting the ability to short-sell is in the best interest of promoting a more orderly market". By the Australian Financial Review noted UniSuper was alone among superfunds in suspending its lending programme.

The outbreak is threatening project schedules in the booming US solar industry, according to industry group the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said: “We know anecdotally that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting delivery schedules and our ability to meet project completion deadlines based partly on new labor shortages.” She said it was “testing our industry’s resilience” but said SEIA believes in the long run that “we are well positioned to outcompete incumbent generators”.

A senior Polish official has been quoted as saying the EU should scrap its Emissions Trading System to help the country fight COVID-19. “The results of fighting coronavirus will be painful,” Janusz Kowalski, Deputy Minister of State Assets, told Reuters. It was “obvious that countries will be looking for extra money to help their business and citizens”.