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RI ESG Briefing, March 3: Munich Re, European Commission, NRW green bond, Morgan Stanley

The round-up of environmental, social and governance news

Environmental

MEAG, the asset manager for German re-insurer Munich Re, has acquired three UK solar parks with a combined capacity of 28MW from BayWa, a German renewables firm that developed the parks. MEAG said it had paid “around €50m” in cash for the parks. “We’re delighted that, with the transaction, we have been able expand our portfolio of renewable investments in the UK,” said MEAG Managing Director Holger Kerzel. MEAG manages €247bn in assets for Munich Re.

A group of campaign groups say the planned European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), a key part of the ‘Juncker Plan’ to mobilise capital to kickstart the EU economy, should focus on low carbon, clean energy and resource efficiency investments. A report by Bankwatch, Counter Balance, Friends of the Earth Europe and WWF Europe looks at how EFSI will mobilise €315bn of additional investments by 2018. A proposed regulation setting up the fund’s framework is currently being negotiated. Link

The German state of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) is about to issue a green bond, making it the first of Germany’s 16 states to do so, according to the blog for the NGO Climate Bonds Initiative. The blog did not provide any further details on the issue, and there was no immediate comment from NRW’s finance ministry. Climate Bonds also said NRW.Bank, the German state’s development bank, would issue its third green bond in September or October of this year. NRW.Bank’s green bond from last November had a volume of €500m and, according to the bank, was sold primarily to sustainability-oriented investors.

Social

The Knights of Columbus, a Connecticut-based Catholic charity, has launched an asset management firm to serve Catholic Church investors. According to Pensions & Investments, Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors begins with $21.4bn (€19bn) in assets. The new firm’s president and chief investment officer is Anthony Minopoli. “We’ve learned that the Catholic market is at least $150bn in assets, but we’ve also learned that it’s a highly fragmented market. There isn’t a Catholic focus from managers,” Minopoli was quoted saying.

Morgan Stanley has found that 71% of active individual investors describe themselves as interested in sustainable investing, and nearly two in three (65%) believe sustainable investing will become more prevalent over the next five years. The findings come in a new survey by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing. The new Sustainable Signals report examines the attitudes and perceptions of individual investors towards sustainable investing and considers the broader implications for investors, corporations and governments.h6. Governance

The European Commission should encourage institutional investors to take advantage of ESG integration by “including it in mandates to asset managers”. That’s one of the outcomes of a recent EU Multi Stakeholder Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The EC should also recognise those asset owners and managers who are now among the leaders and are ahead of many corporations and some NGOs, according to an EC-published summary of the event, which took place in Brussels on February 3-4. Another finding was that the Commission should resist calls to establish a European SRI label to generate retail investor demand as “marketing conditions vary considerably between countries”.

Henk Nijboer, the financial spokesman of the Dutch Labour Party, plans to invite some of the country’s pension funds to a discussion about the merits of private equity investing at the end of April, RI has learnt. A spokesman for PGGM, the asset manager for the €180bn health care scheme PFZW, said that while his firm had not yet received an invitation to the round table, it had been informed of it. The purpose of the discussion is to collect information about the pros and cons of the asset class. In early February, the Dutch MP published an editorial in the Volkskrant newspaper that called for a crackdown on private equity leveraged buy-outs.

A “productive dialogue” has led Trillium Asset Management, the US SRI specialist, to withdraw a shareholder proposal on gender identity at Minerals Technologies, the New York Stock Exchange-listed specialty minerals firm. “As investors, we are pleased that Mineral Technologies has formally strengthened its commitment to an equal and inclusive workplace,” said Brianna Murphy, Trillium’s Vice President Shareholder Advocacy and Corporate Engagement.

The Swiss arm of German private bank Hauck & Aufhäuser (H&A) has selected GES Investment Services as its engagement provider. It said GES would identify the ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues at investee companies and then start a dialogue to address the issues.

Italian business groups Assonime and Emittenti Titoli have now published the English version of the 14th Report on the Corporate Governance in Italy. The analysis covers all 230 companies listed as of December 31 and whose reports were available as of July 15 2014. The report finds that 93% of companies stated formally their intention to adopt the country’s Corporate Governance Code. “Italian issuers made a clear effort both to provide information on their governance model and to comply with the provisions of the Code,” the bodies say.

Standard Life Investments, the £246bn (€338bn) asset manager, says it voted against 907 management resolutions in 2014. In its latest annual governance and stewardship review, cited by Reuters, it added it is still unhappy with governance at UK firms such as Sports Direct, Afren and Micro Focus International.