Norway’s wealth fund ditches 33 palm oil firms over deforestation

A truck carrying oil palm fruits passes through Felda Sahabat plantation in Malaysia. (Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2019
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Norway’s wealth fund ditches 33 palm oil firms over deforestation

  • Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) sold stakes in more than 60 companies due to deforestation — including 33 firms involved in palm oil
  • As the world’s most widely used edible oil, palm oil is found in everything from margarine to biscuits and soap to soups, as well as in biofuel

KUALA LUMPUR: Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, has pulled out of more than 33 palm oil companies over deforestation risks during the last seven years, a green group said on Thursday.
Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), which released its annual report on Wednesday, sold stakes in more than 60 companies due to deforestation — including 33 firms involved in palm oil — Rainforest Foundation Norway said.
“It’s great to see that the GPFG is taking action against deforestation,” Vemund Olsen, a senior policy adviser at the Oslo-based group said on Thursday.
“The divestments should be seen as a warning shot to those investors and companies still involved in deforestation,” Olsen, whose group has monitored the GPFG’s investments since 2010, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
As the world’s most widely used edible oil, palm oil is found in everything from margarine to biscuits and soap to soups, as well as in biofuel.
But in recent years, the industry has come under close scrutiny from green activists and consumers, who have blamed it for clearing forests for plantations and causing fires, along with the exploitation of workers.
Green groups have often accused Norway of double standards by investing billions of dollars in palm oil or soya farmers while also giving cash to nations from Brazil to Indonesia to slow deforestation.
Norway signed a $1-billion deal with Indonesia to help protect its tropical forests in 2010, and the first payment for reduced emissions was agreed last week.
Since 2012, the GPFG has become a more active shareholder and now pushes sustainability and ethics among its investments and drops firms that fail to meet its standards.
Marthe Skaar, spokeswoman at Norges Bank Investment Management, which manages the fund, confirmed that more than 60 divestments had been made due to deforestation risks, including 33 palm oil firms, since 2012.
Divestments in two palm oil companies happened as recently as last year, said Skaar, adding that the fund does not disclose the names of such companies. Most palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia.
In a report released earlier this month, GPFG said that it engages with companies it owns stakes in to push them to cut their ties to deforestation.
It is currently asking banks in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil to adopt no deforestation criteria for their loans to the agricultural sector, the report said.
“The GPFG has realized that deforestation reduces its long term returns on investments,” says Olsen.
“It’s increasingly clear that companies involved in deforestation, directly or through their supply chains, are a major liability to investors.”


Oil prices rise on gains prompted by tensions between US and Iran

Updated 25 June 2019
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Oil prices rise on gains prompted by tensions between US and Iran

  • Russian energy minister praises international cooperation to stabilize oil markets

LONDON: Oil prices rose on Monday, extending large gains last week that were prompted by tensions between Iran and the US, as Washington was set to announce new sanctions on Tehran.

West Texas Intermediate crude was up 50 cents, or 0.87 percent, at $57.93 a barrel.

Brent futures were up 9 cents, or 0.14 percent at $65.29 a barrel by 1040 GMT.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he called off a military strike in retaliation for the shooting down of a US drone by Iran, saying the potential death toll would be disproportionate, adding on Sunday that he was not seeking war.

Oil prices surged after Iran shot down the aircraft on Thursday that the US claimed was in international airspace and Tehran said was over its territory.

Brent racked up a gain of about 5 percent last week, its first weekly gain in five weeks, and WTI jumped about 10 percent, its biggest weekly percentage gain since December 2016.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “significant” sanctions on Iran would be announced on Monday aimed at further choking off resources that Tehran uses to fund its activities in the region.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said the UK believed neither the US nor Iran wanted a conflict but warned tensions could lead to an “accidental war.”

Also boosting prices, global supply may remain tight as OPEC and its allies including Russia appear likely to extend their oil cut pact at their meeting July 1-2 in Vienna, analysts said.

“An extension of OPEC+ production cuts through the end of the year seems highly likely given recent price action,” US investment bank Jefferies said in a note.

“The market expects an extension though, and any failure could see oil price gap down. The probabilities favor restraint however,” it added.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak on Monday said international cooperation on crude production had helped stabilize oil markets and is more important than ever.

“There is a good example of successful cooperation in balancing the oil market between the OPEC countries and non-OPEC. Thanks to joint efforts, we today see a stabilization of world oil markets,” Novak said.

Boosting oil demand, prospects of a near-term interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve aimed at bolstering the US economy have weakened the dollar.

Oil is usually priced in dollars, and a slide in the value of the weaker greenback makes it cheaper for holders of other currencies.

Separately, Iranian crude exports have dropped so far in June to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) or less after the US tightened the screws on Tehran’s main source of income, industry sources said and tanker data showed, deepening global supply losses.

The US reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. Aiming to cut Iran’s sales to zero, Washington in May ended sanctions waivers to importers of Iranian oil.

Iran has nonetheless sent abroad about 300,000 bpd of crude in the first three weeks of June, according to two industry sources who track the flows. Data from Refinitiv Eikon put crude shipments at about 240,000 bpd.

“It’s a very low level of real crude exports,” said one of the sources.

The squeeze on exports from Iran, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, is a key factor for the producer group and its allies, which meet on July 1-2 to decide whether to pump more oil in the rest of 2019.

Iran’s June exports are down from about 400,000-500,000 bpd in May as estimated by the industry sources and Refinitiv and a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal.

Iranian exports have become more opaque since US sanctions returned in November, making it harder to assess volumes.

Tehran no longer reports its production figures to OPEC and there is no definitive information on exports since it can be difficult to tell if a vessel has sailed to a specific end-user.

Refinitiv Eikon data showed Iran has exported 5.7 million barrels of crude in the first 24 days of June to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Singapore and Syria, although these may not be the final destinations.

Kpler, another company which tracks oil flows, estimates that Iran loaded 645,000 bpd of crude and condensate, a light oil, onto tankers in the first half of June, of which 82 percent are floating in Gulf waters.

That would put actual crude exports in the first half of the month even lower than 300,000 bpd.

“American restrictions are having a clear effect on Iran’s ability to sell into global markets,” Kpler said.