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

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.”


Lee’s death sparks hope for Samsung shake-up, dividends

Updated 26 October 2020

Lee’s death sparks hope for Samsung shake-up, dividends

  • Shares in the company and affiliates rise; around $9bn in tax estimated for stockholdings alone

SEOUL: Shares in Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and affiliates rose on Monday after the death a day earlier of Chairman Lee Kun-hee sparked hopes for stake sales, higher dividends and long-awaited restructuring, analysts said.

Investors are betting that the imperatives of maintaining Lee family control and paying inheritance tax — estimated at about 10 trillion won ($8.9 billion) for listed stockholdings alone — will be the catalyst for change, although analysts are divided on what form that change will take.

Shares in Samsung C&T and Samsung Life Insurance closed up 13.5 percent at a two-month high and 3.8 percent, respectively, while shares in Samsung SDS also rose. Samsung Electronics — the jewel in the group’s crown — finished 0.3 percent higher.

Son and heir apparent Jay Y. Lee has a 17.3 percent stake in Samsung C&T, the de facto holding firm, while the late Lee was the top shareholder of Samsung Life with 20.76 percent stake.

“The inheritance tax is outrageous, so family members might have no choice but to sell stakes in some non-core firms” such as Samsung Life, said NH Investment Securities analyst Kim Dong-yang.

“It may be likely for Samsung C&T to consider increasing dividends for the family to cover such a high inheritance tax,” KB Securities analyst Jeong Dong-ik said. Lee, 78, died on Sunday, six years after he was hospitalized due to heart attack in 2014. Since then, Samsung carried out a flurry of stake sales and restructuring to streamline the sprawling conglomerate and cement the junior Lee’s control.

Investors have long anticipated a further shake-up in the event of Lee’s death, hoping for gains from restructuring to strengthen de facto holding company Samsung C&T’s control of Samsung Electronics, such as Samsung C&T buying an affiliate’s stake in the tech giant.

“At this point, it is difficult to expect when Samsung Group will kick off with a restructuring process as Jay Y. Lee is still facing trials, making it difficult for the group’s management to begin organizational changes,” Jeong said.

Lee is in two trials for suspected accounting fraud and stock price manipulation, as well as for his role in a bribery scandal that triggered the impeachment of former South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The second trial resumed hearings on Monday.

Lee did not attend the trial on Monday, as Samsung executives joined other business and political leaders for the second day of funeral services for his father.