Central banks, wealth funds going greener and more activist - ESG survey

Central banks, wealth funds going greener and more activist - ESG survey
An LNG carrier is docked at marine facility of ExxonMobil in Port Moresby. Exxon shareholders elected two new climate-conscious board members. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 July 2021

Central banks, wealth funds going greener and more activist - ESG survey

Central banks, wealth funds going greener and more activist - ESG survey
  • The survey also showed a trend for more active ownership, especially among sovereign wealth and public pension funds

LONDON: The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating a shift by central banks and sovereign wealth and public pension funds to greener and more activist investment strategies, one of the largest annual surveys of their behaviors showed.
The Global Public Investor survey by think-tank Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) sampled 102 institutions overseeing a combined $7 trillion this year to track how the pandemic and other long-term trends are affecting them.
The findings of the survey, seen by Reuters ahead of its publication on Wednesday, showed the scale and speed at which environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors were now driving investment decisions.
“There has definitely been an acceleration due to COVID,” OMFIF’s Chief Economist Danae Kyriakopoulou said.
“At the beginning (of the pandemic), we thought there would be a focus on the short-term, the quick boosts to recoveries. But actually there has been this realization that our financial systems are so vulnerable to things outside the financial world.”
As well as a store of wealth for future generations, sovereign wealth funds are often used by countries during periods of upheaval.
For the first time since OMFIF started asking about ESG, the majority in all three categories of global public investors (GPIs) said that they now implement it in some way.
This differed widely between types of institution, with all pension funds implementing ESG criteria, compared with around two-thirds of sovereign funds and just over half of central banks.
Central banks made up around 60 percent of OMFIF’s survey sample this year and while many don’t invest in equities or infrastructure projects, green bonds remain their most popular ESG option.
Over a third of the banks asked in the survey now hold them, although some also said that liquidity and lack of supply of green bonds, especially in dollars, can be a headache.
The survey also showed a trend for more active ownership, especially among sovereign wealth and public pension funds. Rather than just excluding polluters, many funds are now specifically buying companies or projects that transition to more sustainable practices from dirtier or less responsible ones.
There are still clear gaps though. The survey found that around 60 percent of GPIs didn’t use ESG benchmarks — a kind of shopping list of assets that they can and can’t own — and only 8 percent had their own bespoke benchmarks.
An Invesco survey earlier this month found the majority of sovereign funds think financial markets are fully pricing in the long-term implications of climate change.
Nevertheless, Kyriakopoulou pointed to one day in May when a Dutch court ordered Shell to lower its emissions faster, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders defied management to elect two new climate-conscious board members and Chevron’s shareholders went against its management to back emissions cuts.
“Policy-makers and investors should not be surprised by such rulings or decisions. Even though they are radical and mark a ‘tipping point’, it is clear that momentum for change has been building.”


Qatar sovereign fund discloses 4.69% stake in Gates-backed battery startup Quantumscape

Qatar sovereign fund discloses 4.69% stake in Gates-backed battery startup Quantumscape
Updated 16 min 6 sec ago

Qatar sovereign fund discloses 4.69% stake in Gates-backed battery startup Quantumscape

Qatar sovereign fund discloses 4.69% stake in Gates-backed battery startup Quantumscape
  • Size of stake down from 6.5% in November after shares diluted
  • Quantumscape backed by Bill Gates and Volkswagen

DUBAI: Sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) holds a 4.69 percent stake in Quantumscape Corp, which is developing batteries for electric cars, a Securities and Exchange Commission filing by the company showed.
QIA was an early investor in the company before its IPO and had a stake of 6.5 percent as of November last year, based on a previous filing.
However the new filing does not show any change in the number of shares it owns, but a dilution in its stake due to an increase in the number of shares outstanding. QIA’s stake in Quantumscape is worth around $446 million at the company’s current market value of $9.5 billion, according to Refinitiv Eikon data on Monday.
Quantumscape was listed last year after a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).
Shares of Quantumscape are down over 70 percent year-to-date. It closed up 0.7 percent at $23.08 on Monday.
Volkswagen AG is the company’s biggest shareholder with a 26 percent stake.
San Jose-based Quantumscape is a 2010 spin-out from Stanford University whose early investors included Bill Gates-backed venture funds. It formed a joint venture with VW to produce solid-state battery cells, starting in 2024, for VW’s electric vehicles, and eventually for other carmakers.
Gulf sovereign funds have stepped up investments in electric cars, new technologies and renewables, as they diversify their investments away from fossil fuel.
The Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of neighboring Saudi Arabia, recently made huge gains through the listing of Lucid Group after it initially invested in the company in 2018. PIF owns 62.7 percent of Lucid.


Emirati-Swiss consortium creates MENA remittance giant with Bahrain acquisition

Emirati-Swiss consortium creates MENA remittance giant with Bahrain acquisition
Updated 49 min 55 sec ago

Emirati-Swiss consortium creates MENA remittance giant with Bahrain acquisition

Emirati-Swiss consortium creates MENA remittance giant with Bahrain acquisition
  • Prism Group and Royal Strategic Partners to acquire BFC Group Holding
  • BFC to be merged with Finablr and rebranded WizzFinancial

DUBAI: An Emirati-Swiss consortium is acquiring Bahrain’s BFC Group Holding, which owns the Gulf country’s largest money transfer and exchange company.

Switzerland’s Prism Group AG and Abu Dhabi’s Royal Strategic Partners have signed a deal to acquire BFC and its subsidiaries – BFC Bahrain, BEC Exchange (Kuwait), BFC Payments and BFC Forex and Financial Services (India).

BFC will be merged with WizzFinancial, formerly Finablr, the Abu Dhabi-based payments company acquired by the same consortium in December.

The deal creates one of the largest remittance and currency exchange groups in the Middle East and North Africa region, home to millions of migrants who regularly sending money home and vice versa.

“The acquisition creates a regional powerhouse with licenses to operate in over 30 countries,” the consortium said in a press statement.

The move comes amid a period of intense change for the financial sector as it adopts new technologies to create better user experiences.

“Everybody in the financial services arena is embarking on a digital transformation of some kind,” Anthony Wagerman, an adviser at Prism Group told Arab News. “It’s not really a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and it’s a matter of how long that takes and ensuring your customers are with you.”

While a large part of the remittance market continues to rely on “tried and tested methodology,” the traditional money-sending sector has been disrupted by COVID-19, which “undoubtedly acted as a form of catalyst or accelerator for this digital journey,” he said.

The consortium’s investment in the businesses it is acquiring will help speed their digital transformation, but it is important to recognize that some customers will continue to use traditional methods, said Wagerman.

“We want to create a seamless service that’s completely omnichannel, from walk-up to online to mobile, because that is really the way the market is going now,” he said.

The deal comes amid evidence of impressive resilience in the sector during the COVID pandemic with remittance flows of $540 billion in 2020, just 1.6 percent below 2019 levels, according to World Bank data. That compares with a 4.8 percent decline during the global financial crisis.

Moreover, the remittance industry is set to almost double to $930.44 billion by 2026, according to Allied Market Research.

“The reports we’re seeing of the first coming up to the first half of 2021 is really quiet encouraging, and have shown a lot of businesses snapping back rather more quickly than people originally envisaged,” Wagerman said.

Asked how blockchain technology plays a role in the remittance industry’s digital journey, he said there is still a strong need for regulation in this area given the variation in countries’ different rules.

“There’s an overall attractiveness about having frictionless payments that avoided intermediaries, of course there is. The reality however is not so simple, not least because when money crosses borders, there’s all kind of issues particularly from a regulatory perspective,” Wagerman explained.


Saudi Arabia sees record IPOs requests, 50% rise in managed assets, says CMA chief

Saudi Arabia sees record IPOs requests, 50% rise in managed assets, says CMA chief
Updated 03 August 2021

Saudi Arabia sees record IPOs requests, 50% rise in managed assets, says CMA chief

Saudi Arabia sees record IPOs requests, 50% rise in managed assets, says CMA chief
  • Elkuwaiz says assets under management by financial institutions have increased by 50 percent

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is seeing a record interests from companies to sell shares to the public, while the size of the assets under management by financial institutions increased by 50 percent to SR600 billion over 3 years, the chairman of the country’s capital market authority said.

The increase in the volume of assets under management (AUM) had impact on the financial market and has contributed to opening new investments areas such as the launch of financial derivatives market, which made a debut last year, Mohammed Elkuwaiz said in panel hosted by the Financial Academy.

The authority received recently 30 requests to sell shares in initial public offerings and this is the highest number the authority, known as CMA, got since its establishment, he added. 

Mohammed Elkuwaiz, CMA chairman

Saudi Arabia is implementing a huge program to modernize and develop its financial sector under the country’s vision 2030 plan. Under this program the CMA had a target to list 20 new companies in 2021 on the Saudi index through public offerings, and the authority had achieved half of this target by the end of the first half of the year, Elkuawiz said.

Interests from companies to sell shares to the public increased over the past few years with the introduction of the parallel market, known as Nomu. Elkuwaiz explained that the main market, Tadawul, targets larger and more mature companies with the ability and willingness to bear big loads in terms of disclosure data, governance, while smaller companies prefer to list on Nomu.

“Listing on Nomu is an exciting window for the small and medium size and entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia as we see the increase in IPOs interest and this is the result of the CMA strategy,” said Mohammed Ramady, an independent economic analyst and former senior banker told the Arab News in comments on Saudi financial development.

Another area where Saudi Arabia is venturing and advancing is Fintech. “We have more than 15 companies licensed as financial technology companies, which facilitates the availability of other types of financing that did not exist in the past, such as crowdfunding, which has become a boost for the financial market,” Elkuwaiz added.

The chairman of CMA also noted that foreign investments in the Saudi stock market have been positive and steady since they were allowed several years ago, with more than SR20 billion has entered Tadawul market since it was included in global indexes.

“The system of governance and disclosure in the financial market has been developed, making the Kingdom one of the world’s top 4 countries in terms of governance – something we are very proud of,” he added.


Fitch revises Egyptian bank’s outlook to stable

Fitch revises Egyptian bank’s outlook to stable
Updated 03 August 2021

Fitch revises Egyptian bank’s outlook to stable

Fitch revises Egyptian bank’s outlook to stable

RIYADH: Fitch Ratings has revised Commercial International Bank (Egypt) S.A.E.’s (CIB) outlook to stable from negative while affirming the bank’s long-term issuer default rating at “B+” and viability rating at “b+.” 

According to the ratings firm, pressures on the domestic environment have eased since the end of the third quarter of 2020 moderating downside risks to Egyptian banks’ credit profiles.

It said this reflects improving foreign currency liquidity, with the banking sector’s net foreign assets reaching $3.5 billion in April 2021, a reversal of a net foreign liability position of $5.3 billion at the end of April 2020. This was supported by a strong increase in foreign holdings of Egyptian treasuries to $29 billion in May 2021.

Fitch expects real GDP growth to accelerate to 6 percent in 2022.


Egypt’s domestic liquidity exceeds $213.9 billion

Egypt’s domestic liquidity exceeds $213.9 billion
Updated 02 August 2021

Egypt’s domestic liquidity exceeds $213.9 billion

Egypt’s domestic liquidity exceeds $213.9 billion

CAIRO: Egypt’s domestic liquidity rose to EGP 5.36 trillion ($213.9 billion) at the end of June 2021.

According to the official data, liquidity grew by 1.9 percent monthly. Domestic liquidity increased by 18.3 percent annually, compared to EGP 4.53 trillion in June 2020.

The money supply rose during June to EGP 1.25 trillion, compared to EGP 1.22 trillion in May 2021.  Money supply includes deposits in local currency and cash in circulation outside the banking system.

Last November, the Central Bank of Egypt decided to reduce both the overnight deposit and lending rate and its main operation rate by 50 basis points, to 8.25 percent, 9.25 percent, and 8.75 percent, respectively.

Last month, the central bank froze the interest rate for the fourth time this year.