Against Oil Divestment

November 26, 2019, 11:02 AM UTC

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Good morning.

This weekend, I had the mixed pleasure of attending the Yale-Harvard football game. (I’m not a graduate of either school, but paid one of them a small fortune in tuition.) I say “mixed” because I normally think of the two universities as combining high-level academics with low-level football. But this year, it was the reverse. The football was thrilling—with Yale making up a two-touchdown deficit in the last seven minutes, and then winning 50-43 in overtime. But the intellectual fare was a disappointment.

It came during halftime, when a group of students from both schools—joined by actor Sam Waterston—took the field, sat down, and refused to move…disrupting play for almost an hour. Their goal: to force both school endowments to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Fossil fuel divestment has become a thing in the last few years, with a number of universities (University of California among them) dumping their stakes in fossil fuel companies. I suppose that’s fine—institutions should feel free to invest in the companies they wish. But what is the point? At best, divestment would raise the cost of capital for fossil fuel companies—and increase the returns of those who don’t divest. And at the extreme—well, I haven’t seen any estimates suggesting the world could survive the next 30 years without fossil fuels.

Readers of this column know I am often a fan of employee and student activism. But the activists have a responsibility to be smart about their activism. Divesting from coal—as Columbia and Stanford have done—may make sense. Pressuring oil companies to invest more in renewables also may make sense. But divesting all fossil fuels doesn’t.

Here’ how Yale’s Chief Investment Officer David Swensen—whose advice is well worth following on all things investment-related—put it last year:

“If we stopped producing fossil fuels today we would all die. We wouldn’t have food. We wouldn’t have transportation. We wouldn’t have heat. We wouldn’t have air conditioning. We wouldn’t have clothes…It’s very nice to protest the fact that we have fossil fuel producers in the portfolio, but the real problem is the consumption, and everyone of us…is a consumer.”

So go ahead, change the world, kids. But please change it for the better.

More news below. And take time this morning to read Erika Fry’s fascinating story about how Sanofi’s dengue fever vaccine has turned into political nightmare.

Alan Murray


Alibaba IPO

Alibaba's Hong Kong listing went well, with shares popping 7%. With roughly $11.2 billion raised, it's the biggest flotation of the year thus far—though Aramco's is just around the corner. The successful Alibaba IPO also served as a vote of confidence in Hong Kong, where clashes between protestors and police have subsided in the context of peaceful local elections. Fortune

Climate Warning

Greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030 if the world is to limit global warming to an average of 1.5°C—roughly the threshold for runaway climate change—the United Nations Environment Programme has warned. That means a more-than-fivefold increase in ambition over current commitments, which UNEP says will lead to a disastrous 3.2°C rise, as emissions continue to increase. UNEP chief Inger Andersen: "We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated. If we don’t do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.” Bloomberg

China Call

The U.S. and China's top negotiators had a call this morning. According to the Chinese side, some "consensus" was reached on how to resolve problems related to the "core issues of common concern," and there's still an intention to achieve a Phase One agreement. CNBC

Google Firings

Google has sacked four workers whom it accuses of violating data-security policies by systematically searching for co-workers' data and sharing it. The alleged actions left some employees feeling "scared or unsafe," the company said. One of the fired individuals was apparently an employee activist named Rebecca Rivers; some staff accuse Google of retaliating against workers who organize protests over issues such as hate speech and Google's U.S. Customs and Border Protection contract. TechCrunch


Westpac CEO

Brian Hartzer is to step down as CEO of Westpac, following the embroilment of Australia's second-largest bank in a money-laundering scandal. The allegations are substantial: 23 million breaches of money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws, with some of the transactions possibly being linked to child exploitation. BBC

Trump Records

The Supreme Court has given President Trump a temporary reprieve from having to see his accountants hand over his tax records to the Democratic impeachment probe. But only temporary—the Supreme Court justices may have blocked a lower court ruling that granted the Democrats access to the records, but Trump's lawyers now need to ask them for a hearing on the case, otherwise the stay gets lifted automatically. The deadline for that is Dec. 5. Politico

Bloomberg Run

Bloomberg News's decision not to investigate its owner while he runs for president, nor his Democratic rivals, has sparked criticism from former employees. President Trump is still fair game for now—though that could change if Michael Bloomberg wins the primaries. And if he wins the presidency itself? Bloomberg (the man) has previously said the company would need to be sold or put in a blind trust. Financial Times

LVMH and Tiffany

Fortune's Phil Wahba has examined LVMH's imminent takeover of Tiffany, and sees many opportunities for the European luxury house to make the 183-year-old New York jeweler shine. He writes: "Here is Tiffany's dirty little secret: It's not really a luxury brand like, say, a Harry Winston or a Cartier…LVMH has a good track record of taking a brand upmarket and that will inform what it does to lift Tiffany up." Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer. 


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