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US election is an ESG crossroads

By Jon Hay
29 Oct 2020

Capital markets players have a variety of stances on the forthcoming US presidential election. A survey by UBS this week found 51% of wealthy US investors wanted Joe Biden to win, while 55% of business owners favoured Donald Trump.

Many investment bankers don’t mind much who it is — they just want a clear result so they can get on with doing deals.

But in one area the difference between the two is huge: climate change.

Trump, who pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement, is one of the most retrograde of all world leaders on the issue. Biden has promised to rejoin the Agreement on day one and unleash a ‘clean energy revolution’ leading to net zero emissions by 2050.

So watch the share and bond prices of oil and renewables companies on November 4. Amid all the other market noise, the way they react will be a distilled drop of pure environmental, social and governance price action.

ESG fund managers hoping to notch up a year of clear outperformance will be observing closely. They have had much more to brag about, performance-wise, in 2020 than previous years, partly because they are light on oil and heavy on renewables and tech.

If Biden wins, ‘transition risk’ — the danger that hydrocarbon-reliant companies get left behind as the economy changes — will jolt forward. Another four years of Trump will give carbon-intensive polluters a relief high.

But this can only be a temporary reprieve. Over the past year, even with Trump as president, the Dow Jones US Oil and Gas index has fallen 51%; the S&P Global Clean Energy index has gained 80%. Slowly or fast, oil and gas are going out of style.

By Jon Hay
29 Oct 2020