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Study: Investment house with green image pouring public funds into fossil fuels

Altshuler Shaham, an investment house that once had a green reputation and pledged two years ago to halt new investments in fossil fuels, poured billions of shekels into what many regard as the four oil companies with the worst records on climate, a new ranking published on Wednesday shows.

Over several financial quarters, the company was ranked at the top of the Clean Money Forum’s grading system, but it plummeted to 7th out of 10 during the last quarter of 2022, and to 9th place — shared with Mor — during the first quarter of 2023.

According to the forum, Altshuler Shaham invested just over NIS 10 billion ($2.7 billion), which amounts to 22.42% of the pension, provident and insurance funds it manages on behalf of the public, into fossil fuels.

In total, the 10 companies whose fossil fuel investments are analyzed every quarter had NIS 61.5 billion ($16.7 billion) of the public’s cash invested in coal, oil and gas concerns during the first quarter of this year, up from NIS 57.5 billion (then worth $16 billion) in the last quarter of 2022.

The forum’s ranking is weighted so that 80% is determined by companies’ actual fossil fuel investments, and 20% based on their declared policy on fossil fuel divestment.

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Yelin Lapidot, which has slowly climbed up the rankings, but still has no policy, came top for the first quarter of the year, investing NIS 1.77 billion (S480 million), or 11.46% of the public’s money it manages, in fossil fuel companies.

File: A demonstrator shows her hands reading ‘1.5 to survive’ at a protest advocating for the warming goal at the COP27 UN Climate Summit, November 16, 2022, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (AP/Peter Dejong)

That company was followed by Meitav, Menorah, Harel, Clal, Migdal, Phoenix and Analyst.

For international comparison, companies in the S&P 500 index invested an average of 9.34% of the public’s pension funds in fossil fuels during Q1 2023, with a 9.5% average for MSCI ACWI companies.

Out of the NIS 10.1 billion (22.4%) of the public’s money that Altshuler Shacham invested in fossil fuel companies during Q1 2023, NIS 5.76 billion ($1.56 billion) was directed to five of the biggest oil companies, according to the forum. This was up from just under NIS 5 billion ($1.4 billion) during Q4 of 2022.

The sum included investments of NIS 1.4 billion ($380 million) into Exxon Mobil, NIS 1.38 ($375 million) into Chevron, whose Mediterranean subsidiary owns offshore gas fields in Israel, NIS 1.26 billion ($342.4 million) into Total, NIS 863 million ($234.5 million) into BP, and NIS 859 million ($233.5 million) into Shell.

All but Total were named last year in a study that found huge gaps between pledges and action on climate change. Another study found that the four were responsible for more than a tenth of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1965.

In a statement, Altshuler Shaham said the company “attaches great importance to environmental, social and corporate governance considerations in the management of its investments, and acted as a pioneer in the establishment of the Green Fund for Investments.”

It went on that in line with “global developments” in investment management, it held a “careful examination” of the company’s investment policy in this area, deciding that blanket boycotts of companies or sectors did “not necessarily help bring about positive change.”

The company said that its investments in corporations that have set “clear goals” for reducing polluting emissions and promoting the transition to renewable energies “may be useful in promoting the long-awaited change.”

The Israeli Leviathan gas field gas processing rig operated by Chevron Mediterranean Limited, seen from Dor Habonim Beach Nature Reserve, on January 1, 2020. (Flash90)

The Clean Money Forum also noted that Migdal has in practice made new investments in fossil companies, in contrast to a written commitment it has on its website.

A Migdal company statement said that its “main consideration in every investment is to bring returns to the public’s savings and to protect its money. ” It added that Migdal is a major investor in renewable energy and complied with its environmental, social, and governance policy, but that this was “a long and complex journey.”

The Clean Money Forum, a coalition of 28 environmental and social justice organizations, seeks to encourage financial institutions to divest from fossil fuels and provide information for investors looking for green funds. It ranks the country’s 10 largest financial institutions with publicly available information according to their investments in fossil fuel companies in Israel and overseas.