Fossil Fuel divestment fails yet another test

I’ve mostly lost track of how many times we’ve seen liberal activists pushing for fossil fuel divestment. They’ve gone after everything from university endowments to state and federal pension funds to private companies’ investment portfolios. And in virtually every instance, the bean counters in charge of these funds have kicked them to the curb because such a move would be economic suicide. That hasn’t slowed the roll of the activists, however. Most recently they’ve been going after the retirement pension funds of Colorado and New York. Liberal politicians, fearful of losing the base, have dutifully promised to “look into the matter” and take their complaints seriously.

Now a new study commissioned by the University of Chicago Law School and other institutes has concluded something truly shocking (not). The proposals are just as disastrous as the ones that came before and would cost the states tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. (Divestment Facts)

A new study by Prof. Daniel Fischel of the University of Chicago Law School and co-authors Christopher Fiore and Todd Kendall of economic consulting firm Compass Lexecon finds that both the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) and the New York State Common Retirement Fund stand to lose millions every year if they were to fully divest from fossil fuels.

In response to increased pressure on Colorado and New York politicians to support divestment, the report—which follows up on their earlier study of pensions in other states—examines the potential impact of a narrow divestment policy that includes oil, natural gas and coal, as well as a broad policy that also includes utility stocks, to determine the financial implications of such an investment strategy. To do so, Prof. Fischel and his team used all available data on current holdings to calculate returns on those holdings over the past 50 years. This data was compared to an otherwise identical risk-adjusted portfolio absent of fossil fuel-related stocks.

Here’s a hot tip for you. New York State can’t take a massive hit to their pension funds. They’ve got one of the most rapidly upward spiraling pension debts in the nation with the near-term, unfunded pension liability currently estimated to be as high as $142B dollars. (That’s “billion.”) Colorado isn’t doing much better, though with a significantly smaller population their gross unfunded liability is smaller.

And how bad would the hit to their bottom line be? The study examined both “narrow” and “broad” divestment strategies, with the difference being how many different fossil fuel interests would be purged from their portfolios. New York would expect to lose between $136 million for narrow divestment to $198 million under broad divestment every year they stuck with the policy. Colorado’s smaller pension fund would take a more modest loss of between $36 million and $50 million per year. Does it sound like either of these pension systems can absorb that much red ink?

Voters in both of these states, particularly those who are retired or planning for their retirement, should take a hard look at who is in charge of the henhouse and who they are looking to for policy advice on this matter. If they want to continue toying with the idea of divesting from fossil fuels and wind up unable to cover your retirement checks when you finally need them, perhaps you need smarter people making these decisions.