Sunday, December 5News That Matters

Exxon Mobil Faces Off Against Activist Investors on Climate Change

“I don’t expect a meaningful change in strategy such as large investments in renewables,” said Allen Good, a Morningstar analyst. But he said a victory for the dissidents “would be a signal that shareholders don’t think current initiatives have gone far enough, and that could spur further change.”

There have been several challenges to Exxon’s management over the years, but the dissidents gained strength last year when the company did not increase its dividend and slashed its $200 billion investment program by a third. And the company’s stock dropped by nearly half. Its share price has regained much of those losses in recent months but remains about 17 percent lower than it was in January 2020, before the pandemic took hold.

Engine No. 1’s candidates are Gregory Goff, a former chief executive of Andeavor, a refinery company; Kaisa Hietala, a former executive at Neste, a Finnish energy company; Alexander Karsner, a senior strategist at X, a lab owned by Google’s parent, Alphabet; and Anders Runevad, the former chief executive of Vestas Wind Systems, a wind turbine maker.

Much depends on whether shareholders with large stakes in Exxon vote with Engine No. 1.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that BlackRock, which has a 6.7 percent stake in Exxon, had backed Engine No. 1’s campaign by voting for three of the hedge fund’s candidates. A BlackRock representative declined to comment on the report or its Exxon votes.

BlackRock’s critics say its deeds have not matched its talk on getting companies to do more to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the investment firm has said that engaging with management has produced results, and it has contended that voting against directors proposed by management can compel companies to make changes that would benefit the environment. BlackRock said that last year it voted against 64 directors on the boards of companies that generate a lot of carbon emissions.

This year, BlackRock told The New York Times that its ambition was for its entire investment portfolio to be at “net zero” emissions by 2050 at the latest. In other words, the companies and other entities in which BlackRock invests would, in aggregate, be adding zero planet-warming gases to the atmosphere because they took out as much as they put in.