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Nordea Asset Management suspends Brazilian government bond purchases due to Amazon fires

OSLO (Reuters) - The asset management arm of Nordea NDAFI.HE, one of the Nordics' biggest banks, said it is suspending purchases of Brazilian government bonds, the latest Nordic investor to take action in response to the outbreak of Amazon forest fires.

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of a burning tract of Amazon jungle as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Porto Velho, Brazil August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Nordea Asset Management said its current exposure to Brazilian sovereign bonds was approximately 100 million euros ($111 million).

Thousands of fires tearing through the Amazon in the past week have spawned an international crisis for Brazil, with public protests and world leaders voicing concern that President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is doing too little to protect the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

“We are taking action by temporarily quarantining Brazilian government bonds both denominated in USD and BRL, meaning no additional purchases and only potential selling action,” Thede Ruest, head of Nordea emerging markets debt, told Reuters.

“If we assess positive developments, we can lift the quarantine prior to a set date – equally if the situation worsens, we may have to exclude Brazil government bonds from our universe,” he added.

Helsinki-based Nordea Asset Management had 205 billion euros in total assets under management as of the end of 2018.

Other Nordic investors that have taken action as a result of the Amazon fires include KLP, a Norwegian pension fund with over $80 billion in assets under management.

Environmentalists claim most of the fires were illegally set by land speculators and ranchers seeking to expand pastures in the Amazon and who feel emboldened by Bolsonaro’s criticism of excessive environmental protections. Bolsonaro has denied the fires were deliberate.

KLP said this week it was contacting U.S. firms in which it was invested that did significant business with agricultural producers in Brazil to ask for “concrete actions”.

KLP said it had contacted U.S. firms Bunge BG.N, Cargill CARG.UL and Archer Daniels Midland ADM.N, in which KLP has invested 453 million crowns ($51 million) in stocks and bonds.

“We will also look into Norwegian companies which import soy products from Brazil in order to evaluate this and urge them to do all they can to protect the rainforests,” Jeanett Bergan, KLP’s head of responsible investment, said in a statement.

Meanwhile the asset management arm of Norwegian insurer Storebrand STB.OL said it would commit to a new deforestation policy as a result of the fires in the Amazon.

“Deforestation has been an important issue in our investments for a long time. Now, our role as an active owner will be intensified, in order to halt deforestation,” CEO Jan Erik Saugestad.

In practice, this means Storebrand wants to have a portfolio of investments that by 2025 does not contribute to deforestation; that it would influence “high-risk companies”, vote at annual general meetings and collaborate with other institutional investors on these issues.

Norway has worked closely with Brazil to protect the Amazon rainforest for more than a decade and has paid $1.2 billion into the Amazon Fund, to which it is by far the biggest donor.

However, in August Oslo suspended donations to the Amazon Fund after Brasilia blocked operations of a fund receiving the aid.

($1 = 8.9564 Norwegian crowns)

($1 = 0.8973 euros)

Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Susan Fenton