Climate vote pattern could point to tough proxy season -study

BOSTON (Reuters) - Top mutual fund firms continued to cast a wide range of proxy votes on climate issues at U.S. corporations last year, a new study found, with significant increases from several mid-sized firms that could presage more tough love for companies at meetings this spring.

The study due for release on Monday by Ceres, a Boston-based shareholder advocacy group, reviewed votes such as on whether boards should oversee climate impacts, or whether companies should adopt greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Top fund manager BlackRock Inc supported just 12% of climate-related resolutions last year, the study found, similar to its record in prior years. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has vowed new attention to climate matters this year.

The new data suggests similar thinking might take hold at other companies, said Rob Berridge, Ceres’ director of shareholder engagement. The results “could show up in the voting tallies for 2020,” he said.

The study was conducted for Ceres by Morningstar from disclosures of votes on 53 different resolutions.

To be sure the resolutions on average received 26.8% support, down from 29.6% support in 2018. Ceres said the decline likely reflected trends such as an increase in the number of companies agreeing to issue sustainability reports, leading to the withdrawal of previously popular proposals.

The biggest change in voting last year came at funds sponsored by American Century Investments of Kansas City, Missouri, which has $170 billion under management, a fraction of BlackRock’s $7 trillion.

American Century supported shareholder resolutions tied to climate matters 56% of the time in the 12 months ended June 30, up from 13% the year before, according to the review.

Also Amundi Pioneer backed the resolutions 23% of the time, up from 10% the year before. With $92 billion under management Amundi Pioneer is the U.S. asset management arm of France’s Amundi SA

Representatives for both firms cited new voting guidelines they adopted recently.

Last year American Century funds voted in favor of having Chevron Corp report on plans to reduce emissions, and having Exxon Mobil Corp report on risks for its operations in flood zones, in both cases against management recommendations.

Guillaume Mascotto, American Century’s top stewardship executive, said customers often mention such topics in meetings. “Every client I have engaged with has brought up ESG,” he said.

Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Daniel Wallis