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  • The Carbon Fund

Big carbon emitters underperform on NZX sharemarket

Rob Stock, Jan 19 2020

Companies with relatively low carbon emissions have delivered better returns for investors on the NZX New Zealand sharemarket.

But a full analysis of the carbon footprints of the biggest 50 companies whose shares were traded on the NZX was not possible as just under half did not publicly report their emissions, a report by investment advisory company Forsyth Barr said.

"While several NZX companies provide excellent emissions disclosure, the general standard is mixed," said Forsyth Barr's head of research Andy Bowley in the Counting Carbon Costs report.

"Many companies do not appear to currently measure their emissions, but plenty are planning to. In addition, reporting is not consistent making comparisons difficult."

Companies singled out for praise on carbon reporting including Air New Zealand, dairy company Synlait, Fonterra, Z Energy, Contact Energy, and Genesis Energy.

Companies which were yet to report on their emissions included Mainfreight and Steel & Tube.

"Our analysis of the performance of companies with differing emissions profiles on different exchanges suggests that lower-emitting companies have historically outperformed higher emitting companies over the longer term," Bowley said.

"Our analysis shows a similar relationship can be observed in international markets."

"Emissions are clearly not the only driver of valuation; however, the broad relationship across different markets suggests investors are willing to pay more for low emitters."

Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen sharply during the past 50 years. Source: Forsyth Barr and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Reasons for this could include an increasing number of pension funds, including KiwiSaver funds, shifting to become carbon-aware investors.

Over the long term, heavy carbon emitters risked becoming "stranded assets" in which many investors chose not to invest.

In the UK, the Labour Party even went into the last election promising to "delist" companies from the London Stock Exchange which did not do enough to reduce their carbon footprints.

Some companies, like oil and gas companies, may also be also at risk of being sued as a result of their impact on the climate, Bowley said.

While NZX listing rules did not require carbon disclosure, there was a clear trend for more to report on their emissions.

"There is currently no mandatory requirement for New Zealand based or NZX listed companies, to report their carbon emissions, albeit there is a trend of improving disclosure and more questions are being asked by investors around disclosure levels," Bowley said.

But he said: "Some companies have a genuine desire to make planet Earth a better place."

Companies would also in time face higher carbon costs, but the financial impact on NZX-listed companies would be minimal for the foreseeable future, the report said.

The total cost of New Zealand's net carbon emissions based on the current NZ Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) price of $25 a tonne, would be around $1.4 billion annually, which was just 0.5 percent of GDP, Bowley said.

The ETS had been "ineffective" in encouraging companies to change their behaviour so far, but Bowley said: "We expect carbon costs to rise."

"If carbon costs reached $250 a tonne, as suggested by the Productivity Commission for New Zealand to become carbon neutral by 2050, the cost burden would become more material, but not overly penal."

New Zealand's CO2 emissions were largely irrelevant globally, accounting for less than 0.2 percent of global emissions, Bowley said, though it’s per capita emissions were high.

A large part of the reason was emissions from the agricultural sector, although much of the food it produced was for export, and, Bowley said: "New Zealand's pasture-based farming systems have lower greenhouse gas emissions than most of the meat and milk produced around the world.

"While reducing our dairy production would lower emissions, there are unintended environmental consequences if this is simply replaced with production elsewhere."

Since 1990, New Zealand's gross emissions had increased 23 percent largely driven by a doubling of the dairy herd and an increase in emissions from road transport, but in the past 15 years, they had been relatively stable.

The country's net emissions had increased by 65 percent a result of forest harvests, and land conversions leading to a reduction in carbon being sequestered in growing trees.



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