Dry Investment

As is my normal practice I am basing today’s Sunday article on what I felt was the big political event of the week just ended. Many will question whether today’s topic qualifies as political. Since I think policy is politics I disagree. Let’s explore.

Before I get to my topic of the day I’ll briefly discuss a few stories I passed over. Typical of the Trump era, plenty happened last week. First in most people’s minds would be the formal transmittal of the article of impeachment and commencement of the Senate trial. This one is being covered to death (with good reason). Besides, in baseball terms this is where the setup man took to the mound; in other words there is a lot of “baseball” left to be played.

Trump supporters will cite the two trade deals “finalized” this week. First was Phase One of a US-China trade deal. In reality this was a nothingburger. It didn’t even address the intellectual property issue which is the biggest issue in American-Chinese trade. The people praising this deal are the same people who knocked the Iran Nuclear Deal for not addressing any other issues. Many of the deal’s provisions are unrealistic and/or unenforceable. The deal is more like an armistice in Trump’s misguided trade war with China which he was losing badly. If you suffer a self-inflicted wound and subsequently stop the bleeding don’t expect praise from me.

The USMCA is nothing more than NAFTA 2.0. It is simply a modernization of an existing deal; again with a lot of misguided economic moves against our neighbors to the north and south. It is like buying an old home with peeling paint, painting it and then claiming you have a new house. Improvement, yes; earthshattering deal, no.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that Trump violated the law by withholding aid to Ukraine. Trump breaking the law is about as surprising as finding out that the day of the week ends in a “y”.

Then there is the 26 month sentence handed down on Friday to Trump’s first Congressional endorser, Chris Collins. A Trump associate going to prison to serve felony time hardly qualifies as news three years into his term (tomorrow at noon).

I could go on but it’s time to get to my selection which is the announcement by BlackRock that they will take climate change into account in their future investment ventures. Black Rock is the world’s largest asset manager with over $7 trillion under management. This move has nothing to do with being conservative or liberal (in a political sense); it has to do with making solid financial investment decisions.

Among the changes climate change is bringing about is sea level rise. Many of today’s assets will literally be under water in the coming years. My first real job was in banking and after a transfer I was involved in lending. (I was at a very junior level, largely constrained by bank policy and certainly not senior enough to have a hand in setting that policy.) If I were in a policy setting position today there are large geographies where I would not lend. I’m not talking about relining based on race or social economic class; I’m saying I wouldn’t give a thirty year mortgage on a house that may very well not be above sea level in thirty years (2050). The same applies to long-term lending to a business in that area.

If I wouldn’t lend my bank’s money in that geography why should BlackRock invest its assets in it? The answer is that it is not economically prudent (conservative if you will) to do so. I fully expect others, including major commercial banks, to follow suit.

Aside from the possibilities of nuclear war, famine or plague; climate change is the biggest threat we face as a species. Big money that is looking long-term has started to realize that and more “BlackRocks” will follow.

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