Investing To Protect The Oceans
Why investing in ‘blue-bonds’ could pay.
Why investing in ‘blue-bonds’ could pay.
Through the explosive rise of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing in recent years, the “E” in ESG has been almost entirely defined by efforts to address climate and terrestrial problems. Investors wanting to leverage their capital to improve the health of the world’s oceans haven’t had an abundance of options.
But that is finally beginning to change. Some public investments such as new so-called blue bonds—the blue referring to oceans and waterways—and stocks of companies with innovative ocean-protective policies are liquid entry points for investors. Meanwhile, direct private investment options have been opening up for wealthy folks who can tolerate investment lockup periods and high minimum investments.
“ESG and impact investments directly addressing oceans are taking time to develop,” says Justina Lai, chief impact officer at Wetherby Asset Management, a San Francisco wealth management firm specializing in ESG. “But it’s an area that has garnered more interest in the past two or three years as awareness grows.”
Among the newest options are blue bonds, whose proceeds are used to fund ocean-related projects aimed at preserving and protecting the environment.
The first issuance was in 2018 by the Republic of the Seychelles to fund sustainable fisheries. More recently, Morgan Stanley underwrote the World Bank’s $10 million issuance of 30-year blue bonds.
“Our goal is to connect capital with solutions, to drive impact around issues of plastic waste,” says Matthew Slovik, head of global sustainable finance for Morgan Stanley, which in 2019 resolved to reduce and prevent 50 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030.
Critical to the acceleration of change is making impact and ESG investments accessible to average investors. Morgan Stanley is doing its part by offering low minimum investment—$10,000—ESG portfolios that include ocean-supportive investments, Slovik says.
Opportunities are broadest in the private investing arena, where pioneering venture, private equity, and debt funds are channelling capital into companies with innovative ideas for addressing marine challenges.
Among them is Closed Loop Partners, a New York investment firm committed to helping build a circular economy in which products are reused and waste is eliminated before it can reach the oceans. For example, its Closed Loop Venture Fund invests in a Chilean start-up called Algramo, which creates refill stations for household products such as detergent, condiments, rice, and other staples.
Circulate Capital, a Singapore-based private investment company, similarly focuses on plastic reduction in nations including India, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Unilever are among investors in the Circulate Capital Ocean Fund, among whose underlying investments are Ricron Panels, a Gujarat, India-based recycler of plastic waste into materials for furniture and building construction, and Tridi Oasis, an Indonesian converter of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles into flakes used in packaging.
There’s great potential for growth for innovators in the blue economy, says Mark Huang, co-founder and managing director of SeaAhead, which provides a start-up platform for blue innovators and last year launched the Blue Angel Investment Group to connect investors with promising start-ups. The Paris- based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates the blue economy will double to $3 trillion by 2030.
Blue Angel’s debut was met with the challenging circumstances created by Covid-19, but by February this year had already doubled its entire 2020 capital. Among its investments: Beta Hatch, a young Seattle firm that creates feed for poultry out of mealworms, replacing the typical feed made from ground fish—a product leading to overfishing in the oceans, Huang says.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
Food prices continue to rise at a rapid pace, surprising central banks and pressuring debt-laden governments
LONDON—Fresh out of an energy crisis, Europeans are facing a food-price explosion that is changing diets and forcing consumers across the region to tighten their belts—literally.
This is happening even though inflation as a whole is falling thanks to lower energy prices, presenting a new policy challenge for governments that deployed billions in aid last year to keep businesses and households afloat through the worst energy crisis in decades.
New data on Wednesday showed inflation in the U.K. fell sharply in April as energy prices cooled, following a similar pattern around Europe and in the U.S. But food prices were 19.3% higher than a year earlier.
The continued surge in food prices has caught central bankers off guard and pressured governments that are still reeling from the cost of last year’s emergency support to come to the rescue. And it is pressuring household budgets that are also under strain from rising borrowing costs.
In France, households have cut their food purchases by more than 10% since the invasion of Ukraine, while their purchases of energy have fallen by 4.8%.
In Germany, sales of food fell 1.1% in March from the previous month, and were down 10.3% from a year earlier, the largest drop since records began in 1994. According to the Federal Information Centre for Agriculture, meat consumption was lower in 2022 than at any time since records began in 1989, although it said that might partly reflect a continuing shift toward more plant-based diets.
Food retailers’ profit margins have contracted because they can’t pass on the entire price increases from their suppliers to their customers. Markus Mosa, chief executive of the Edeka supermarket chain, told German media that the company had stopped ordering products from several large suppliers because of rocketing prices.
A survey by the U.K.’s statistics agency earlier this month found that almost three-fifths of the poorest 20% of households were cutting back on food purchases.
“This is an access problem,” said Ludovic Subran, chief economist at insurer Allianz, who previously worked at the United Nations World Food Program. “Total food production has not plummeted. This is an entitlement crisis.”
Food accounts for a much larger share of consumer spending than energy, so a smaller rise in prices has a greater impact on budgets. The U.K.’s Resolution Foundation estimates that by the summer, the cumulative rise in food bills since 2020 will have amounted to 28 billion pounds, equivalent to $34.76 billion, outstripping the rise in energy bills, estimated at £25 billion.
“The cost of living crisis isn’t ending, it is just entering a new phase,” Torsten Bell, the research group’s chief executive, wrote in a recent report.
Food isn’t the only driver of inflation. In the U.K., the core rate of inflation—which excludes food and energy—rose to 6.8% in April from 6.2% in March, its highest level since 1992. Core inflation was close to its record high in the eurozone during the same month.
Still, Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey told lawmakers Tuesday that food prices now constitute a “fourth shock” to inflation after the bottlenecks that jammed supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in energy prices that accompanied Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and surprisingly tight labor markets.
Europe’s governments spent heavily on supporting households as energy prices soared. Now they have less room to borrow given the surge in debt since the pandemic struck in 2020.
Some governments—including those of Italy, Spain and Portugal—have cut sales taxes on food products to ease the burden on consumers. Others are leaning on food retailers to keep their prices in check. In March, the French government negotiated an agreement with leading retailers to refrain from price rises if it is possible to do so.
Retailers have also come under scrutiny in Ireland and a number of other European countries. In the U.K., lawmakers have launched an investigation into the entire food supply chain “from farm to fork.”
“Yesterday I had the food producers into Downing Street, and we’ve also been talking to the supermarkets, to the farmers, looking at every element of the supply chain and what we can do to pass on some of the reduction in costs that are coming through to consumers as fast as possible,” U.K. Treasury Chief Jeremy Hunt said during The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London.
The government’s Competition and Markets Authority last week said it would take a closer look at retailers.
“Given ongoing concerns about high prices, we are stepping up our work in the grocery sector to help ensure competition is working well,” said Sarah Cardell, who heads the CMA.
Some economists expect that added scrutiny to yield concrete results, assuming retailers won’t want to tarnish their image and will lean on their suppliers to keep prices down.
“With supermarkets now more heavily under the political spotlight, we think it more likely that price momentum in the food basket slows,” said Sanjay Raja, an economist at Deutsche Bank.
It isn’t entirely clear why food prices have risen so fast for so long. In world commodity markets, which set the prices received by farmers, food prices have been falling since April 2022. But raw commodity costs are just one part of the final price. Consumers are also paying for processing, packaging, transport and distribution, and the size of the gap between the farm and the dining table is unusually wide.
The BOE’s Bailey thinks one reason for the bank having misjudged food prices is that food producers entered into longer-term but relatively expensive contracts with fertilizer, energy and other suppliers around the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in their eagerness to guarantee availability at a time of uncertainty.
But as the pressures being placed on retailers suggest, some policy makers suspect that an increase in profit margins may also have played a role. Speaking to lawmakers, Bailey was wary of placing any blame on food suppliers.
“It’s a story about rebuilding margins that were squeezed in the early part of last year,” he said.
Content moderation rules used to be a question of taste. Now, they can determine a service’s prospects for survival.
Self-tracking has moved beyond professional athletes and data geeks.