A few of Europe’s largest pension funds are investing billions of euros in risky commodity markets, risking the hard-earned revenue of tens of millions of employees whereas fuelling a world starvation disaster brought about partially by such investments, a brand new investigation has discovered.
The findings additionally elevate questions over whether or not the European Union’s continued drive to decontrol its monetary markets will worsen the scenario sooner or later. The principles governing the bloc’s capital markets are presently underneath assessment.
Hovering costs of key commodities corresponding to meals and power have triggered a price of dwelling disaster around the globe, together with in Europe. The United Nations mentioned the will increase might have additionally pushed an estimated 71 million individuals in growing nations into poverty.
Lighthouse Experiences, a European non-profit newsroom, analysed the accounts of greater than 70 main pension funds in Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Finland and Denmark.
Whereas some funds explicitly forbid speculating in commodities, particularly in meals, 15 are presently investing in them, with the three greatest consumers the Netherlands, UK and Denmark holding a complete of €32.5bn between them.
In response to Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics on the College of Massachusetts Amherst, the findings present that pension funds are amongst the monetary establishments which have aggravated the issue of investor hypothesis driving meals costs.
That is “notably egregious” as a result of these funds are funded by employees and but they’re “partaking in actions which destroy the dwelling requirements of these employees”, she mentioned.
Most funds don’t disaggregate between onerous commodities, corresponding to gold and oil, and comfortable commodities, corresponding to agriculture and livestock, however consultants say the last word impression — rising commodity costs — is more likely to be the identical.
“Whether or not it’s in meals or power, each are equivalently horrible from the viewpoint of employees and growing nations as a result of a gasoline value improve interprets into costs of all different costs going up,” says Ghosh.
As well as, commodity markets are dangerous to put money into, mentioned Ann Pettifor, one of many few economists who predicted the 2007-2008 international monetary disaster.
“I do not need my pension fund to go close to one thing as risky as a commodity market, principally, particularly those in power and in meals,” she mentioned.
To speculate or to not make investments?
The funds, nonetheless, have defended their actions as having no connection to spiralling meals costs.
“Buying and selling in commodity futures has no upward impact on costs, not even out there for agricultural commodities. This view is supported by tutorial analysis,” mentioned ABP, the Dutch pension large and probably the most vital investor by far of commodity derivatives amongst pension funds analysed.
Its investments in 2021 totalled €32.5bn, of which it says round 30 p.c are in meals commodities. The rise in commodities costs final yr meant ABP’s investments grew by €8bn — regardless of web gross sales.
BpfBOUW, the fourth largest pension fund within the Netherlands, which has invested €150m in agricultural commodities, echoed this view, saying it’s “nearly inconceivable” for the futures market to drive up costs on the bodily market.
But others have taken an unequivocal place in opposition to such hypothesis.
Pensioenfonds Vervoer, a fund for the Dutch transport sector, mentioned one purpose it doesn’t put money into commodities is as a result of it may well push up costs.
KBC, Belgium’s largest pension fund, additionally mentioned entities in its group “is not going to be concerned in “meals hypothesis” or is not going to organise speculative buying and selling on comfortable commodities” and solely does so for shoppers instantly concerned within the meals and agriculture sector.
Dave Whitcomb, founding father of Peak Buying and selling and a former commodity dealer for Cargill, one of many world’s largest grain merchants, additionally disputes the positions taken by ABP and BpfBOUW.
“I’d argue that that may be a really distinctive market the place shopping for would not drive costs,” he mentioned.
Yaneer Bar-Yam, a professor and founding president of New England Advanced Programs Institute whose seminal 2011 paper confirmed hypothesis was a major reason behind meals value will increase, additionally dismissed this defence.
“The science may be very clear that buying and selling does have upward results on costs”, and that claims on the contrary, “are counter to the manifest function of shopping for and promoting in commodity price-setting markets and validated predictions utilizing quantitative fashions”.
He mentioned that pension funds’ investments in meals commodities “are undermining their mission as advocates for the general public good.”
A ‘wall of cash’
Lighthouse’s evaluation discovered the College Superannuation Scheme, a public fund for college workers in Britain, holds £1.5 billion (€1.7 billion) in commodity derivatives.
The UK government-backed Nationwide Employment and Financial savings Belief (NEST), elevated the quantity it invested in commodities from £275m [€314m] in December 2019 to £657m in December 2021, of which about 25 p.c are in agricultural derivatives.
Sampension, Denmark’s third largest pension supervisor, and Lægernes, the fund for Danish docs, have invested €280m and €300m, respectively, in commodity futures.
In lots of events annual studies included solely common details about derivatives and barely contact on commodity derivatives. In Finland, a rustic recognized for its progressive insurance policies, all the seven main funds gave imprecise solutions, declined to elaborate or how a lot they’ve invested.
The futures market — permitting commodities to be purchased and offered sooner or later at a value agreed within the current — is meant to operate to permit industrial gamers to hedge their dangers. However Pettifor mentioned the financialisation of commodities has made value spikes inevitable.
“Take an asset which is finite — whether or not or not it’s grain, property or power: when a wall of cash is geared toward that finite asset, the wall of cash inflates the value,” she mentioned.
Information headlines have pinned the blame for runaway inflation on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however the United Nations Convention on Commerce and Improvement (UNCTAD) mentioned whereas the struggle “contributed to this case”, “inadequate consideration has been paid to the function of speculators and betting frenzies in futures contracts, commodity swaps and change traded funds”.
It has referred to as for governments “to incorporate tighter commodity market regulation as a part of their coverage combine to curb value spikes which might be hitting shoppers within the growing world onerous.”
But Europe appears decided to additional decontrol the monetary markets, in keeping with Sirpa Pietikäinen, a Finnish MEP for the centre-right European Folks’s Social gathering, who sits on the financial and financial affairs committee.
The Market in Monetary Devices Directive (MiFID) was arrange within the wake of the 2007-2008 disaster to curb extreme hypothesis on commodities however over time, monetary establishments efficiently lobbied to weaken it.
Final yr’s amendments to the up to date framework, MiFID II, additional loosened the principles.
A assessment of MiFID II is presently underway. A draft textual content was introduced on Monday (11 October) through the financial system committee assembly and deadlines for modification are Wednesday (13 October) — however MEPs say the political discussions are more likely to be held later this yr or or early 2023.
“You’ve got most likely heard this deregulation-speak coming from trade representatives. Now the information is that we’re in a struggle financial system, and our corporations cannot tolerate all the executive burden. So now you might want to decontrol,” Pietikäinen mentioned.
She herself is a fan of regulation “as a result of (it) is the idea of a civil way of life”. “With ‘no guidelines’ it is at all times the ‘guidelines of the strongest’, and that I are not looking for,” she added.
Pietikäinen additionally mentioned the European Parliament’s present concentrate on eliminating environmental restrictions on fertiliser and pesticide use to forestall meals shortages is misguided.
“There’s not going to be a meals scarcity in Europe. The query is meals costs”, and combating this is able to be higher served by regulating the speculative markets, in keeping with Pietikäinen.