Fewer U.S. mutual funds nix climate proposals: study
By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. mutual funds over the past few years have tempered their opposition to environment-related shareholder proposals, though on balance they still vote against them, according to a study released on Wednesday.
Mutual funds last year voted against climate-related shareholder initiatives 65.1 percent of the time, down from 77.8 percent of the time in 2004, according to a study by Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmentalists.
"We're making progress," said Mindy Lubber, president of Boston-based Ceres. "Perhaps not enough, but the mutual fund industry has gone from a position where almost no mutual funds voted in support of climate change related resolutions, we are now seeing movement towards voting for them."
The analysis looked at how 1,285 funds voted on 15 shareholder proposals in 2007, including calls for General Motors Corp to set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by its cars and trucks and for Exxon Mobil Corp to increase is production of energy from renewable resources. All the 2007 resolutions failed.
The companies whose funds were the biggest supporters of climate-related resolutions included Charles Schwab Corp and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The staunchest opponents included American Funds and Barclays, Ceres said.
The study found that funds also became far more likely to refrain from voting on climate-related proposals last year, with funds abstaining 24.4 percent of the time in 2007, more than double the 11.9 percent rate in 2004, when there were 10 proposals.
Ceres' study did not take into account shareholder proposals calling on companies not to take action on climate change. Groups including the Free Enterprise Action Fund have landed such proposals on corporate proxies in recent years, arguing that climate change is a distraction from core business issues.
Lubber in a phone interview described the mutual fund industry as catching up with corporate America in general in coming to view climate change as a business issue.
Major U.S. companies including General Electric Co and DuPont Co have become increasingly vocal on the issue. They are among the more than two dozen corporate members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which has called for the U.S. to control emissions of carbon dioxide -- the most common greenhouse gas associated with global temperature change -- through a cap-and-trade system.
(Editing by Derek Caney)