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Annual ESG Report: Investing for financial gain and sustainability

Anyone could be forgiven for struggling to make sense of the many messages and claims that currently abound relating to sustainability. Indeed, it’s all gone a bit mad with, in the US, several states now legally challenging the securities regulator for imposing a long-anticipated rule on company climate risks, and several US financial behemoths withdrawing from established climate coalitions.

How did it come to this? I suspect the truth is that this is another casualty of beliefs and feelings trumping facts. I am equally unimpressed by the way in which the finance industry has approached sustainability; too many have cloaked themselves in the garb of ESG as a sales strapline, without really reflecting on what they might credibly claim with the knowledge and capacity at their disposal.

A key advantage of being an investment boutique, is that we are close to our clients. In SKAGEN, our clients are us, our family, our friends, and our neighbours. And when you are that close, you better be sure that what you claim is true and rooted in the facts. In their 2023 review of ownership actions by the investment team, the SKAGEN Board noted that the firm has been an active and responsible fiduciary agent for the unit holders in the funds. The portfolio managers abide by a sensible and science-based sustainability policy. Sustainability analysis is an integrated part of the investment process for every investment, and this is documented. Our claim to active engagement is evident in the ESG cases that we have pursued and resolved during the year. And we maintain a near one hundred percent voting record for the companies in which we invest. You can read about our engagement and voting activities in 2023 further on in this report.

I cannot reasonably claim that investing in SKAGEN will slow climate change, or halt the destruction of biological diversity, or redress the parlous inequality in the world. What I can say, is that when we invest and engage with a company, we do so because we see a clear fiduciary benefit to our unit holders, one rooted in financial gain and better sustainability outcomes. We know why we are engaging and what we expect to gain from it. This has nothing to do with some abstract third-party rating by a self-proclaimed sustainability expert; it has everything to do with a deep knowledge of the companies in which we invest, and how we think they might improve and thrive.

Where we might arguably improve, is in convincing you, our clients, of the value of this work, and informing you of the benefit it accrues. This report, with its analysis of sustainability opportunity and our approach to integrating this in our investment process, along with examples, makes some effort towards this. I hope you enjoy it.




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