The Private Equity World: Broadening Focus on Sustainability – The Blackstone Group is All In

May 17 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The P/E world:  Private equity firms often have a pool of companies wholly owned or invested in and managed and advised by them in portfolio …this is the ambitious domain of the private equity (P/E) universe.

The leading publicly-traded P/E leaders are familiar names to institutional investors:

  • Blackstone (NYSE:BX),
  • The Carlyle Group (NASDAQ:CG),
  • Apollo Global Management (NYSE:APO),
  • Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts (NYSE:KKR).

There also well-known P/E companies not publicly-traded such as TPG Capital and Bain Capital (which owns, invests in and advises portfolio entities).

Focusing on one major P/E firm today – Blackstone Group – we see how sustainability is now being driven across the alternative investment of P/E enterprises.

Blackstone owns and manages key asset categories such real estate (owning the huge Stuyvesant Town complex in NYC), hedge funds, credit & insurance, financial advice, investment (partnering for example with Pfizer and SFJ Pharmaceuticals for therapies), and managing private equity funds and funds of funds for its investment clients.

In the Blackstone investment portfolio are companies with familiar names:  SERVPRO, Ancestry, Refinitiv, Bumble, EPL, Aypa Power.

Blackstone Group Inc has asked the top executives running portfolio companies “controlled by its private equity arm” to regularly report on ESG matters to their boards of directors, according to a news story by Reuters corporate governance reporter Jessica Dinapoli (she covers boards of directors and C-suite trends).

She writes that Reuters obtained a letter from Blackstone’s CEO (“the world’s largest manager of alternative assets such as P/E”) to portfolio companies’ CEOs that is basis of her report.

Her takeaway:  The Blackstone firm’s sustainability credibility would be boosted by portfolio companies disclosing more about their climate risk, environmental certifications, diversity & inclusion, and commitments to protection of human rights.

According to the Reuters report, the letter to portfolio companies’ CEOs advised: “ESG factors are attracting greater focus globally and demand careful attention on your part.”

The latest move by Blackstone could help to “standardize” ESG reporting across the firm’s massive global portfolio.

An accompanying story by Reuters tells us that Blackstone recently hired five managers to beef up its internal ESG team as the firm moves to drive sustainability and diversity across its broad portfolio of holdings.

Adding our perspective why this is a very important development: The company is a member of the American Investment Council (formerly, Private Equity Growth Council).

What about P/E and sustainability? 

That organization says in 2020 the P/E industry invested $24 billion-plus just in renewable and sustainability projects… “playing a critical role in the energy transition and moving our economy in a more sustainable direction.”  P/E has invested $100 billion in renewable energy since 2010 says the AIC.

The Blackstone moves to have portfolio companies “be all in” on sustainability should help to bring about much more ESG disclosure by firms not necessarily doing much reporting today (as they are tucked away in P/E portfolios)l

From experience we know at G&A Institute that when firms move out of P/E portfolio (via IPO, SPAC, acquisition by larger firm, management buyout, other means) the proactive burnishing of corporate ESG reputations can be a big plus in the divestment of today’s P/E entity.

We have the link to the Blackstone report in the Top Story this issue.

TOP STORIES

 

Special Mention – IR Magazine Focus – Our Partners, DFIN

ESG Disclosure – Swirling Public Dialogue on Status & Value Today and in Future for Corporate Constituencies

JULY 1 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

On corporate ESG / Sustainability / CR reporting – and third party assurance.  The trends?

The required financial reporting by publicly-traded companies is assured by third parties (accounting, auditing firms). In the U.S. SEC rules require public companies to have an annual audit; the audited financial statements have an opinion included from the auditing firms.

Objective: includes determining if the statement presents information fairly and in line with GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).

What does the outside auditor do in the financial reporting process?

Explains Ed Bannen at BGQ Partners LLC in Ohio: The most rigorous level of assurance is provided by an audit. It offers a reasonable level of assurance that financial statements are free from material misstatement and conform with GAAP. 

But what about the growing volume of corporate ESG / sustainability / responsibility reports flowing out from corporate issuers to investors and other stakeholders? The “non-GAAP stuff” of ESG disclosure at present?

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) “warns” that only half of companies at most back up their sustainability reports with assurance (IFAC looked at 1400 companies).  This presents “an emerging investor protection and financial stability risk.”

There is “some” level of ESG reporting by 91 percent of companies in 22 governmental jurisdictions now, but reporting standards used are inconsistent and IFAC urges that assurance practices need to mature alongside corporate ESG reporting.

Of course, the accountants noted that often where there is ESG assurance provided it is not by professional accountants but by other types of consultancies.

We bring you background on this from CFO Drive: Investors representing literally tens of trillions of AUM are looking for consistent, comparable, decision-useful information to determine whether to invest, sell or make a proxy vote…

SEC Chair Gary Gensler was quoted saying:  Therefore, SEC staff will be recommending governance, strategy and risk management practices related to climate risk, and determine whether metrics such as GHG emissions are relevant for investor consideration.”.  Stay tuned to the SEC!

Summing up: the operating environment for leaders of publicly-traded companies is rapidly changing when it comes to ESG / sustainability, public disclosure and structured reporting. In both the U.S. and in the European Union, regulators are proposing dramatic changes in rules or appear to be in the process of developing guidance and rules. (Frequently in the U.S., SEC also issues interpretations that reflect important changes in policy thinking about reporting.)

We bring you four important updates on these public discussions going on in our Top Stories selections.

On a recent webinar hosted by our partner organization, DFIN Solutions, there were 1,000 professionals registered for the session. About half of the attendees answered a survey question about whether or not their firm publishes a sustainability report, with about half saying “no” or “did not know.”

Clearly there is an urgent need for more corporate managements to become informed about ESG disclosure.

Information about the webinar “Navigating the Corporate ESG Journey: Strategies & Lessons Learned Featuring FIS Global, IR Magazine’s 2020 Best ESG Reporting Award Winner,” co-hosted by G&A Institute’s EVP Louis Coppola is here: https://info.dfinsolutions.com/navigating-corporate-ESG-journey-replay

Useful background from Ed Bannen, Senior Manager of GBQ’s Assurance and Business Advisory Services regarding statement assurance, auditing and related topics is here for you:https://gbq.com/levels-of-assurance-choosing-right/

Top Story/Stories – Reporting, Assurance and More in Focus