California made a move yesterday that makes about as much sense as throwing away your telescope to get back at that meteor for hitting Russia.
And yet, in California, it’s strictly business as usual (via LA Times):
The nation’s biggest public pension fund is taking a stand against gun violence by voting to sell all its investments in two firearms manufacturers: Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. and Sturm, Ruger & Co.
On Tuesday, the Investment Committee of the California Public Employees’ retirement System voted to sell about $5 million worth of the gun makers’ stock and other securities. The full CalPERS board, which has the same 13 members as the Investment Committee, is expected to ratify the vote on Wednesday….
CalSTRS [California State Teachers' Retirement System ]and CalPERS took up the divestment issue at the request of state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a member of both boards. Lockyer called the vote “largely symbolic” but stressed that it’s an important way to spur incremental change.
You see, in California, protecting pension funds so that they’ll be there for the pensioners is less important than making a symbolic point.
The California funds have a long history of using divestment as a tool for social and political change. Their decision to sell investments in companies operating in South Africa played a role in ending the white supremacist regime and its apartheid policy of separating the races.
Right. So investing in established gun manufacturers whose stock prices are likely to keep rising is now the equivalent of racial discrimination.
The fund’s chief investment officer who was then given credit for the move away from the “traditional stock-and-bond portfolio more toward so-called alternative investments that might generate higher returns in the long run” was Russell Read.
The fund’s real estate investments, undertaken as part of the fund’s move into riskier investments, got into big trouble as the housing bubble burst, for instance, and required injections of capital. To raise money for that, Calpers sold stocks into the market’s decline, locking in losses and missing the subsequent rebound. One example that the authors offer: Apple stock. In April of 2008 Calpers sold 2.3 million shares of the stock to raise $370 million. Today those shares are worth about $930 million. Calpers lost big (or rather, California taxpayers did), with its real estate investments. The fund lost nearly $1 billion in the bankruptcy of Landsource, which owned land it planned to develop in and around Los Angeles…
The company that Read co-founded was called C Change Investments, which credited him in an early press release for “successfully transition[ing] America’s largest pension fund toward clean technology and environmental investments.
C Change, it appears, has had a batting average close to .000 in terms of getting green energy projects off the ground. Though its website is still up, there’s now only one page, down significantly from when the LLC was doing a lot of chest thumping.
As for Read, in 2011 he laid the groundwork for Al Gore’s sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera by becoming chief investment officer and deputy chief executive officer of Gulf Investment Corp.
Headquartered in Kuwait. Where the only green is petrodollars.
Mr. Read, in a telephone interview from Kuwait where he is based, said he is looking forward to the new challenge of helping foster economic development in the six-country Mideast region of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
He said he will be looking at a wide range of investment opportunities including those in health care, agriculture and industrial development.
If Read has learned his lesson, as the range of his investments suggests, he’ll take a really close look at Smith & Wesson. Those Arab states paying his salary expect results, not symbolism.
Too bad Californians don’t demand the same.