01.27.2021

Larry Fink’s 2021 Letter To CEOs

Dear CEO,

BlackRock is a fiduciary to our clients, helping them invest for long-term goals. Most of the money we manage is for retirement – for individuals and pension beneficiaries like teachers, firefighters, doctors, businesspeople, and many others. It is their money we manage, not our own. The trust our clients place in us, and our role as the link between our clients and the companies they invest in, gives us a great responsibility to advocate on their behalf.

This is why I write to you each year, seeking to highlight issues that are pivotal to creating durable value – issues such as capital managementlong-term strategypurpose, and climate change. We have long believed that our clients, as shareholders in your company, will benefit if you can create enduring, sustainable value for all of your stakeholders.

I began writing these letters in the wake of the financial crisis. But over the past year, we experienced something even more far-reaching – a pandemic that has enveloped the entire globe and changed it permanently. It has both exacted a horrific human toll and transformed the way we live – the way we work, learn, access medicine, and much more.

The consequences of the pandemic have been highly uneven. It sparked the most severe global economic contraction since the Great Depression and the sharpest fall off in equity markets since 1987. While some industries, particularly those that depend on people congregating in person, have suffered, others have flourished. And although the stock market recovery bodes well for growth as the pandemic subsides, the current situation remains one of economic devastation, with unemployment severely elevated, small businesses shuttering daily, and families around the world struggling to pay rent and buy food.

The pandemic has also accelerated deeper trends, from the growing retirement crisis to systemic inequalities. Several months into the year, the pandemic collided with a wave of historic protests for racial justice in the United States and around the world. And more recently, it has exacerbated the political turmoil in the U.S. This month in the U.S., we saw political alienation – fueled by lies and political opportunism – erupt into violence. The events at the U.S. Capitol are a stark reminder of how vulnerable and how precious a democratic system can be.

Despite the darkness of the past 12 months, there have been signs of hope, including companies that have worked to serve their stakeholders with courage and conviction. We saw businesses rapidly innovate to keep food and goods flowing during lockdowns. Companies have stepped up to support non-profits serving those in need. In one of the great triumphs of modern science, multiple vaccines were developed in record time. Many companies also responded to calls for racial equity, although much work remains to deliver on these commitments. And strikingly, amid all of the disruption of 2020, businesses moved forcefully to confront climate risk.

I believe that the pandemic has presented such an existential crisis – such a stark reminder of our fragility – that it has driven us to confront the global threat of climate change more forcefully and to consider how, like the pandemic, it will alter our lives. It has reminded us how the biggest crises, whether medical or environmental, demand a global and ambitious response.

In the past year, people have seen the mounting physical toll of climate change in fires, droughts, flooding and hurricanes. They have begun to see the direct financial impact as energy companies take billions in climate-related write-downs on stranded assets and regulators focus on climate risk in the global financial system. They are also increasingly focused on the significant economic opportunity that the transition will create, as well as how to execute it in a just and fair manner. No issue ranks higher than climate change on our clients’ lists of priorities. They ask us about it nearly every day.

A Tectonic Shift Accelerates

In January of last year, I wrote that climate risk is investment risk. I said then that as markets started to price climate risk into the value of securities, it would spark a fundamental reallocation of capital. Then the pandemic took hold – and in March, the conventional wisdom was the crisis would divert attention from climate. But just the opposite took place, and the reallocation of capital accelerated even faster than I anticipated.

From January through November 2020, investors in mutual funds and ETFs invested $288 billion globally in sustainable assets, a 96% increase over the whole of 2019.1 I believe that this is the beginning of a long but rapidly accelerating transition – one that will unfold over many years and reshape asset prices of every type. We know that climate risk is investment risk. But we also believe the climate transition presents a historic investment opportunity.

Essential to this transition has been the growing availability and affordability of sustainable investment options. Not long ago, building a climate-aware portfolio was a painstaking process, available only to the largest investors. But the creation of sustainable index investments has enabled a massive acceleration of capital towards companies better prepared to address climate risk.

Today we are on the cusp of another transformation. Better technology and data are enabling asset managers to offer customized index portfolios to a much broader group of people – another capability once reserved for the largest investors. As more and more investors choose to tilt their investments towards sustainability-focused companies, the tectonic shift we are seeing will accelerate further. And because this will have such a dramatic impact on how capital is allocated, every management team and board will need to consider how this will impact their company’s stock.

Alongside the shift in investor behavior, we have seen a landmark year in the policy response to climate change. In 2020, the EU, China, Japan, and South Korea all made historic commitments to achieve net zero emissions. With the U.S. commitment last week to rejoin the Paris Agreement, 127 governments – responsible for more than 60% of global emissions – are considering or already implementing commitments to net zero. Momentum continues to build, and in 2021 it will accelerate – with dramatic implications for the global economy.

Source: BlackRock

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