While He’s Re-writing the Music, Larry Fink Won’t Change the Underlying ESG Tune
By Anson Frericks
Larry Fink’s pen may have run out of ink—at least when it comes to a three-letter acronym that has become a four-letter word: ESG.
Last Wednesday, the BlackRock CEO released his annual letter to investors and America’s CEOs. Traditionally, the letter is a call to arms, imploring CEOs to fight climate change and injustice. This year, it is not. Or so BlackRock would have you think. A closer look at the letter reveals not a substantive retreat from ESG, but a vernacular one.
ESG is under fire. In August, nineteen attorneys general accused BlackRock of illegally using client money to push ESG goals. In December, the Texas legislature pilloried BlackRock on ESG. Even Elon Musk has called ESG a “scam” that has been “weaponized by phony social justice warriors.”
The backlash hit BlackRock hard. Eight state treasurers have pulled billions of dollars. Texas blacklisted the company. After years of growth, BlackRock’s US ESG funds had zero net inflows last year.
Amid the fallout, Mr. Fink’s 2023 letter strikes a different tone. Gone are proclamations that “every government, company, and shareholder must confront climate change” and “racial justice . . . cannot be solved without leadership from companies.” “Stakeholder capitalism”—a central theme of last year’s letter—has vanished. “ESG” is gone; “sustainability” appears just once. BlackRock even acknowledges that not all clients want their investment money used to accelerate climate goals.
Anson Frericks is President and Co-Founder of Strive Asset Management.