Bitcoin burn: is Tesla an ESG stock?


Do you hold an S&P 500 tracker fund? If so, congratulations: you accidentally became part of the crypto-investment madness.

I’m of course talking about the $ 1.5 billion (£ 1.08 billion) Bitcoin investment recently announced by Tesla (USA: TSLA). The move by the electric car manufacturer only reinforces the impression that high-profile institutions are slowly pushing and pushing cryptocurrency into the mainstream and indirectly into your portfolio.

This latest development brings together a major component of the major U.S. stock market with the world’s leading cryptocurrency, and the two seem to go surprisingly well together in many ways. Tesla stocks and Bitcoin have been notoriously volatile and very divisive – and have proven extremely lucrative for their investors over the past year.

Still, the two disagree on another aspect that could bother environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investors. While Tesla excels in part through its leadership skills in the clean energy revolution, Bitcoin mining is extremely energy-intensive and notoriously environmentally harmful. Recent estimates from the University of Cambridge suggest that Bitcoin consumes more than 120 terawatt hours per year. For context, this would mean that it uses almost as much energy as Norway. If Tesla’s Bitcoin stash seems tiny in the context of the company’s market cap of around $ 800 billion, it still seems problematic.

As with any potential ESG disruption, it’s worth investigating which funds are affected. An obvious one here is the £ 2.5bn Baillie Gifford Positive Change Fund (GB00BYVGKY80)The investment team declined to comment on the recent news – while maintaining confidence in Tesla, it should find its way into today too Keystone Positive Change Investment Trust (KPC). The Positive Change team recently took over the trust’s portfolio, which will be run on the same philosophy as the open-ended fund.

The good news is that the impact on ESG funds is otherwise relatively limited for UK investors. Unlike some low-carbon funds in the US, that’s huge iShares Global Clean Energy UCITS ETF (INRG) has no exposure. The ESG funds available in the UK that Tesla hold tend to have low exposure and not as many investors themselves. The € 115.6 million VanEck Vectors Sustainable World Equilibrium UCITS ETF (TSWE) had a position of 2.4 percent at the end of January, while the € 307 million (£ 268 million) Aegon Global Sustainable Equity Fund (IE00BYZJ3771) had a weighting of 2.8 percent at the end of last year. The Tesla question is aimed primarily at the Positive Change team and those who hold this fund.

The news, of course, raises questions about Tesla’s governance as well as its role in portfolios. Lothar Mentel, the executive director of Tatton Investment Management, recently argued that signs that the business is beyond its core competencies should worry shareholders. “An automaker that is investing in Bitcoin and changing its corporate structure is a major concern,” he said.

That’s all reasonable enough – but I’d argue that if unusual corporate behavior affects you, Tesla should have been ringing alarm bells as early as 2018, the year Musk tweeted about plans to take the company private with “secured funding” (it was Not). . Possibly these are issues like this, and broader governance concerns, that help keep the automaker out of most ESG funds.