Risk Warning: Trust, But Verify…..

On the fifth check of my passport at Paris’s Orly airport I did wonder. Will trust die before our planet dies? Both are under severe threat and, yet, I’m hopeful. Let’s take a look at three particular examples of widely-held mistrust where recent developments might challenge the negativity. First, some history. Ronald Reagan’s signature phrase in nuclear disarmament talks with the Soviet Union was derived, ironically, from an old rhyming Russian proverb: Trust, but verify. Of course, it was tough to trust the Kremlin but technology, in the form of satellite imagery, was the critical verification tool. These days it’s technology which is not trusted but could also be the solution.

We have previously written about global payments processing as possibly the biggest ‘network’ yet to platform and join social media and cloud computing in the multi-trillion dollar wealth creation club. However, the payments opportunity starts with technology mistrust. Bitcoin is flying high but the cryptocurrency ecosystem is still widely mistrusted by consumers, governments and regulatory authorities. Stripe famously ceased processing Bitcoin payments on its platform back in 2018. Now, it’s all change. Stripe is bringing back crypto payments, this time with a stablecoin. The USDC stablecoin to be accepted by the platform will be pegged to the US dollar ie it tracks the US dollar value. More critically, the technology which underpins the security and verification of these currency assets is blockchain. On so many levels this is a huge verification moment for digital currencies and the software blocks used to build them. Now, for some more building…..

The 2022 CHIPS and Science Act was a Biden administration attempt to reinvigorate the US manufacturing base by attracting huge factory construction projects. Scepticism was rife, given the Trump toddler promised ‘infrastructure week’ every week but never delivered. Well, let’s verify. First, the US government has paid out more than half its ear-marked $39 billion of incentives to companies planning to invest in manufacturing facilities. The corporate follow-through has been extraordinary – microchip manufacturers and their suppliers have announced $327 billion of investments over the next 10 years. Micron alone is planning a $100 billion project in Syracuse, NY. That’s a nationwide 15x leap in construction spend on these type of facilities and will capture 20% of the global chip manufacturing market by 2030. Currently, that number is zero. But what about our planet and other targets with Zero (Net)?

Let’s face it, the push back on global sustainability and ESG targets is worrying. We often write that money talks and the following headlines paint a picture of worrying reversal:


Flows to European ESG exchange traded funds halve in first quarter –  Financial Times


US Fund Managers With ESG Mandates Have Worst-Ever OutflowsBloomberg


Clearly, this is not good news. However, we should be careful not to equate fund flows with commitment to climate change targets. For example, the banking sector in recent decades could be described as the ultimate counterparty requiring ‘trust, but verify’ checks on their behaviours and risk management. So, with the global financial crisis barely 15 years in the rear-view mirror, how did genuine ESG investors feel about this week’s staggering headline?


Western banks in Russia paid $800m in taxes to Kremlin last year –  Financial Times


Yep, that was the tax bit. The profits according to the FT were over $3 billion. Trust, but verify indeed……ESG investors can rightly ask how are those “S” and “G” policies going in these shame-free and profit-full banks? Answers on a post card to Kyiv please.  Before we all blow a complete gasket, let’s finish with some more wind but a bit more climate positivity. And, no, it’s not a Trump legal challenge. But it could ultimately rhyme by starting badly, and then ending with a positive reality check.

First, the severity of the storms and tornados sweeping through the Midwest heartland of the US this week are truly frightening. However, there’s a bigger financial storm brewing further south. An excellent article in The Lever this week highlighted the plight of Louisiana homeowners struggling to insure their houses while 12 insurance companies have failed, and 12 others have left the state. Almost one in five Louisiana residents lost their homeowner insurance last year. The crisis is climate caused. Global insurance giant, Swiss Re, in a recent report stated that natural disasters now cost the United States $97 billion a year.

In Florida, the climate denial Governor, Ron De Santis, might be kissing the Trump ring again but home insurance rates jumped 42% last year and coverage from big players, AAA and Farmers Insurance, has been pulled from the market before hurricane season. Unsurprisingly, Florida for-sale housing inventory has jumped 57% in 12 months. Leaders in denial-mode face a wave of voters, mortgage banks, pension funds and Wall Street analysts giving them the ultimate verification check on climate crisis. The critical shift is that investment capital has checked, and is already fleeing.

Trust me, that seismic capital flight will force leadership change and action. Verification…..pending.

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