SEC Puts Goldman ESG Funds Under Investigation

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Goldman Sachs is the latest firm to attract the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission over the naming of funds purportedly investing in environmental, social and governance products, according to news reports.

The regulator has launched an investigation focusing on the firm’s mutual-funds, people familiar with the matter tell the Wall Street Journal.

Goldman has at least four mutual funds mentioning clean-energy or ESG in their names, the Journal reports.

In June 2020, the New York-based manager renamed its Blue Chip Fund as the U.S. Equity ESG Fund, according to the Journal. Despite the name change, the portfolio appears pretty static, with the top three holdings — Microsoft Corp., Apple and Alphabet — remaining unchanged before and after the make-over, the Journal reports, citing regulatory filings.

The firm says that the ESG fund excludes companies that make most of their revenue from alcohol, tobacco, weapons, coal, oil and gas and certain other products. Holdings in the fund are also subject to an internal ESG analysis, but Goldman reserves to right to invest in certain firms without such an analysis, filings indicate — 20% of the net assets can go into securities that “deviate” from the firm’s ESG standards, according to the Journal.

The U.S. fund is relatively small, with only $17.8 million in assets under management, according to Morningstar data cited by the Journal.

But the regulator’s scrutiny comes as assets in ESG-labeled mutual funds, broadly, swell. Such products crested $2.78 trillion in assets during the first quarter, according to data from Morningstar. That’s up from less than $1trillion two years back, the Journal reports.

In addition, the SEC last month proposed rules that would put greater scrutiny on ESG products. One such proposal would require advisors and funds to be more specific in their documents about their disclosures of the ESG strategies they employ, as reported. The other would bolster rules aimed at preventing misleading language in the name of funds mentioning terms related to ESG. Subjecting such products to the so-called “names rule” would require 80% of the portfolio to reflect ESG efforts.

Goldman also has ESG-labeled mutual funds with a focus on international and emerging-markets companies, and those funds are larger than the U.S. Equity ESG fund, according to the Journal.

The SEC’s investigation may conclude without any formal enforcement action, the Journal reports.

Representatives for the SEC and Goldman Sachs declined comment to the news service.

The SEC’s investigation of ESG investing at Goldman comes two weeks after DWS Group had its Frankfurt, Germany headquarters raided by German law enforcement officials as part of an investigation into allegations that the firm overstated its environmental, social and governance credentials.

Last year, reports emerged that the SEC and U.S. federal prosecutors were also investigating DWS.

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