Dryblower on the ANU's divestment policy and financial loss

THE Australian National University is a little poorer today, and by that Dryblower does not mean poorer in an academic sense, he means financially poorer because last week’s divestment debacle had a financial as well as a reputational cost.
Dryblower on the ANU's divestment policy and financial loss Dryblower on the ANU's divestment policy and financial loss Dryblower on the ANU's divestment policy and financial loss Dryblower on the ANU's divestment policy and financial loss Dryblower on the ANU's divestment policy and financial loss


Staff Reporter

The damaged reputation, despite the campaign launched by enviro-activists to defend ANU, is most obvious in the way a once highly regarded institution has been marginalised as an organisation with views that are too extreme for most Australians.

Balmain basket-weavers and hard-line Green anarchists in Melbourne are celebrating the capture of ANU and in the way they coerced its senior management to join the global resource-sector divestment push.

Perhaps the decision to sell shares in seven mining and oil companies was just a token move by ANU because while it was prepared to quit small holdings in companies such as Sirius Resources and Santos it was not prepared to quit its shares in BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto or Woodside Petroleum.

But, even if the divestment action was a token gesture it is shaping as an expensive financial gesture, for four reasons. They are:

  • All seven stocks sold by ANU rose last week whereas most alternative and renewable energy stocks of the sort now favoured by ANU fell or were flat.

  • Enviro-activists will seek to build on their success by forcing more changes at the university, from a complete resource-sector exit to syllabus changes to ensure political correctness.

  • As ANU becomes less important to mainstream Australia big companies will be much more careful about providing financial support for a university which appears to have signed up for a hard-line environmental agenda, and

  • ANU graduates will find that they risk being condemned to lower-paid jobs in the environmental and renewable energy world which is yet to prove that it has a business case to support its activities.

The first point is easiest to demonstrate, but the results of Dryblower’ stock market test will flow into the next stages of sliding relevancy for ANU.

To illustrate what happened two samples were prepared in a pseudo-scientific way which is in keeping with the pseudo-financial process evident in ANU’s divestment process.

Alongside the seven resource stocks sold, Dryblower assembled a basket to seven renewable and alternative energy stocks, randomly selected from a list of clean technology companies produced by an organisation called Eco Citizen Australia.

The seven clean-tech stocks were: Silex (solar power), Infigen (wind power), Mission NewEnergy (biofuel), Solco (solar), Dyesol (solar), Carnegie Wave (wave power) and Geodynamics (hot rocks energy).

That result looked like this, using Friday-to-Friday closing prices, over what was a fairly torrid week of rising, falling and rising share prices:

  • ANU’s Divested Seven: Sandfire, up 2c to $5.52. Iluka, up 22c to $7.63. Independence, up 20c to $4.20. Newcrest, up 36c to $10. Oil Search, up 30c to $8.65. Santos, up 20c to $12.79, and Sirius, up 20c to $2.87.

  • Dryblower’ Clean Seven: Silex, down 2c to 65c. Infigen, down 2c to 26.5c. Mission NewEnergy, down one-tenth of a cent to 0.8c. Solco, also down one-tenth of a cent to 1c. Carnegie Wave, steady at 4.9c, and Geodynamics, up one-tenth of a cent to 4.1c.

Obviously this is a rough and ready test of ANU’s investment strategy but it is also a useful guide to the virtually non-existent financial strategy of most renewable energy companies which, like ANU, are dependent on government grants, private donations and taxpayer subsidies.

Being a government body it should probably not come as a surprise that ANU would favour supporting companies with a similar minimal-profit approach to business.

Amusing as it is to poke fun at ANU’s misguided approach to money management there are those serious issues mentioned earlier because there is a very real chance that enviro-activists will not stop at influencing investment decisions.

They will want more and there’s no chance that what they want will be business friendly.

Going too far Left, or Right, is a dangerous policy for an academic organisation, not just because of the credibility question but because it is business which makes money in Australia, and it is business which provides the jobs.

Alienating yourself from mainstream Australia might feel good for a while but over time alienation becomes debilitating and then it becomes self-destructive.

ANU, sadly, has allowed itself to be used for political and activist purposes.

If it doesn’t quickly recognise the mistake it has made it will start to be seen as an academic institution with a voice that is perceived to be biased – and that’s an impossible place for the long-term survival of a university.

Divestment is a loser’s game – in more ways than one.

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