California pension leaders differ on Russia divestment

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Russian President Putin meets with representatives of the business community in Moscow

By Ross Kerber

BOSTON -Top California pension leaders on Monday offered different takes on whether the state’s big retirement funds should divest from Russian assets in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, underscoring a broader debate among investors.

California Treasurer Fiona Ma said she supports divesting Russian assets, while California Controller Betty Yee stopped short of calling for the sale of Russian stocks and bonds.

“We need to send a very clear and unequivocal response that California will not stand for Russia’s aggression,” Ma said in a statement sent by a representative.

Decisions would be made by systems where Ma is a board member including the $480 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the $320 billion California Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS).

However, fellow state official and board member Yee adopted more of a wait-and-see stance.

“As the world witnesses the devastating invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military, I am certain both CalPERS and CalSTRS will follow all relevant federal sanctions that can more quickly bring this crisis to a peaceful resolution,” Yee said in a statement sent by a spokesperson.

“Investment teams at both funds continue to monitor their performance and analyze our options going forward,” the statement said.

Energy giants BP and Shell and global bank HSBC joined a growing list of companies looking to exit Russia as the U.S. and Europe impose stiffening sanctions, and Moscow responds.

But so far major U.S. investment firms have offered little comment about their intentions.

CalPERS has about $1 billion in Russia assets. CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost said Monday, “We are monitoring current events and will take action as appropriate to protect the interests of our members.”

CalSTRS has said it was monitoring potential risks to its portfolio related to Russia, valued around $800 million last June.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber. Additional reporting by Davide Barbuscia. Editing by Chris Reese and Karishma Singh)