By collaborating with investment, responsibility and engagement teams, the resulting ESG contribution to investment decisions is more dynamic than, for example, simply relying on scores alone. And, more importantly, because we engage as an investor, companies are more likely to be responsive.
Figure 1: Engagement is an integral part of Hermes Credit’s investment approach
Source: Hermes Credit as at January 2018
Hermes EOS usually adopts its proprietary four-step milestone system during the engagement process. Specific milestones can vary by engagement (see Figure 2), but the system allows EOS to track the progress of its engagements relative to the objectives established at the beginning of the process.
Figure 2: The four-step Hermes EOS milestone system for ESG engagement
Source: Hermes EOS as at January 2018
Today, it produces approximately 2m barrels of oil a day and generates $62bn of annual revenue. Although Pemex is wholly-owned by the Mexican state, it relies heavily on international debt markets to fund its operations, with around $87bn of debt outstanding.
Mexico established a wide-ranging set of energy reforms in late 2013, which is having a significant impact. The reforms open up key parts of the energy sector to new players and will gradually increase competition as the government auctions new oil fields, thereby creating new partnership opportunities for Pemex. Furthermore, an oil and gas safety regulator has been established to bring best international practice to Mexico and enforce its application.
In February 2017, Hermes Credit invested in Pemex’s new issue to increase exposure to the energy sector at an attractive relative value for a higher quality investment grade energy credit. An in-depth analysis of the company’s credit profile gave us a better understanding of the company’s oil reserves, production levels and recent operational and financial efficiency initiatives. We also believe we have a firm grip on Mexico’s energy reform programme, the ownership of Pemex, and tax policies.
During our analysis however, ESG factors emerged as recurring themes in the credit discussion.
We wanted to clarify Pemex’s labour safety track record, which was below the industry average, and gain an insight into its environmental management programmes, given the frequency of oil spills and leaks in the past.
For this reason, we characterised Pemex’s ESG risks as higher than average, suggesting that ESG factors could potentially have an adverse impact on the credit. As such, we were reluctant to increase our position in Pemex until we could discuss our ESG concerns with the company, despite relatively attractive bond valuations.
Drilling deep to achieve sustainability targets
To address our investment concerns, we initiated the engagement process with Pemex. In general, at least two team members accompany Hermes EOS to engagement meetings, especially when the company’s senior management or the chair are in attendance. Notably, we always aim to speak with the board, in particular the chair, as it has been proven the most effective way to conduct successful engagements. And if required, we also engage with the sustainability team and investor relations.
Encouragingly, Pemex was keen to engage. We had previously engaged with the Mexican oil producer, and so, it showed no resistance. It was open to re-engaging and discussing our concerns, indicating that it recognises the importance of managing ESG risks to its debt investors.
In May 2017, our associate director of engagement, co-head of Hermes Credit, and senior credit analyst covering energy met with the Pemex sustainability and investor relations teams. Our engagement efforts focused on: