Christopher Niesche: Australian investment banking giant positioning itself to capitalise on a decarbonising world

Where some see the global economy’s transition to zero carbon and this week’s COP26 global climate conference as a threat, Macquarie Group chief executive Shemara Wikramanayake sees opportunity.

The Australian investment banking giant is positioning itself to capitalise on a decarbonising world.

“We need multiples of the level of investment per annum that’s going in if we are to meet the challenge needed in relation to addressing the climate change issue and that’s not just in energy, but obviously in electrification of transport and mobility, what we need to do in agriculture, what we need to do in building,” Wikramanayake told reporters from London, ahead of attending the Glasgow climate conference.

“There’s a huge scale of investment required.”

Macquarie has more than 300 renewable energy projects in the pipeline representing about 35 gigawatts of power.

But that is only a fraction of what will be needed.

If the world is to shift from fossil fuels to green energy and meet the greenhouse gas reduction commitments made at the Paris climate conference in 2015, it will need to increase the amount of electricity generation by about seven times. And much of that will have to come from renewable energy.

And that’s before any further commitments made at COP26 this week.

“I can say (there) is the increasing commitments and focus on the private sector from people all around the world, a multitude of sectors not just finance and energy,” said Wikramanayake, who has previously urged governments to rapidly accelerate the execution of climate and energy transition strategies.

Wikramanayake’s words at COP26 are likely to be in stark contrast to the Australian Prime Minister’s.

Scott Morrison will front up the climate conference and try to convince other world leaders that Australia is taking action to reduce its emissions – among the highest per capita in the world.

In reality, he’s unlikely to do anything at all and will base carbon reduction plans on future technological developments. This is the message that he will have for voters – that action on climate change can be painless. Should Morrison’s opponents be brave enough to suggest a carbon price, he will tell voters that it’s an economy-wrecking tax that will make them poorer and cost them their jobs.

On Friday Macquarie reported a better-than-expected net profit of A$2.04 billion for the six months to the end of September, more than double the $985 million in the year-earlier period affected by the pandemic.

Macquarie is described as an investment bank, but in reality its earnings come from a range of financial services. A third comes from asset management, a quarter from commodities and global markets and the remainder is split equally between retail banking and investment banking.

Of note is the performance of its fast-growing loans portfolio – in the past six months Macquarie’s mortgage book surged 14 per cent to $76.4 billion. The bank now accounts for 3.8 per cent of the local home loan market.

And despite its green push, the bank remains a key player in fossil fuel energy markets and its earnings benefitted from the recent surge in European gas prices due to increased demand.

It is a truly global business. Macquarie revealed that 70 per cent of its revenue now comes from international business.

The bank is raising an additional A$1.5 billion in capital, in part to help fund the green energy push.

But of more note is that Macquarie moving its Green Investment Group from Macquarie Capital to Macquarie Asset Management. What it means is that rather than just using its own balance sheet to fund green investment projects, it can partner with other investors and hugely expand its potential. In fact, Macquarie Asset Management has A$735.5 billion under management.

The bank is well-placed to develop wind and solar generation projects and the like. It has a huge amount of experience in getting large-scale infrastructure projects off the ground thanks to the many projects it has developed around the world in recent decades, often in partnership with governments which need new road or rail lines but don’t have the funds to pay for them.

Shares in Macquarie Group last week joined an elite club of Australian shares when they broke through the A$200-a-share barrier to hit an all-time high of A$202.50 ahead of the company’s earnings results as analysts upgraded their forecasts and price targets.

Shareholders who have stuck with the company have been richly rewarded. The shares were just A$25 at the start of the millennium and even a year ago were around A$126.

Some analysts think there is a lot more potential yet.

Morgan Stanley analyst Andrei Stadnik has a A$240 price target on the stock and says his best-case scenario is A$388 a share.

As politicians like Scott Morrison delay and equivocate on climate change, business leaders like Wikramanayake see opportunity, and might get us closer to meeting our global emissions goals regardless of what so-called leaders do.

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