January 17, 2019

Fake News: Phony BlackRock CEO Letter Hits the Street

People seem to ponder, contemplate & generally ruminate over the annual letter from BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink like it’s a pronouncement from the Oracle at Delphi.  Since it gets so much attention, I guess we shouldn’t be all that surprised that somebody would decide to issue a fake version of this year’s letter. Here’s an excerpt from this Barron’s article:

Larry Fink’s annual letter to Corporate America is widely anticipated. But an email Wednesday purporting to be from the BlackRock CEO that was sent to media outlets, including Barron’s, wasn’t the real thing—even though it contained lofty rhetoric and finger-wagging about the risks of climate change, one of Fink’s favorite subjects. It also included a series of purported initiatives including an eyebrow-raising plan to divest from fossil fuel companies.

The hoaxters were certainly media-savvy, not to mention thorough: The fake letter was accompanied by a fake website, and followed by a separate, fake statement from one of BlackRock’s top public relations people. A (real) BlackRock spokesman said the company is investigating.

BlackRock posted the real version of Fink’s letter later in the day. A CNBC story says that the hoax is being pinned on environmental activists, and Barron’s characterized the perpetrator of the hoax as a “prankster,” but I guess I have my doubts. The hoax was elaborate, timed to coincide with BlackRock’s earnings release, and appears to have been designed to move markets. It seems at least possible that “fraudster” may turn out to be a more apt characterization than “prankster.”

Yesterday was a big day for elaborate media hoaxes. If you’re looking for “pranksters,” the activists responsible for the fake edition of yesterday’s Washington Post appear to fit the bill. Notorious Democratic prankster & Richard Nixon tormentor Dick Tuck would’ve been proud.

CEO Activism: Should CEOs Speak Out or “Shut Up & Sing”?

Larry Fink hasn’t been shy about speaking out on social issues, but historically, most corporate CEOs have been pretty averse to the idea of wading into the public debate on social or political topics. There’s a perception that this is changing – and a growing debate about whether CEOs should speak out or just “shut up and sing.” This Stanford study takes a look at the prevalence of CEO activism, the range of advocacy positions taken by CEOs, and the public’s reaction to it.

The study concludes that CEO activism in the media isn’t as widespread as it may be perceived, with only 28% of S&P 500 and 12% of S&P 1500 CEOs making public statements about social, environmental or political issues. Those statements generally were concentrated in a handful of areas – with diversity, environmental issues, and immigration and human rights being the most prevalent. When it comes to social media, only 11% of S&P 1500 CEOs have Twitter accounts, and less than half of them used Twitter as a platform for this type of advocacy.

The study found that the public’s reaction to CEO activism on these topics was mixed. Here’s an excerpt with the details:

In a survey of 3,544 individuals, the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University found that two-thirds (65%) of the public believe that the CEOs of large companies should use their position and potential influence to advocate on behalf of social, environmental, or political issues they care about personally, while one-third (35%) do not.

Members of the public are most in favor of CEO activism about environmental issues, such as clean air or water (78%), renewable energy (68%), sustainability (65%), and climate change (65%). They are also generally positive about widespread social issues, such as healthcare (69%), income inequality (66%), poverty (65%) and taxes (58%).

The public reaction is much more mixed about issues of diversity and equality. Fifty-four percent of Americans support CEO activism about racial issues, while 29% do not; 43% support activism about LGBTQ rights, while 32% do not; and only 40% support activism about gender issues,while 37% do not. Contentious social issues—such as gun control and abortion—and politics and religion garner the least favorable reactions. Of these issues, CEOs speaking up about gun control is the only one with a net-favorable position (45% favorable versus 35% unfavorable). Abortion (37% versus 39%), politics (33% versus 43%), and religion (31% versus 45%) all elicit net-unfavorable reactions.

When it comes to consumer behavior, the study says that Americans are significantly more likely to recall products or services they used less of based on a CEO’s comments than to recall those they used more of in response to those comments. The study says that demonstrates that CEO activism is a double edged sword – while it can build customer loyalty, it can also alienate large segments of the customer base.

January-February Issue: Deal Lawyers Print Newsletter

This January-February issue of the Deal Lawyers print newsletter was just posted – & also mailed – and includes articles on (try a 2019 no-risk trial):

– Cross-Border Carve-Out Transactions
– The Odd Couple: Indemnification and R&W Insurance
– Fairness Opinions: How to Avoid Provider Conflicts
– Standards of Review: When the Controlling Shareholder Isn’t a Buyer

Remember that – as a “thank you” to those that subscribe to both & our Deal Lawyers print newsletter – we are making all issues of the Deal Lawyers print newsletter available online. There is a big blue tab called “Back Issues” near the top of – 2nd from the end of the row of tabs. This tab leads to all of our issues, including the most recent one.

And a bonus is that even if only one person in your firm is a subscriber to the Deal Lawyers print newsletter, anyone who has access to will be able to gain access to the Deal Lawyers print newsletter. For example, if your firm has a firmwide license to – and only one person subscribes to the print newsletter – everybody in your firm will be able to access the online issues of the print newsletter. That is real value. Here are FAQs about the Deal Lawyers print newsletter including how to access the issues online.

John Jenkins