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Exxon shareholders approve climate impact report in win for activists

Stock MarketsMay 31, 2017 07:19PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO - The logo of Exxon Mobil Corporation is shown on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York

By Gary McWilliams

DALLAS (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp's (N:XOM) chief executive said on Wednesday the company would reconsider how it communicates the risks its faces from climate change after shareholders approved a measure calling for increased transparency.

The non-binding proposal passed with 62 percent of ballots cast in a rare defeat for Exxon's management, which had recommended a vote against the measure. The company argued that it already provides sufficient information on the potential impact of changing technologies and energy demand on its asset portfolio.

The results likely reflected a shift in how big shareholders voted on the measure, as the same proposal last year received only 38.1 percent of shares voted.

Asset manager BlackRock Inc (N:BLK) backed the proposal, according to a source familiar with the matter. BlackRock holds about 6 percent of Exxon shares.

Among other top Exxon shareholders, spokespeople for State Street Corp (N:STT) and Vanguard Group declined to comment on the vote on Wednesday.

"It’s a powerful message," New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in an interview. A New York state public employee pension fund he oversees was one of the proposal's sponsors. "They recognized the global community is staying committed to Paris," he said, referring to the Paris global climate accord.

The proposal asked for Exxon to report on risks its business could face from technology changes and from climate change policies such as the 2015 accord aiming to keep average global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius.

In remarks following the shareholder meeting, Exxon Chief Executive Darren Woods said the board would reconsider its climate change-related communications but did not commit to producing the report requested in the proposal.

He also said board directors would review a policy designed to bar them from meeting individually with big shareholders, a practice criticized by the climate proposal sponsors.

"We take the vote seriously will respond to that feedback and look for opportunities" to communicate, Woods said. "That issue along with others is part of dialogue we have with the board."

Exxon still faces probes by Massachusetts and New York Attorneys General into whether it misled the public and investors by soft-pedaling climate change risks. Exxon has said suits are politically motivated and intended to force it and others to change their positions on climate change.

Protesters, some in skeleton costumes, held up signs saying "Exxon Lied" across the street from Wednesday's annual meeting.

Approval of Exxon's executive pay meanwhile received 68 percent of ballots cast, down from 89 percent a year ago. Proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services had recommended shareholders reject the executive pay plan.

A proposal calling for a report on Exxon's efforts to reduce emissions of methane, another greenhouse gas, in its operations received support of nearly 39 percent of ballots cast.

Another proposal calling on the company to increase shareholder payouts in light of climate change-related risks was approved by less than 4 percent of ballots cast. Exxon had opposed both proposals.

Earlier, Exxon's Woods had said the company supported the goals of many of the proposals, but disagreed with the methods.

Exxon shareholders approve climate impact report in win for activists

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