The endowment supporting Harvard University lost $2.3 billion in the last fiscal year, the school’s investment arm revealed this week.
The stock market has experienced one of its worst years in modern history as inflation persists and the economy sinks into a recession. Harvard Management Company CEO N.P. Narvekar said in a letter to members of the Harvard community that the endowment’s plummet in value is largely due to current market conditions and “reinforces the necessity” of focusing on long-term investments.
Although the 1.8% negative return was the first loss since 2016, the endowment contributed $2.1 billion toward the university’s operating budget and stood at a value of $50.9 billion at the end of the last fiscal year. “We remain confident that the steps we have taken — and those still in process — to construct a portfolio that serves the University’s long-term interests will allow Harvard to maintain and increase its critical support of students, faculty, and research for generations to come,” Narvekar wrote.
The letter admitted, however, that efforts to achieve net zero emissions “weighed upon performance.” At the end of last year, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced that the university would allow remaining investments in the fossil fuel industry to expire while refusing to adopt new ones. The move came after aggressive campaigns from student activists.
“A number of institutional investors leaned into the conventional energy sector, through either equities or commodity futures, adding materially to their total return,” Narvekar continued, explaining that Harvard Management Company “did not participate in these returns given the university’s commitment to tackling the impacts of climate change, supporting sustainable solutions, and achieving our stated net zero goal.”
The letter nevertheless added that Harvard Management Company is “proud to be deeply engaged in the issue of sustainability” and has invested in “technology-driven climate transition investments.” The organization is also working to address “the lack of gender and racial diversity in the financial industry” among portfolio investments and its own team.
Harvard Management Company integrates environmental, social, and governance factors, also known as ESG, into its investment processes. Among other goals, the organization is “committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”
While university endowments and leading asset managers continue to operate under the assumptions of ESG, an exclusive poll from The Daily Wire indicated that American investors prefer to keep profits and social activism apart from one another. Although 29% of respondents agreed it is a “good thing” for companies to leverage their financial power for political or social means supported by executives, 58% said it is a “bad thing.”
Despite controversy surrounding ESG and the diversity, equity, and inclusion movement, also known as DEI, academia has forwarded both ideologies. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which typically places first in national rankings of collegiate business programs, recently added DEI and ESG programs for graduate and undergraduate students.
Amid the most recent stock market downturn, however, ESG investments tended to suffer the most as investors overexposed their funds to the technology sector while avoiding fossil fuel investments. Though technology companies are known for bankrolling social initiatives in reaction to events like the death of George Floyd or the overturning of Roe v. Wade, they were also the first to lay off large portions of their staff as the stock market began its recent tailspin.