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Ukraine war sends Highland Council pension fund investments ‘plummeting’

Pensioner fund holders were told not to worry.
Pensioner fund holders were told not to worry.

Millions of pounds have been wiped off the value of Highland Council’s pension fund investments in Russian businesses.

We revealed earlier this week that the pension pot had £4.4 million worth of holdings in Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, as well as £1.33m in internet giant, Group.

But the local authority has now confirmed its investments in Russia-based businesses stand at just £176,000.

Councillor Richard Gale, chairman of the pensions committee, said the dramatic decline was partly linked to a move to divest from Russian assets before the war.

However, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and the crippling economic sanctions imposed by western powers in response, sent the value of remaining holdings tumbling.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Certainly one of our main fund managers has been divesting in Russian stocks anyway – that was before the war,” he said.

“But now obviously, by logical deduction, Russian stocks have plummeted. So obviously there is a reduction in the value, whatever happens.

“But we don’t have a full understanding of that. That’s why we’ve called on all our fund managers to have a review so we can fully understand where we stand.

“We can’t make a knee-jerk decision until we know the full picture.”

‘We’re looking at divesting’

Councillor Gale said that a meeting of the Highland pensions investment sub-committee was held last week, at which fund managers were told to carry out a review of Russian holdings, ahead of a decision on whether to disinvest.

“I think the appetite is to divest at the moment. We want to do everything we can to support the Ukraine and show our displeasure at what is happening,” he said.

“We’re looking at divesting but we need to understand fully what our exposure is first.”

Highland Council HQ, Inverness

Last month, the Highland pension fund published figures showing its investments at the end of September last year, including millions of pounds in Sberbank and Group, which controls the three biggest social networking sites in Russia.

A spokeswoman for Highland Council said: “The council still retains holdings in Mail RU Group Ltd and Sberbank Russia, however the level and value of these holdings has reduced over the period since December 2021.”

She added: “At close of business on 28 February the Highland Council Pension Fund had direct investments in Russian based businesses to the value of £176,000.

“The fund is actively considering its position with regard to these investments.”

Local government pension fund investments in Sberbank

Highland was not the only l0cal government pension fund in Scotland to have had millions of pounds tied up in Sberbank, which is majority-owned by the Russian government and has been targeted with sanctions.

Strathclyde previously had investments with a value of £16.4m, while Tayside had £3.42m, Lothian had £1.33m and Orkney had £1.24m.

Barry O’Neill

Should you be worried about your pension?

Barry O’Neill, investment director for Carbon Financial Partners, said people with pensions linked to these local government funds did not need to worry, however.

“Pension fund valuations change from day to day, depending upon the risks in the different markets they have money invested in,” he said.

“Any exposure to Russia should be relatively limited, but you know, any such exposure will have taken a pounding valuation-wise over the last week, that’s for sure.

“But it should be a very small part of the overall asset valuation, and most other developed world markets have actually held up reasonably well in the last seven days or so.”

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