Ray Higgins, executive director of Mississippi PERS, said in a statement that "PERS will continue to act prudently in the best interests of the membership."
"We take seriously our fiduciary duty to manage the system's investments with the goal of maximizing returns at an appropriate level of risk," Mr. Higgins said. "As such, the board adheres to an existing policy that states investment decisions will only be made with loyalty and care in the best interest of the membership, and not based solely on political, environmental, social or governance considerations."
Mr. Higgins added that BlackRock is no longer a fund manager for PERS. However, he said that a very small percentage of the portfolio has exposure to BlackRock through some of its other fund managers that act as fiduciaries on its behalf while investing. Most of this exposure is in index funds, he said.
"I recognize Treasurer McRae's emphasis on this important topic, and I appreciate the leadership of all PERS board members," he said.
Mr. McRae's letter comes amid a growing backlash against BlackRock over its views on ESG investing. The $10.1 billion Missouri State Employees' Retirement System, Jefferson City, for example, recently withdrew $500 million from BlackRock funds, while Louisiana Treasurer John M. Schroder pulled $794 million. Texas, meanwhile, blacklisted BlackRock and nine other companies that it claims boycott energy companies, a move made to comply with a state law restricting state pension funds from investing in companies that divest from fossil fuels.
BlackRock did not have an immediate comment, but in a letter to the attorneys general of states that have attacked ESG investing, BlackRock denounced "political initiatives that sacrifice pension plans' access to high-quality investments and thereby jeopardize pensioners' financial returns."
"Open competition, the free flow of information, and freedom of opinions is core to the strength of U.S. capital markets," BlackRock wrote in the letter Sept. 6.