Two Middle Eastern oil countries recently bought substantial interests in four U.S. airlines, according to testimony at a Senate hearing yesterday.
A Civil Aeronautics Board record made public by a Senate subcommittee revealed that Abu Dhabi owns between one and 4 percent of the common stock of Eastern Airlines, Trans World Airlines, United Airlines and Seaborad World Airlines. Kuwait has acquired shares in Seaboard and Afrorne Freight Corp.
The purchases were made on behalf of the Arab nations by Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. with whom they have discretionary accounts. Abu Dhabi and Kuwait, however, vote their own shares in the corporations. Morgan also has made sizeable investments in these and other airlines on behalf of pension funds, whose shares it votes. The bank has sole voting authority of more than 5 percent of the stock of both United Airlines and American Airlines.
Together, the shares bought for the Arabs discretionary accounts and those held in trust for pension and other trust funds amount to 12 percent of the total common stock of the six airlines.
Abu Dhabi has become Eastern's third largest stockholder, after the Rockefeller family.
"This looks like recontrol rather than decontrol of the airlines," quipped Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), the subcommittee's chairman, at the hearing.
The comments and testimony came on the second of two days of hearings devoted to finding out who controls pension funds, how much power funds exercise over corporations whose stock they hold, whether the investments are too concentrated and whether they are made in the best interest of the beneficiaries.
Metzenbaum asked Morgan's executive vice president, Harrison Smith, what other U.S. industries foreign governments were buying up.
Smith replied that their other investments were very diversified. Abu Dhabi has $900 million invested through Morgan. Kuwait's portfolio amounts to about $700 million, and Saudi Arabia's, $600 million, Smith said.
Aside from his concern about foreign interests in U.S. airlines, Metzenbaum used the example to show that voting rights can easily be passed on to beneficial owners.
Smith had testified that few of Morgan's pension fund clients wanted to vote their own stock. In fact, Morgan votes 98 percent of it. As the country's largest trust department with $14 billion in pension fund assets ($10 billion in equities), Morgan is thus in a position to wield enormous power.
Prof. Roy Schotland of Georgetown University proposed a law be enacted requiring trust departments to pass through voter rights for securities held by pension funds to the beneficiaries, employees and retirees. The purpose is to protect their interests so that, as several union reprepresentatives testified, union pension fund members do not find themselves investing in non-unionized companies that may put them out of business. Our cities like Cleveland do not find that 92 percent of their public pension funds are being invested out of state.
Opponents of this idea argue that investments for defined benefit plans (those that promise beneficiaries a given sum on a given date) should be left up to professional managers because they bear the risks.
Both Morgan and Citibank said they would not accept any accounts with third-party control over how the money is to be invested, except for general policy on the mix of investments or securities versus fixed income. They were adamantly opposed to using social responsibility as an investment criterion, but finally said they might consider such guidelines if the investments met all other financial criteria.
Whereas the Employe Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 specified that investments should be made solely for the benefit of beneficiaries - a view still held by the vast majority of fund managers - there is growing sentiment that criteria other than maximum yield also should be considered.
During the hearing, union officials, city managers and private investment advisers sought to point out that investing in businesses concerned with social good can also be good business financially, that "do-goodism" is not a sure money loser as is widely believed.
Jeffrey Friedman, vice president of the Dreyfus Third Century Fund, said his mutual fund's performance ranks 79 out of 480 this year, even though investments are restricted by social criteria.
The fund will not invest in any company it determines has an unsatisfactory record in equal opportunities for minorities, occupational safety, environmental protection and consumer protection.
It has a list of 200 approved companies in which it is willing to invest. Rather than rule out any particular industry, such as tobacco or copper, it tries to select the most responsible companies in each industry, he said.
During the first nine months of 1978, the Dow Jones Averages adjusted upward for dividend reinvestment) advanced 8.6 percent; the Dreyfus Third Century Fund was up 27.2 percent. However, little of the $23 million fund as yet comes from pension plans. A study by Corporate Date Exchange showed that as recently as 1976, social concerns were still considered irrelevant to investments, whether the funds controlled by employers, jointly by union or city officials.
Metzenbaum said after the hearings that perhaps pass-through fo voter rights and socially responsible investing were ideas whose time had not yet come, but he wanted to air them before introducing legislation. The next hearing will be Feb. 7.