Reinvestment in S. Africa yields unclear results

by Anne Renna | 11/23/94 6:00am

One year after the Board of Trustees decided to lift its ban on investing in South Africa, College financial officers say it is virtually impossible to determine what effect this decision has had on the College's earnings.

The officers attribute this to the nature of the College's investments, which have only involved investments in companies conducting businesses in South Africa and not direct investment in the country itself.

Last November, the Board voted to rescind a 1989 ban on investment in South Africa, closing the final chapter in a decade-long controversy that sparked some of the largest student protests in the College's history and contributed to the resignation of former College President David McLaughlin.

The ban was instituted to protest the South African government's apartheid policies.

But College Vice President and Treasurer Lyn Hutton said the decision has had little impact on the College's investment strategies except to increase the number of investment opportunities.

"From an investment point of view, it increased the number of companies we could look at; it gave us more options," Hutton said.

Director of Investments Jon King said the decision to divest was more important symbolically than economically.

"From a political and social point of view, the decision to divest was an important one," King said. He added that it is not really feasible or worthwhile to determine how the decision to reinvest contributed to the 7.7 percent return the College earned on its endowment during the last fiscal year.

King explained that the decision to divest narrowed the list of the College's investment opportunities and in most cases merely caused the College to shift its money from firms conducting business in South Africa to related companies that were not.

As an example, King said the College transferred its investments from Texaco, a company which at the time was considered to be conducting business in South Africa, to Exxon, another oil company that was not.

In this way, the College was able to minimize the potential negative financial effects of the decision to divest, King said.

King said the decision to reinvest had little significant immediate impact on the College's investment strategy and added it would be too complicated to evaluate the actual effect.

Before last November's decision, the College's Council on Investor Responsibility -- a group that advises the Trustees about how moral and social issues affect the College's investments -- advised the Board to rescind its ban.

"There is evidence that reinvestment and the concomitant economic recovery may be crucial to accelerate and enhance the elimination of apartheid. For exactly the same reasons that Dartmouth divested, it is appropriate that Dartmouth now reinvest," the Council wrote to the Trustees.