US firms facilitated investments into blacklisted Chinese companies, says House probe

By Pritam Biswas and Mehnaz Yasmin

(Reuters) -U.S. financial firms facilitated investments worth billions of dollars in index funds that included blacklisted Chinese companies, according to a bipartisan House Committee investigation that called for legislation aimed at restricting investment in those Chinese entities.

U.S. index providers and asset managers channeled $6.5 billion last year to 63 Chinese companies flagged by the U.S. government for advancing China’s military capabilities or supporting human rights abuses, the probe report unveiled on Thursday said.

The panel said the activity was not illegal, but it called for Congress to pass legislation that would restrict investment in blacklisted entities, as well as require U.S. public companies to disclose risks related to China.

In particular, the Select Committee said it focused on two companies — the world’s foremost index provider, MSCI, and the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock — and also canvassed the broader financial industry. It concluded that MSCI indexes alone channeled $3.7 billion and BlackRock invested at least $1.9 billion in these red-flagged entities.

“BlackRock and MSCI are not alone – a cross-industry review revealed that other major index providers and asset managers funnel billions of dollars to the same red-flagged entities,” the report said.

The probe comes as ties between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, have been strained in recent years due to issues including Taiwan, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, allegations of spying, human rights issues and trade tariffs.

A BlackRock spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Reuters: “The Committee and its report confirm BlackRock complies with applicable US laws, this matter affects the entire asset management industry, and that Congress and the Administration must work together to create clear rules of the road for U.S. investors.

“Despite fully cooperating with the Committee for more than eight months, its report includes misleading assertions about index funds, including that they are ‘funneling billions of dollars’ to these entities,” the spokesperson added.

MSCI said in an emailed statement to Reuters that it does not recommend or manage investments in any country or company, that an index is simply a mathematical calculation of the performance of the market and it does not “channel investments.”

“We are pleased that the Committee acknowledges that MSCI indexes comply with U.S. laws and regulations,” MSCI said.

“If Congress or other government bodies expand restrictions on investment in China as recommended by the Committee, MSCI will assess applicable changes to our indexes in accordance with our methodologies,” it added.

(Reporting by Mehnaz Yasmin in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Davide Barbuscia in New York; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Sriraj Kalluvila and Jamie Freed)