In his annual letter to shareholders, Fink, who leads the world’s largest asset manager, highlighted just how profound the Russian invasion of Ukraine is in a historic context. He explained how both governments and private companies have left Vladimir Putin’s Russia isolated on the global stage.
“The attack on a sovereign nation is something we have not seen in Europe in nearly 80 years — and most of us never imagined that in our lifetimes we would see a war like this waged by a nuclear superpower,” said Fink.
Fink noted the history of Russia and how it emerged from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and was welcomed into the global financial system, something that heralded the start of a “global peace dividend” and the expansion of globalization.
During the years since the USSR dissolved, international trade increased, global capital markets were expanded, and there was increased economic growth and poverty reduction around the world, he said.
“But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put an end to the globalization we have experienced over the last three decades,” Fink told shareholders.
“And while dependence on Russian energy is in the spotlight, companies and governments will also be looking more broadly at their dependencies on other nations,” he said. “This may lead companies to onshore or nearshore more of their operations, resulting in a faster pull back from some countries.”
In his letter, Fink also addressed growing inflation. Consumer prices have increased 7.9% for the 12 months ending in February, the fastest clip since 1982. Fink pointed out that in other countries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and in the European Union, inflation has also ballooned by about 5%.
“Wages have not kept pace, and consumers are feeling the burden as they are confronted by lower real wages, rising energy bills and higher costs at the grocery store checkout,” he told shareholders. “This is especially true for lower-wage workers who spend a higher proportion of their wages on essentials like gas, electricity, and food.”
He noted that central banks around the globe are weighing how quickly to raise interest rates to stave off the higher prices, with the concern being that hiking will slow economic activity and employment.
The war in Ukraine will also accelerate the world’s transition toward greener energy, he asserted. Russia is one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and gas, and because of the sanctions, many countries are rethinking where they get their energy products. For instance, much of Europe is reliant upon Russia for its energy, which is why sanctions largely had carveouts for Russian oil and gas exports.
“Germany, for example, plans to accelerate its use of renewable energy and reach 100% clean power by 2035, 15 years ahead of its previous pre-war target,” Fink wrote. “More than ever, countries that don’t have their own energy sources will need to fund and develop them — which for many will mean investing in wind and solar power.”
Fink said that the war in Ukraine additionally has the potential to accelerate the use of digital currencies such as Bitcoin. One of the benefits of cryptocurrencies is that they can help cut costs for cross-border payments, he said.
For example, El Salvador this year became the first country in the world to adopt Bitcoin as a legal tender. The country’s economy has a reliance on remittances, which is largely money transferred from immigrants in the United States back to relatives in El Salvador.
The Salvadoran president has said that a “big chunk” of the $6 billion in remittances sent each year to people in his country are lost to intermediaries and that Bitcoin will help low-income families by helping them avoid those intermediaries.
Fink is a polarizing figure. BlackRock has faced major scrutiny for its business in China, which is accused of committing genocide against ethnic Uyghurs. Last year, Fink’s company began tapping into the Chinese market by offering mutual funds and investment products to Chinese investors, becoming the first such foreign-owned firm to be permitted to do so.
Conservative nonprofit group Consumers’ Research has been engaging in a multipronged and multimillion-dollar ad campaign targeting Fink and BlackRock for its involvement in China, which includes mobile billboards drawing attention to BlackRock’s ties to China driven around New York in Times Square and near the company’s headquarters.
Even liberal political philanthropist George Soros, seen as a bogeyman on the Right, called Fink’s foray into China a “tragic mistake.” Soros argued at the time that dealing with China will not only lose money for its clients but also harm the national security of the United States and other democracies.