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AB: ESG-Labeled Bonds: Are Greeniums Doomed To Dwindle?

AB: ESG-Labeled Bonds: Are Greeniums Doomed To Dwindle?

Published 08-16-23

Submitted by AllianceBernstein

Info graph bar chart The Decline in Average Greeniums Has Coincided with Greater ESG-Labeled Bonds Issuance over years 2018-2022.

Investors in ESG-labeled bonds expect well-structured issues with strong green or social credentials to command higher prices than the same issuer’s conventional bonds. This price premium, known as the “greenium,” seems to have been shrinking over time (Display). But factor in metrics such as quality and volume of issuance per vintage year, and a more nuanced picture emerges.

Although it’s common knowledge that the average greenium across major bond indices has decreased in recent years, the significance of issuance year (vintage) for greeniums is less well understood. But vintage year is important, because both the issuance levels of ESG-labeled bonds and the quality of their ESG proposition have varied significantly over time.

The decline in average greeniums has been driven primarily by two related factors: the increased issuance of ESG-linked bonds and the coinciding decline in quality of the ESG proposition across many of the newer issues. We can see the changes in both factors more clearly when we analyze vintage years.

We find that many older ESG-labeled bonds issued in the 2018–2019 era have maintained their greeniums over time. These include issues from pioneering financial institutions and best-in-class European names.

By contrast, issuers who more recently jumped on the ESG bandwagon generally issued less-well-structured bonds that command negligible greeniums.

As always with ESG-labeled bonds, it’s important to appraise each issue individually, because these securities’ characteristics vary so much, both within each sub-category and from bond to bond. The only way to determine whether an ESG-labeled bond deserves its greenium is by thorough fundamental analysis.

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams. Views are subject to revision over time.

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AllianceBernstein (AB) is a leading global investment management firm that offers high-quality research and diversified investment services to institutional investors, individuals, and private wealth clients in major world markets. We believe corporate responsibility, responsible investing and stewardship are intertwined. To be effective stewards of our clients’ assets, we strive to invest responsibly—assessing, engaging on and integrating material issues, including environmental, social and governance (ESG), and climate change considerations in most of our actively managed strategies. We also believe that strive to hold ourselves as a firm to similar practices that we ask of issues. Our stewardship practices, investment strategy and decision-making are guided by our purpose, mission and values.

Our purpose—pursue insight that unlocks opportunity—inspires our firm to act responsibly. While opportunity means something different to each of our stakeholders; it always means considering the unique goals of each stakeholder. AB’s mission is to help our clients define and achieve their investment goals, explicitly stating what we do to unlock opportunity for our clients. We became a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) in 2011. This began our journey to formalize our commitment to identify responsible ways to unlock opportunities for our clients through integrating material ESG factors throughout most of our actively managed equity and fixed-income client accounts, funds and strategies. AB also engages issuers where it believes the engagement is in the best financial interest of its clients.

Because we are an active manager, our differentiated insights drive our ability to deliver alpha and design innovative investment solutions. ESG and climate issues are important elements in forming insights and in presenting potential risks and opportunities that can have an effect on the performance of the companies and issuers that we invest in and the portfolios that we build.

Our values provide a framework for the behaviors and actions that deliver on our purpose and mission. Values align our actions. Each value emerges from the firm’s collective character—yet is also aspirational.

  • Invest in One Another means that we have a strong organizational culture where diversity is celebrated and mentorship is critical to our success. When we invest in one another, we empower our employees to reach their potential, so that they can help our clients realize theirs. This enables us to partner with clients to design and deliver improved investment outcomes.
  • Strive for Distinctive Knowledge means that we collaboratively identify creative solutions to clients’ economic, ESG and climate- related investment challenges through our expertise in a wide range of investment disciplines, close collaboration among our investment experts and creative solutions.
  • Speak with Courage and Conviction informs how we engage our AB colleagues and issuers. We seek to learn from other parts of our business to strengthen our own views. And we engage issuers for insight and action by sharing ideas and best practices.
  • Act with Integrity—Always is the bedrock of our relationships and has specific meaning for our business. Unlike many other asset managers, we’re singularly focused on providing asset management and research to our clients. We don’t engage in activities that could be distracting, or create conflicts—such as investment banking, insurance writing, commercial banking or proprietary trading for our own account. We are unconflicted and fully accountable.

As of September 30, 2023, AB had $669B in assets under management, $458B of which were ESG-integrated. Additional information about AB may be found on our website,

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