Sustainable Investing: Opportunistically Managing Risk

Robust risk management is essential for fixed income investors. In his latest commentary, Marcus Moore explains why our sustainable investing team considers ESG factors as material business risks, similar to the traditional risks they also analyze.

As fixed income investors, risk management is at the heart of what we do. Before we add a borrower to our portfolio, we conduct extensive due diligence to determine the company’s ability to repay its debts. We are fundamental investors, so we generally begin by reviewing a company’s financials. In our view, traditional credit metrics (leverage ratios, margins, free cash flow, multiples, spreads, etc.), are the best indicators of an issuer’s financial strength.

Beyond these metrics, the overall health of a company is dependent on management and the current macro and company-specific themes that are driving results. We have long recognized that having a focus on sustainability adds to this evaluation. It is important for us to invest in management teams that understand the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks that exist within their businesses. Talking with companies about how they are being intentional in addressing these risks gives us the confidence that the businesses we invest in will be managed for long-term success.

In the current environment, however, sustainability is not just about managing risk, it is also about seeking opportunities. The focus on cleaner air, recycling, energy management, and employee engagement have the potential to drive differentiation, operational efficiency, and higher margins. Wage inflation has had a major impact on companies, given the very tight labor market. Overall wages have gone up 6.1%, but job switchers have seen their wages go up more than job stayers. Companies that have been able to maintain their workforce have been less at risk to these inflationary spikes.