Sources: Bloomberg, J.P.Morgan Asset Management. Data as at January 2023.
2. Quantitative: The greenium is not as negative as investors may think
The greenium is a well-known feature of green bonds but its size is generally limited. The Federal Reserve3 has recently estimated that “on average, dollar- and euro-denominated green corporate bonds have a primary market credit spread that is 8 basis points lower compared to conventional”.
In addition, following the yield increase in 2022, the greenium’s share of total yield has decreased substantially, from almost 10%4 of the green bond yield at the start of 2022 to around 2% today.
Finally, because the greenium is a function of the supply and demand imbalances for green bonds, it is not stable over time and across regions, thereby offering alpha opportunities for active investors (Exhibit 2).
3. Technicals: The green bonds market allows investors to benefit from strong flows into sustainable investment solutions
Demand for green bonds should remain elevated, amid increased investor appetite for sustainable securities that offer transparency over the use of proceeds. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds, such as those categorised as Article 9 under the European Union’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR), have been gaining traction since the SFDR was introduced. Article 9 funds, which have an explicit sustainable objective and only allocate to sustainable investments, are not obliged to invest in green bonds instead of traditional bonds. However, green bonds can be more attractive for Article 9 funds because they provide greater transparency over the use of proceeds.
On top of investor demand, central banks could also potentially contribute to an increase in demand for green bonds. Some central banks see climate change as part of their mandate, with the European Central Bank (ECB) going so far as to announce that its “corporate bond holdings will be tilted towards issuers with better climate performance”5. The ECB has also recognised the important role that green bonds will play in funding the climate transition and could therefore give preferential treatment to green bonds in its primary market bidding behaviour, subject to certain conditions.6
We believe green bonds will continue to benefit from strong fundamental, quantitative and technical factors.
The greenium is generally seen as a “financial cost” for investors. However, it has historically been relatively limited, while its share of total yield has decreased substantially recently. In addition, the greenium is not stable over time and across regions, and so offers alpha opportunities for active investors.
Moreover, green bonds have historically been proven to be more defensive than traditional bonds, as evidenced by lower duration-adjusted volatility, and have similar duration-adjusted returns.
The demand for green bonds should remain elevated, amid increased investor appetite for sustainable securities that offer transparency over the use of proceeds, and ongoing regulator and central bank encouragement.
However, to fully harness the potential of green bonds, active management is essential. Given the absence of a global definition of what a green bond is, the ability to analyse the use of the proceeds is key to avoid greenwashing and regulatory risks.
1 International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Investment 2022 report. 2030e is based on the IEA’s net zero by 2050 scenario.
2 Issuer, capital structure, currency, rating and maturity.
4 Based on a theoretical Greenium of 8 basis points as % of Yield to worst of the Bloomberg MSCI Global Green Bond Index.