(Bloomberg) -- The market convulsions caused by the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to halt its spread might offer some answers to one of fund managers’ biggest questions: What’s the affect on financial performance of investing in companies that make a positive contribution to society and the environment?
Allianz Global Investors, which oversees about $615 billion for clients, offered some insights with an analysis of how its sustainable and responsible investment mutual funds performed. The asset manager reviewed the “downturn resilience” of its funds and found that the vast majority of its sustainable strategies outperformed broad market benchmarks in the first quarter.
In the past decade, fund managers who consider environmental, social and governance issues alongside regular financial metrics have gone from outliers to the mainstream with more than $30 trillion of assets now managed using a broad definition of the ESG approach. Since ESG’s ascendancy was timed with a bull market, the coronavirus market panic is raising questions about how managers will navigate a bear market and how the stocks and bonds in sustainable portfolios will perform in a sustained rout.
Allianz said one of its funds that invests in global equities, including the emerging markets, and avoids companies that don’t meet its sustainable and responsible investment ideals, outperformed the MSCI World Index by 2.43% before fees in the first quarter, while a similar fund beat the same benchmark by 4.5%. A European equities strategy that selects holdings based on their ESG scores and ethical performance beat the Euro Stoxx 50 Index by 2.23% gross of fees.
The picture for bonds is more mixed. While a sustainable emerging market strategy surpassed the returns of the JPMorgan Emerging Market Global Diversified Index by 3.05% before fees, a sustainable euro credit fund underperformed the Bloomberg Barclays Euro Aggregate Corporates Index by negative 2.86% in the first quarter. A separate unconstrained global credit fund beat its sister strategy, which doesn’t apply sustainability, by 0.79%.
Allianz isn’t alone in seeking to guage how ESG portfolios performed in the recent market rout that has seen credit spreads balloon, oil prices collapse and stocks fall sharply. Invesco money managers Manuela Von Ditfurth and Jennifer Nerlich said in an April 14 note that portfolios of securities with high ESG scores did better in general.
“For many investors, this is probably the first live experience investing in ESG strategies during a crisis period,” Ditfurth and Nerlich said. “Some investors may still hold concerns that application of ESG criteria is at odds with the maximization of returns.”
Six of the 10 largest ESG-focused mutual funds in the U.S. have declined more than than their benchmarks this year as the Covid-19 pandemic roiled equity markets.
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