Thursday, December 18, 2014

Green Bonds Sell Big in 2014 as Finance Bids to Help Climate

Green bills in green grass (Credit: REB Images / Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
A "green" bond market has taken root this year, with municipalities and corporations issuing new environmentally-focused bonds and money managers jumping in to buy them.

But it's too soon to tell whether all the new activity - less than a sliver of the $91 trillion worldwide bond market - will send much new money to projects like efficient buildings and better water systems.

Instead, the new bonds reflect the complexities of using finance to address issues like climate change.  While the sale of notes termed green bonds tripled to $35 billion worldwide in 2014, many are bonds that might have been sold anyway without the label, and which trade at terms comparable to non-green bonds.

Nor is it clear the new bonds are "green" in the environmental sense that investors may expect, and issuers face only voluntary standards so far.

Participants say that to avoid the impression that green bonds are just a marketing ploy, they still need to show more corporate treasurers and investors the bonds can make it easier to fund projects, a corner they have not yet turned.

"If people think this is just to raise the flag, it's not going to last long," said Christopher Flensborg, Head of Sustainable Products and Product Development for Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB, the Swedish bank that's the world's largest underwriter of green bonds.

Still, the spike in new activity shows some success to date, with new issuers and new buyers.  Green bonds used to come exclusively from AAA-rated organizations like the World Bank; the last year has seen rising issues of green bonds from municipal issuers as well as some from corporations that are rated junk.

On the buy side, State Street Corp has filed a registration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to run what could be the first green bond index fund.  Also, since July Bank of America Corp, Standard & Poor's and Barclays MSCI each have launched new green bond indexes that may form the basis of future mutual funds and exchange traded funds.

Read more at Green Bonds Sell Big in 2014 as Finance Bids to Help Climate

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