Technology giants may join the rush to sustainable finance after this week’s record bond sale from Google parent Alphabet Inc. Issuance aligns with growing investor focus on social and environmental matters, and it’s being done at very low rates.
“You’re going to see tech companies continue to follow this model,” said Scott Kimball, a portfolio manager at BMO Global Asset Management, which manages about $100 billion in fixed income assets. “Google is a leader in technology and they were able to raise a lot of money pretty cheap.”
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Companies from a wide variety of sectors are expected to offer bonds to investors focused on environmental, social and governance themes this year. The tech sector is expected to be a major participant amid growing scrutiny of its social impact given its dominance in the global economy, as well as its focus on renewable energy.
Alphabet sold $10 billion of bonds on Aug. 3 at record-low rates, including $5.75 billion of sustainability notes — a corporate record. Investors placed almost $40 billion in orders for the deal, which paid about $4 million in fees to minority-owned underwriters, a sum the company claims was the highest ever.
“When Google does something people notice, whether they are in the tech space or not. This will definitely lead to more issuance in the sustainability market, social market and certainly the green market,” said James Rich, senior portfolio manager of sustainable fixed income at Aegon Asset Management, which has about $395 billion in global assets.
Big technology companies like Oracle Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. or even Facebook Inc. could also look to tap the ESG bond market, according to Kimball, who bought some of the Alphabet bonds and doesn’t have any specific knowledge of a deal from those other companies. Representatives for the three tech firms did not respond to calls or emails requesting comment on debt sale plans.
Issuance of social and sustainability bonds, dominated by governments and supranationals, is on track to double to more than $100 billion by the end of this year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence ESG analysts Simone Andrews and Adeline Diab.
“Alphabet’s deal certainly sets a new high watermark for anyone to consider coming to the sustainability bond market,” said Jonny Fine, head of investment-grade syndicate for the Americas at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., a lead manager on the Alphabet bond sale, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
“We are getting calls from a very diverse corporate set of issuers wanting to understand more,” Marilyn Ceci, global head of ESG debt capital markets at JPMorgan Chase & Co., said in an interview Thursday. “You’ll continue to see active participation from corporates globally in the sustainable finance space,” she added. JPMorgan was also a bookrunner on the Alphabet sale.
Alphabet will use this week’s bond sale to fund organizations that support Black entrepreneurs, businesses impacted by COVID-19, affordable housing and green buildings among others. It hopes to “help develop this new market,” Ruth Porat, chief financial officer at Alphabet and Google, wrote in a blog post.
“As investors that focus on both financial and impact returns, what is most important to us is that Google has committed to providing impact measurements for the projects that are funded through this issuance,” said Stephen Liberatore, head of the responsible fixed-income strategy team at Nuveen.
Alphabet saved about three to five basis points on the funding cost by doing the deal in an ESG format, according to Goldman’s Fine. Borrowers with more debt outstanding could save as much as 15 basis points, he said.
Sustainable finance may also become more widespread in high-yield bonds and leveraged loans, according to Fine. Pattern Energy Operations LP raised $700 million to help finance sustainable projects last month, the biggest green junk bond sale since 2017, according to according to data compiled by Bloomberg.