Tens of billions of dollars are flowing into Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)-focused funds. And it’s not just stocks; the fixed income world, too, has seen a surge in interest in applying ESG principles to analyzing and investing in various types of debt.

As with stocks, ESG bond selection typically incorporates a broad range of concerns. Factors include greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, renewable energy, social issues relating to human rights and workplace conditions, and governance matters like business ethics and diversity, among others.

ESG or not, analyzing credit quality is critical in selecting bonds for inclusion in a fund. To that end, active management can add value by identifying those risks that can be mitigated and managed – and in particular, the subset of risks related to environmental, social and governance issues. Accounting for these factors in active credit analysis can help identify concerns that don’t show up in financials and provide a clearer picture of a bond’s risk/return profile.

Core Plus (plus ESG)

Core plus bond funds comprise the second largest investment category in taxable fixed income and are designed to generate potential income as well as capital appreciation while appropriately allocating risk. It is, in our view, a great vehicle for executing an ESG bond strategy – and doing so with active management.

The IQ MacKay ESG Core Plus Bond ETF (ESGB), the newest addition to the IndexIQ ETF lineup, is an actively managed bond ETF that uses ESG investment criteria developed by MacKay Shields, an affiliated boutique of New York Life Investments with $158 billion in assets under management (AUM) as of 3/31/21 and decades of experience in fixed income.

With ESGB, MacKay’s research team combines fundamental bottom-up research and top-down macroeconomic analysis with a robust ESG inclusion process. The focus is on generating risk-adjusted returns by eliminating what is believed to be uncompensated, or under-compensated risks. When ESG risks are elevated, the team excludes the investment from consideration, regardless of price. When ESG trends are improving, further analysis is conducted to determine if investment is warranted. The decision to invest or not is then predicated on relative value considerations.

Active is critical

Active management is critical with ETFs that purport to bring an ESG approach to fixed income investing, because the risks with ESG bonds are not always obvious. For example, in a comprehensive in-depth analysis like MacKay’s, a solar company that meets the “E” criteria in a credit research process, may not meet the “G”, and could fail to be included into the fund for governance issues – something that may have been missed with a passive rules-based strategy.

ESG-focused investing is growing, and these strategies should continue to attract assets as investors increasingly recognize the potential for a positive impact on returns. ESGB provides the opportunity to participate through a broadly diversified portfolio of bonds, with the additional benefits inherent in the ETF structure combined with disciplined, engaged active management. 

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, which will vary. All investments are subject to market risk and will fluctuate in value.

Click on the fund name for the most current fund page, which includes, the prospectus, investment objectives, performance, risk, and other important information. Returns represent past performance which is no guarantee of future results. Current performance may be lower or higher. Investment return and principal value will fluctuate, and shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Visit nylinvestments.com/etfs and nylinvestments.com/funds and for the most recent month-end performance.

Consider the Fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus and the statement of additional information include this and other relevant information about the Fund and are available by visiting www.newyorklifeinvestments.com or calling 888-474-7725. Read the prospectus carefully before investing.

The application of ESG investing criteria may affect the Fund’s exposure to certain sectors or types of investments and may impact the Fund’s relative investment performance depending on whether such sectors or investments are in or out of favor in the market. Issuers, including governmental issuers, may be unable to pay their obligations as they come due.

This material represents an assessment of the market environment as at a specific date; is subject to change; and is not intended to be a forecast of future events or a guarantee of future results. This information should not be relied upon by the reader as research or investment advice regarding the funds or any issuer or security in particular.

The strategies discussed are strictly for illustrative and educational purposes and are not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. There is no guarantee that any strategies discussed will be effective.

This material contains general information only and does not take into account an individual's financial circumstances. This information should not be relied upon as a primary basis for an investment decision. Rather, an assessment should be made as to whether the information is appropriate in individual circumstances and consideration should be given to talking to a financial advisor before making an investment decision.

“New York Life Investments” is both a service mark, and the common trade name, of certain investment advisors affiliated with New York Life Insurance Company. IndexIQ® is an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of New York Life Investment Management Holdings LLC and serves as the advisor to the IndexIQ ETFs. ALPS Distributors, Inc. (ALPS) is the principal underwriter of the ETFs. NYLIFE Distributors LLC is a distributor of the ETFs. NYLIFE Distributors LLC is located at 30 Hudson Street, Jersey City, NJ 07302. ALPS Distributors, Inc. is not affiliated with NYLIFE Distributors LLC. NYLIFE Distributors LLC is a Member FINRA/SIPC.