The environmental, social and governance (ESG) consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have focused attention on sustainable investment strategies to not only mitigate the volatility of oil markets, but also to capture the opportunities created by more green and equitable recovery packages across the globe.

As ESG-oriented investing gains ground among fixed income investors, PIMCO has been at the forefront of integrating ESG analysis into its investment process. The GIS Global Investment Grade Credit ESG Fund is an established part of PIMCO’s ESG platform, offering investors access to the firm’s leading global investment grade credit strategy while also focusing on environmental and social impact. Product Strategist Philipp Nowak and Portfolio Managers Jelle Brons, Mark Kiesel and Mohit Mittal discuss the fund’s potential benefits and the team’s investment approach.

Q: WHAT IS THE PIMCO GIS GLOBAL INVESTMENT GRADE CREDIT ESG FUND AND WHAT IS DRIVING INVESTOR DEMAND FOR THE FUND?

Nowak: The PIMCO GIS Global Investment Grade Credit (GIGC) ESG Fund seeks to maximize total return by investing in high quality investment grade credit while delivering positive environmental and social benefits. Our investment style combines top-down and bottom-up analysis, driven by cyclical as well as secular trends, and emphasizes diversification.

We decided to launch the Fund in 2018 in response to investor demand for dedicated fixed income ESG strategies, as more investors look to align their portfolios to their values. More recently, we have seen the social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and focus on climate risk driving investors’ interest in ESG. Over the last few years, as more investors have sought to achieve their financial objectives while influencing positive ESG change, we have invested in and built out our global ESG platform. PIMCO is committed to leading the way in ESG.

Q: HOW ARE YOU POSITIONING THE FUND IN THE CURRENT ENVIRONMENT?

Brons: We continue to be selective on generic credit and look to apply bottom-up ideas to emphasize ‘bend-but-don’t-break’, corporate positions.

In particular, we continue to like financials, given strong credit fundamentals paired with attractive valuations, and we are finding value in select longer dated bonds, favoring non-cyclical defensive sectors such as issuers in the wireless sector as well as select utility and technology companies, when adding exposure. Conversely, we maintain a cautious approach in cyclical sectors that are less defensive and more exposed to global supply chain disruptions, including commodity-related sectors, manufacturing, chemicals and retail.

As an ESG-dedicated strategy, we emphasize green and SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) bonds, and favor issuers with strong ESG practices. We avoid sectors that form part of our exclusions list (such as coal and tobacco among others) or that tend to score poorly in our ESG process, including many emerging markets and integrated oil companies.

Q: HOW DOES THE FUND EMPHASIZE GREEN BONDS AND ENSURE A FOCUS ON CLIMATE ACTION (SDG 13)?

Brons: In this portfolio, we will typically not lend to energy companies or utilities unless they are moving into renewable energy and mainly invest via green bonds (bonds that raise capital for new and existing projects with environmental benefits). When a new green bond comes to market, our analysts will include its proprietary PIMCO green bond score in the new issue write-up that goes to all portfolio managers.

By investing in green bonds that pass our comprehensive green bond scoring framework and investing in companies with strong environmental practices, GIGC ESG is able to significantly lower investors’ portfolio carbon footprint relative to the broad market. For example, as of 31 August 2020, the Fund’s average corporate issuer emits 4,928,974 less tons of CO2 than the benchmark’s, which is equivalent to:

  • 187,413,471 Incandescent lamps switched to LEDs, or
  • 82,149,571 Tree seedlings grown for 10 years, or
  • 1,064,573 Passenger vehicles taken off the road in one year, or
  • 568,509 Homes powered by clean energy for one year in the U.S.
Reducing investors’ portfolio carbon footprint with PIMCO GIS Global Investment Grade Credit ESG Fund 

Q: WHAT ARE THE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE EXISTING GIGC AND THE NEW GIGC ESG FUNDS?

Kiesel: First, both funds are managed consistently with respect to broad risk factors and share the same benchmark (the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Credit Index). Second, they share the same forward-looking investment process, including the investment themes and top-down views formed at PIMCO’s secular and cyclical forums, and have the same emphasis on risk management. Third, they both seek issuers with the highest potential for credit improvement over the long term and attractive characteristics such as strong barriers to entry, pricing power, superior growth and experienced management.

The key difference is that GIGC ESG also incorporates the three building blocks of PIMCO’s ESG process − exclusions, evaluation, and engagement (see Figure 2).

The building blocks of PIMCO’s ESG process 

Beginning with exclusions, PIMCO’s GIGC ESG Fund will not invest in issuers who we believe are fundamentally misaligned with sustainability principles. This is realized through core exclusions − issuers we will not buy at any price (in sectors such as tobacco, munitions, oil and coal) – and dynamic exclusions, a temporary list of issuers that may be excluded due to their current business practices or because they have not effectively responded to PIMCO’s engagement efforts.

The second pillar of our process consists of issuer evaluation: PIMCO’s team of more than 60 credit research analysts assigns a proprietary ESG score to issuers within their respective sectors. Analysts’ relative weighting to the “E”, “S” and “G” components vary by sector; for example, within banking, we place greater emphasis on governance; within pharmaceuticals, social factors are key; and in the energy sector, environmental factors assume greater prominence. In all sectors, the evaluation process excludes “worst-in-class” companies and identifies both “best-in-class” issuers and those on an improving trend.

The final building block of our process emphasizes engagement with issuers in a constructive and collaborative way to positively influence their ESG practices over time. PIMCO’s size is an advantage in this process, helping to provide us with access and influence with company management. By allocating capital toward issuers willing to improve the sustainability of their business practices we believe we can have a greater impact than through exclusions and evaluation alone.

As a result of this process, PIMCO’s GIGC ESG Fund is likely to overweight not only issuers with best-in-class ESG practices but also those who demonstrate a clear willingness to move toward better ESG-related practices.

Q: CAN YOU PROVIDE EXAMPLES OF HOW YOU ENGAGE WITH ISSUERS?

Mittal: We believe it’s important for a fixed income investor to have a fixed income-oriented engagement process. By adding this increased level of scrutiny, we are seeking to identify better-managed and more forward-thinking companies that are adept at anticipating and mitigating risk and are focused on the long term. For example, in the utilities sector, the objective of our engagement is to determine which companies are best at managing regulatory and operational changes toward clean power. Companies that are slow to make the low-carbon transition are more likely to face higher compliance costs and potentially higher operating costs as the price of carbon rises.

Through engagement, we encourage issuers to assess and report on which SDGs are most relevant to their business and, although still a nascent market, PIMCO stands ready to support the issuance of debt where the use of proceeds is formally aligned to one or more of these global goals.

Finally, our engagement process highlights ESG areas in which issuers are lagging so that credit analysts and portfolio managers can raise these points during their regular interactions with issuers’ senior management. This is particularly important when an issuer has been identified as a fundamental top pick, but has poor reporting on their management of sustainability risk factors.

For example, in 2019 we actively engaged with a large industrial conglomerate company’s senior executives to emphasize the need for asset sales, debt repayment and substantially improved disclosures. PIMCO also encouraged the issuer to support science-based targets and to set ambitious energy efficiency and carbon reduction targets. The company later completed more than $20 billion of deleveraging actions in 2019, sold a majority stake in its energy and oilfield services subsidiary, and substantially improved its disclosures, albeit with additional progress to be done.

Q: WHAT IS THE PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT TEAM’S EXPERTISE IN THIS TYPE OF STRATEGY?

Nowak: The strategy is managed by the same team as the PIMCO GIS Global Investment Grade Credit Fund which was launched in 2003 and is led by Mark Kiesel (PIMCO’s CIO, Global Credit) who was named Morningstar Fixed-Income Fund Manager of the Year in 2012 and a finalist in 2010 and 2017. Mark, Mohit and Jelle have all worked together since 2007. Since its inception in 2003, the PIMCO GIS Global Investment Grade Credit Fund has outperformed its benchmark by a cumulative total of more than 56% before fees.

As such, the team has a proven long-term track record in global investment grade credit and is well positioned to manage the strategy, applying their deep and broad investment experience within PIMCO’s ESG framework.

Indeed, since its inception in 2018 the GIGC ESG Fund has been off to a strong start, outperforming its benchmark by a cumulative total of 2.8% before fees, building on the team’s deep expertise in global investment grade credit while focusing on environmental and social benefits.

Outperformance since inception with PIMCO GIS Global Investment Grade Credit ESG Fund 

Visit the PIMCO GIS Global Investment Grade Credit ESG Fund webpage for more information.

GLOBAL INVESTMENT GRADE CREDIT ESG FUND
The Author

Jelle Brons

Portfolio Manager, Global Investment Grade Credit

Mark R. Kiesel

CIO Global Credit

Mohit Mittal

Portfolio Manager, Liability Driven Investment and Credit

Philipp Nowak

Credit Product Strategist

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Disclosures

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PIMCO Europe Ltd (Company No. 2604517) and PIMCO Europe Ltd - Italy (Company No. 07533910969) are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (25 The North Colonnade, Canary Wharf, London E14 5HS) in the UK. The Italy branch is additionally regulated by the CONSOB in accordance with Article 27 of the Italian Consolidated Financial Act. PIMCO Europe Ltd services and products are available only to professional clients as defined in the Financial Conduct Authority’s Handbook and are not available to individual investors, who should not rely on this communication. | PIMCO Deutschland GmbH (Company No. 192083, Seidlstr. 24-24a, 80335 Munich, Germany) and PIMCO Deutschland GmbH Swedish Branch (SCRO Reg. No. 516410-9190) are  authorised and regulated by the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) (Marie- Curie-Str. 24-28, 60439 Frankfurt am Main) in Germany in accordance with Section 32 of the German Banking Act (KWG). The Swedish Branch is additionally supervised by the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen) in accordance with Chapter 25 Sections 12-14 of the Swedish Securities Markets Act. he services provided by PIMCO Deutschland GmbH are available only to professional clients as defined in Section 31a para. 2 German Securities Trading Act (WpHG). They are not available to individual investors, who should not rely on this communication. | PIMCO (Schweiz) GmbH (registered in Switzerland, Company No. CH-020.4.038.582-2), Brandschenkestrasse 41, 8002 Zurich, Switzerland, Tel: + 41 44 512 49 10. The services and products provided by PIMCO (Schweiz) GmbH are not available to individual investors, who should not rely on this communication but contact their financial adviser.

FOR PROFESSIONAL INVESTORS ONLY

PIMCO Europe Ltd (Company No. 2604517) Ltd (Company No. 2604517) and PIMCO Europe Ltd - Italy (Company No. 07533910969) are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (12 Endeavour Square, London E20 1JN) in the UK. The Italy branch is additionally regulated by the Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (CONSOB) in accordance with Article 27 of the Italian Consolidated Financial Act. PIMCO Europe Ltd services are available only to professional clients as defined in the Financial Conduct Authority’s Handbook and are not available to individual investors, who should not rely on this communication. | PIMCO Europe GmbH (Company No. 192083, Seidlstr. 24-24a, 80335 Munich, Germany), Pimco Europe GmbH Italian Branch (Company No. 10005170963), and Pimco Europe GmbH Spanish Branch (N.I.F. W2765338E) are authorised and regulated by the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) (Marie- Curie-Str. 24-28, 60439 Frankfurt am Main) in Germany in accordance with Section 32 of the German Banking Act (KWG). The Italian Branch, and Spanish Branch are additionally supervised by the Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (CONSOB) in accordance with Article 27 of the Italian Consolidated Financial Act, and the Comisión Nacional del Mercado de Valores (CNMV) in accordance with obligations stipulated in articles 168 and 203 to 224, as well as obligations contained in Tile V, Section I of the Law on the Securities Market (LSM) and in articles 111, 114 and 117 of Royal Decree 217/2008, respectively. The services provided by Pimco Europe GmbH are available only to professional clients as defined in Section 67 para. 2 German Securities Trading Act (WpHG). They are not available to individual investors, who should not rely on this communication. | PIMCO (Schweiz) GmbH (registered in Switzerland, Company No. CH-020.4.038.582-2), Brandschenkestrasse 41, 8002 Zurich, Switzerland, Tel: + 41 44 512 49 10. The services provided by PIMCO (Schweiz) GmbH are not available to individual investors, who should not rely on this communication but contact their financial adviser.

PIMCO Funds: Global Investors Series plc is an umbrella type open-ended investment company with variable capital and is incorporated with limited liability under the laws of Ireland with registered number 276928. The information is not for use within any country or with respect to any person(s) where such use could constitute a violation of the applicable law. The information contained in this communication is intended to supplement information contained in the prospectus for this Fund and must be read in conjunction therewith. Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of these Funds carefully before investing. This and other information is contained in the Fund’s prospectus. Please read the prospectus carefully before you invest or send money. Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results and no guarantee is being made that similar returns will be achieved in the future. Returns are net of fees and other expenses and include reinvestment of dividends. The performance data represents past performance and investment return and principal value will fluctuate so that the PIMCO GIS Funds shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than the original cost. Potential differences in performance figures are due to rounding. The Fund may invest in non-U.S. or non-Eurozone securities which involves potentially higher risks including non-U.S. or non-Euro currency fluctuations and political or economic uncertainty. For informational purposes only. Please note that not all Funds are registered for sale in every jurisdiction. Please contact PIMCO Europe Ltd for more information. For additional information and/or a copy of the Fund’s prospectus, please contact the Administrator: State Street Fund Services (Ireland) Limited and State Street Custodial Services (Ireland) Limited (collectively “State Street”), Telephone +353 1 7768000, Fax: +353 1 7768491. © 2020.

Benchmark - Unless otherwise stated in the prospectus or in the relevant key investor information document, the Fund referenced in this material is not managed against a particular benchmark or index, and any reference to a particular benchmark or index in this material is made solely for risk or performance comparison purposes. Additional information - This material may contain additional information, not explicit in the prospectus, on how the Fund or strategy is currently managed. Such information is current as at the date of the presentation and may be subject to change without notice. Investment Restrictions - In accordance with the UCITS regulations and subject to any investment restrictions outlined in the Fund’s prospectus, the Fund may invest over 35% of net assets in different transferable securities and money market instruments issued or guaranteed by any of the following: OECD Governments (provided the relevant issues are investment grade), Government of Singapore, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Finance Corporation, International Monetary Fund, Euratom, The Asian Development Bank, European Central Bank, Council of Europe, Eurofima, African Development Bank, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (The World Bank), The Inter American Development Bank, European Union, Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae), Student Loan Marketing Association (Sallie Mae), Federal Home Loan Bank, Federal Farm Credit Bank, Tennessee Valley Authority, Straight-A Funding LLC.

RISK: Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer, credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies are impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and the current low interest rate environment increases this risk. Current reductions in bond counterparty capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Commodities contain heightened risk, including market, political, regulatory and natural conditions, and may not be suitable for all investors. Currency rates may fluctuate significantly over short periods of time and may reduce the returns of a portfolio. Derivatives may involve certain costs and risks, such as liquidity, interest rate, market, credit, management and the risk that a position could not be closed when most advantageous. Investing in derivatives could lose more than the amount invested. Equities may decline in value due to both real and perceived general market, economic and industry conditions. Investing in foreign-denominated and/or -domiciled securities may involve heightened risk due to currency fluctuations, and economic and political risks, which may be enhanced in emerging markets. Sovereign securities are generally backed by the issuing government. Obligations of U.S. government agencies and authorities are supported by varying degrees, but are generally not backed by the full faith of the U.S. government. Portfolios that invest in such securities are not guaranteed and will fluctuate in value. High yield, lower-rated securities involve greater risk than higher-rated securities; portfolios that invest in them may be subject to greater levels of credit and liquidity risk than portfolios that do not. Mortgage- and asset-backed securities may be sensitive to changes in interest rates, subject to early repayment risk, and while generally supported by a government, government-agency or private guarantor, there is no assurance that the guarantor will meet its obligations. Income from municipal bonds may be subject to state and local taxes and at times the alternative minimum tax. Swaps are a type of derivative; swaps are increasingly subject to central clearing and exchange-trading. Swaps that are not centrally cleared and exchange-traded may be less liquid than exchange-traded instruments. Inflation-linked bonds (ILBs) issued by a government are fixed income securities whose principal value is periodically adjusted according to the rate of inflation; ILBs decline in value when real interest rates rise. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) are ILBs issued by the U.S. government. Certain U.S. government securities are backed by the full faith of the government. Obligations of U.S. government agencies and authorities are supported by varying degrees but are generally not backed by the full faith of the U.S. government. Portfolios that invest in such securities are not guaranteed and will fluctuate in value.

The Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Credit Index is an unmanaged Index that provides a broad-based measure of the global investment-grade fixed income markets. The three major components of this index are the U.S. Aggregate, the Pan-European Aggregate, and the Asian-Pacific Aggregate Indices. This index excludes Government and Securitized Securities. The index also includes Eurodollar and Euro-Yen corporate bonds, Canadian securities, and USD investment grade 144A securities. It is not possible to invest directly in an unmanaged index.

Socially responsible investing is qualitative and subjective by nature, and there is no guarantee that the criteria utilized, or judgment exercised, by PIMCO will reflect the beliefs or values of any one particular investor. Information regarding responsible practices is obtained through voluntary or third-party reporting, which may not be accurate or complete, and PIMCO is dependent on such information to evaluate a company’s commitment to, or implementation of, responsible practices. Socially responsible norms differ by region. There is no assurance that the socially responsible investing strategy and techniques employed will be successful. Past performance is not a guarantee or reliable indicator of future results.

ESG, Credit Risk and Ratings: A Case Study
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