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Social Bonds Propel ESG Issuance to Record $732 Billion in 2020

(Bloomberg) —

The global sustainable debt market grew 29% to a record $732 billion last year, helped by an explosion of bond issuance for social projects amid fallout from the pandemic, according to BloombergNEF.

“Sustainability continues to rise up on the agenda for investors, businesses and governments,” Mallory Rutigliano, a sustainable finance analyst at BNEF, said in a report Monday. “This relatively new market is now being seen as a tool global economies can use to build back greener and socially fairer.”

Social bond issuance jumped sevenfold to $147.7 billion in 2020, as governments and companies borrowed for relief from the pandemic amid strong investor demand, said BNEF. Issuance of sustainability bonds — which allow issuers to use proceeds for both green and social projects — rose 81% to $68.7 billion in the period.

The biggest issuers of social bonds last year included the European Union, which tapped the market three times for projects aimed at providing funding for a job support program, with order books for all the offerings heavily oversubscribed. French unemployment insurance management body Unédic Asseo raised 4 billion euros in May to fund its response to Covid-19, the biggest-ever social bond, followed by another deal of the same size in June.

Sales of green bonds — the largest category of sustainable debt by dollar volume — grew by 13% to a record $305.3 billion, after a slowdown in the first half of the year, BNEF said. Cumulative green bond issuance since 2007exceeds $1 trillion.

Global sales of ESG-linked loans, meanwhile, slumped last year. Sales of sustainability-linked loans — which have interest rates pegged to issuers’ performance on sustainability goals — and green loans dropped by 15% to $119.5 billion and $80.3 billion, respectively, according to BNEF.

Support from regulators and central banks around the world, including the European Central Bank, suggests “further, robust growth” in the sustainable debt market, despite the need for more scrutiny and transparency, according to Maia Godemer, a sustainable finance analyst at BNEF.

“Growing demand from investors and stakeholders will encourage the sustainable debt market to innovate and push new types of instruments,” she said.

A shift of U.S. government control to the Democratic Party this month is expected to give an added jolt to sales of corporate bonds that finance environmental and socially responsible projects. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is forecasting a 30% growth in the global green, social and sustainability-linked bond issuance this year.

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