Do Debt Investors Care about ESG Ratings?
Posted: 10 Mar 2022
Date Written: February 11, 2022
A methodology change of an ESG rating provider introduces plausibly exogenous variation in firms’ ESG ratings, which allows us to study their effect on the cost of debt of U.S. firms. We find that loans spreads of downgraded ESG-rated firms in the secondary corporate loan market increase by about 10% compared to non-downgraded ESG-rated firms and compared to before the rating downgrade. ESG rating downgrades do not increase fundamental default risk of the firm but the premium charged by lenders above the spread for default risk. We find that the effect is stronger for firms that are more financially constrained and firms that are more exposed to ESG and, particularly, climate risk concerns. Importantly, we find that also loan spreads of private (unrated) firms in industries especially affected by ESG rating down- grades increased after the methodology change.
Keywords: ESG ratings, Climate finance, Loan spreads, Private firms
JEL Classification: E44, G20, G24
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