S&P Global retires numerical ESG credit indicators amid criticism

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S&P Global has halted its use of numerical ESG scores. The update comes amid questions and criticism about the utility of ESG scores, as well as political pressures against the metrics. 

Prior to its update, the S&P had used published scores from one to five to determine a company’s exposure to each element of “environmental, social, and governance” risks. Late last week, however, the debt rating agency reversed course by stating that numerical ESG scores would no longer be used. 

“Effective immediately, we are no longer publishing new ESG credit indicators in our reports or updating outstanding ESG credit indicators. In 2021, S&P Global Ratings began publishing alphanumeric ESG credit indicators for publicly rated entities in some sectors and asset classes. 

“These indicators were intended to illustrate and summarize the relevance of ESG credit factors on our rating analysis through the use of an alphanumerical scale… After further review, we have determined that the dedicated analytical narrative paragraphs in our credit rating reports are most effective at providing detail and transparency on ESG credit factors material to our rating analysis, and these will remain integral to our reports,” the S&P noted in a press release.

Considering the influential nature of the S&P, the firm’s ratings could potentially affect a company’s borrowing cost, as noted in a report from the Financial Times. ESG has received some flak, however, with conservative state attorneys-general opening an investigation into the S&P’s use of ESG ratings last year. 

With this in mind, Tom Lyon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s business school, noted that the S&P’s decision was simply a recent example of a “company crumpling in the face of these Republican attacks.” Even Lyon, however, also noted that there have been concerns about ESG ratings from the S&P and other financial firms. “They are not that reliable and they disagree,” Lyon said. 

Marcus Moore, a portfolio manager for Osterweis, noted that he does not really pay much attention to a company’s specific ESG scores. He also noted that a company’s ESG numbers should not be a deciding factor for investors. “We will continue to read S&P’s reports and get a feel for what they are thinking about (on ESG),” Moore said.

Andy Brenner, who serves as the head of international fixed income at Natalliance Securities, noted that he supports the S&P’s decision to step back from ESG scores. He highlighted that ESG is extremely difficult to measure to begin with, and that he thinks “It’s an overrated concept.” 

The S&P, for its part, noted that the update does not affect its ESG principles criteria at all. “The ESG credit indicators were intended to illustrate and summarise the relevance of ESG credit factors on our rating analysis. This update does not affect our ESG principles criteria or our research and commentary on ESG-related topics, including the influence that ESG factors can have on creditworthiness,” the S&P noted. 

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S&P Global retires numerical ESG credit indicators amid criticism
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