Proving that debt vehicles can deliver market returns as well as solutions to social and environmental problems, the Global Impact Investing Network announced financial performance benchmarks for impact investors in private fixed income funds on Tuesday. The benchmarks are the third category of impact investing measurements created by the GIIN, a nonprofit, in an effort to spur the impact investing market. The first offered benchmarks for private equity impact funds and the second for private impact funds that invest in real assets, like timber or real estate.
Performance data is critical information for investors who want to make informed choices, “and to better be able to compare and contrast performance against other aspects of their portfolios as well as their peers,” says Abhilash Mudaliar, the GIIN’s research director. Impact investing is rapidly gaining traction among wealthy individuals, family offices and institutions that are interested in putting investment dollars to work in enterprises that are solving social and environmental problems. Debt funds are the most popular impact investing strategy, capturing 34% of all impact assets, which totaled US$114 billion as of December 2016, the GIIN says.
But for impact investing to really solve the huge problems the world faces, more capital is needed. One way to attract that capital is by “bridging knowledge gaps in both financial performance and impact measurement,” Amit Bouri, the GIIN’s CEO, says in the report’s forward. The just-announced fixed-income performance benchmarks were based on analysis by the GIIN and Symbiotics, a Swiss asset manager active in impact investing. Previous benchmarks were done with Cambridge Associates and are updated quarterly on both the GIIN’s and Cambridge Associates’ websites.
The latest study looks at two types of fixed-income funds: private debt funds, or PDIFs, which are typically managed by a for-profit investment manager to earn a market return; and community investment development loan funds, or CDLFs, which are managed by U.S. non-profits focused on addressing low-income housing and other community development issues. The GIIN/Symbiotics data “is the first compelling aggregate analysis of the performance of private debt funds in the impact investing universe,” Mudaliar says.
The 50 PDIFs in the study returned 2.6% a year on average, net of expenses, from 2012 to 2016, with some funds realizing annual returns close to 10%. The variability in performance shows that “fund manager selection remains the key to success for investors in private debt funds, just as is the case in private equity,” Mudaliar says.