"There are often times where two otherwise very similar looking investment opportunities have very different physical risk profiles from a climate perspective," Bailey said in an interview. A bond issuer that's been able to protect itself from physical climate risk is likely to be the better investment over time, he said.
The credit ratings industry has yet to figure out how best to incorporate climate risk in its models, so fixed-income investors are largely having to rely on their own assessments to navigate the new landscape they face. According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, bond investors can't turn to credit ratings for a useful evaluation of environmental risks.
In a recent report, the IEEFA said that inside the biggest ratings firms, "alarm bells have been sounding for months." But those internal warnings have gone largely unheeded, which is concerning, according to Hazel Ilango, an energy finance analyst focused on debt markets at IEEFA.
As large swaths of the planet get battered by extreme floods, droughts, storms and wildfires, failure to gradually reflect such risks in credit ratings is exposing issuers to bigger, sudden losses further down the road, the IEEFA said.
Barclays analyst Maggie O'Neal is among those to have spoken out about the potential for nature-related risks to trigger downgrades and dent portfolio values for bond investors who don't react in time. And sovereign downgrades would in turn lead to higher borrowing costs, ultimately "compounding credit risk for bondholders," she said in a September report.
Maria Drew, director of research for responsible investing at T. Rowe Price Group Inc., said there are big gaps in how cities and governments are preparing for the fallout from a more threatening natural environment. It's become a "big area that the market probably just hasn't fully factored in," she said.
Cities and governments still need to do a lot more investing to address such risks, she said.
Such concerns are playing out against the backdrop of another shift in the asset management industry, as end investors increasingly move toward cheaper passive funds and away from actively managed products. Meanwhile, a recent analysis by Morningstar showed 36.6% of European active equity managers outperformed the average passive fund in the year through June, representing a steady rise since 2021. In bond markets, the figure is 62.7%.
Bailey says Neuberger Berman is now looking at an issuer's exposure to risks associated with natural geography, including whether they have put in place the capital spending to adapt.
A single extreme weather event "is probably not going to make the difference," Bailey said. But over time, it adds up. And if local authorities aren't taking timely steps to protect assets from heat waves and floods, it will likely "have an impact on property valuations, on tax receipts from local real estate," he said.