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ESG is ‘as crowded as ever,’ AllianceBernstein says, naming ‘high conviction’ stock ideas to play it

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ESG is “as crowded as ever,” according to AllianceBernstein, which revealed “high conviction” stock ideas to play it. In an Oct. 17 research note, the global asset management firm’s analysts led by Ann Larson pointed out that crowding is a “risk factor that is frequently mispriced because it is not easily observed.” They added that crowded stocks are those made based on the consensus trades expected to have high returns and near-term stability. The extent of the crowding varies by region, the analysts wrote. For one, they noted that “best-in-class” investing in environmental, social, and corporate governance is especially crowded in North America but has been declining in Europe. Over in Asia, the analysts said that “sustainability has not gained as much traction” as “ESG metrics are uncrowded.” A best-in-class approach involves investing in companies that are seen as industry leaders in meeting ESG goals. The technology sector is the “biggest driver” of crowding in both global and North American ESG funds, the analysts said. Here are some of their “high conviction” stock ideas to play the theme. ‘High conviction’ stock ideas AllianceBernstein likes German athletic apparel company Adidas for its “best-in-class” ESG credentials. It has an outperform rating on the stock, and a price target of 200 euros ($211), which represents potential upside of around 17% from its Oct. 17 close. Hexagon , a Swedish information technology firm also made it to the asset manager’s list. The analysts said the company is at an “inflection point” in its ESG metrics, and cited “improving governance and disclosure practices.” They gave the firm an outperform rating at a price target of 151 Swedish krona ($13.83), which represents an upside of around 57%. American fast food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill was also given an outperform rating, and a price target of $2,300 – representing upside of around 26%. The analysts said the company’s strong fundamentals are “getting stronger,” adding that it’s “well positioned” for the rise of “clean eating” amid the increasing use of GLP-1 weight loss drugs. AllianceBernstein is also looking favorably at Aramark , a U.S. customer service company, it sees as being “undervalued.” The analysts wrote the company will enjoy “structural benefits” from the bigger role that ESG will play in catering contracts — and it has “multiple years of embedded growth and margin expansion not reflected in valuation.” The asset manager has an outperform call on the stock at $33, giving in an upside of around 23%. — CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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