The UK and Europe remain the lead markets for infrastructure investment.
DMH, Caja Madrid We will probably see large transactions in Mexico. The concession business in Mexico has not been very successful in the past and grantors have had to rescue more than 40% of the concessions. That was done by a special entity called Farac, which holds all the rescued assets. These assets are now being privatized and a couple of months ago we saw the first privatization of four roads. The legal framework in Mexico has improved, but its still an emerging market and some banks will require multilateral institutions on the debt side to gain additional comfort.
CH, 3i The UK continues to be strong but increasingly competitive. Europe is exciting but has taken longer to develop than some would have anticipated. There is a shortage of opportunity relative to the amount of money chasing those opportunities outside the UK. The US should be the largest market in the world but theres a question mark around the pace of development. Some of the most exciting opportunities are outside the developed world. Our business has strong growth in India. Central Europe is introducing a lot of private capital into projects. Spanish investors are doing an increasing amount in South America.
The same can be said for Brazil, which has huge potential. Brazil is working on a road programme that is very attractive, but again not all international banks are happy to take the risk. Chile is a very mature market. Other countries in Latin America are less attractive. There are a couple of deals in eastern Europe that are interesting because of their size transactions of 500 million or even 1 billion. We are looking seriously at Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In western Europe, the UK continues to be the number one spot for project finance business. Spain and Portugal are also powerful markets. If you add the infrastructure financing volume of the UK and Spain, its about the same size as the US. But there will be a big push in US infrastructure in 2008/09. Up to now there have been only a few infrastructure transactions in the US, such as the Indiana toll road, Chicago Skyway and the Pocahontas Parkway. There will be a couple of concession tenders next year, probably in Florida and Pennsylvania. Finally, in the Middle East region, its rather more an energy/utilities market than an infrastructure one. There are only a limited number of transport projects in the region, but with large financing volumes. The margins are tight, but there are and will be lots of opportunities.
DG, ABP ABP has been investing in infrastructure for a couple of years. Were looking for long-term, low-risk, inflation-linked assets. ABP is also looking at sustainable investments, such as wind farms. Were active in all of the US infrastructure sectors. However, some assets such as wind deals in the US have significant tax benefits we cannot fully utilize because we do not have a tax base there and these transactions require more structuring. Were seeing a lot of energy infrastructure transactions in the US, including the utilities, particularly gas and water. With the TXU transaction being completed, maybe electrics will open up. Theres also going to be more activity in US coal. Currently, one of the most active areas we are seeing fund proposals for is India. There is also an explosion of opportunity in the Middle East, more than most infrastructure funds may have appetite for.
CB, Alinda The US is the fastest-growing infrastructure market. There is a perception among many European infrastructure fund managers that, after a few large road auctions, the US market has been slow to develop. But at Alinda weve found no shortage of US deals to invest in because weve focused on small and medium-sized transactions that weve sourced directly. It is a lot easier to invest in operating infrastructure assets in the US than in construction of infrastructure in the emerging markets, which is what those markets need. The US road sector is going to be massive. We estimate that the value of the US interstate highway system is $3 trillion. There are at least six or seven states with current road privatization programmes. The US needs $60 billion to upgrade its water supply, about the same amount for waste-water treatment, and about the same amount for electricity transmission upgrades. The US is going to be the worlds largest infrastructure investment market.
MW, JPMorgan Is there the risk appetite for equity outside the OECD?
LN, Watson Wyatt The safe OECD-type infrastructure may not be a return-seeking asset class but it provides diversification at a total portfolio level and helps investors get exposure to cashflows that have a link to inflation in relevant markets. It is a defensive investment in its nature as opposed to investing in emerging markets, which is usually a return-seeking strategy. We havent seen a lot of interest in emerging markets but that may change, and it may come out of a different part of the overall asset allocation.
MW, JPMorgan Some central and eastern Europe countries are within the OECD, as is Mexico. Is there delineation, or are investors comfortable accepting some exposure to the higher-risk countries within the OECD?
LN, Watson Wyatt Our investors hire managers to help them make those decisions. If there is an allocation to the higher-risk, higher-return markets that is still safe enough from the regulatory perspective, it may be attractive. But so far most of the allocations have been to Europe and the US.
MV, Société Générale OECD markets are developed, aggressive and competitive, and if youre looking for yield, youve got to be in them. But everyone is looking for growth and upside, and that is where the emerging markets come in. Of course, the developed markets are where its safer in terms of accounting, legal and regulatory frameworks, but we will probably see a shift towards emerging markets in order to achieve higher returns, with a commensurate increase in the risk of doing business. On the corporate side in Europe weve seen ebitda multiples skyrocket, but these are relatively mature, tertiary-type plays. Everyone has to dig deep to play in the airport sector. For growth opportunities look outside the mainstream, to Brazil, Mexico and the greenfield opportunities that come with other growth economies. The big untapped market is the US, and it will be interesting if Midway Airport, Southwest Airlines and Chicago will be able to get it together; perhaps that deal will come to market. If one transaction takes place, other states may decide they need a piece of that action. There are around 50 airports in the US, most of them in public sector ownership.
MW, JPMorgan Weve acknowledged that some investors want infrastructure for portfolio diversification and predictable cash yields, while others are looking for enhanced returns and growth. There appears to be an increase in risk appetite, but you need enough equity and enough debt. Is SocGen providing debt in Asia for example?
MV, Société Générale China, on the infrastructure side, is mostly asset-based. We wrote about $500 million with Chinese Airlines this year, and we expect similar growth next year. A lot of those are tax-driven and the Chinese banks liquidity is incredible. The demand is huge, and there is a similar story on the shipping side. In India, the regulatory environment is almost set against international banks coming in, either in terms of setting your local regulatory capital base or your ability to lend in local currency. That is a big issue for India, and people are lobbying hard.
PL, Depfa Depfa lends to some of these regions, but selectively. Were the only foreign bank doing PFI business in Japan. While the pricing of that type of risk is low, the quality is good. Theres not as much risk transfer in their concession model as wed be used to in the UK. But we come at this from our focus on the public sector. By being seen to support the public sector to increase infrastructure, we improve our relationship with them and get added-value business. Were cautious about maintaining the banks credit rating and about dipping below good-quality investment-grade countries. To play a role in those countries we have set up a structured export finance team to make use of ECAs and multilaterals. That way we can help our public sector clients in those countries access debt capital efficiently, without taking too much risk on to our own books, and optimize the return on risk asset through working with ECAs such as the Japanese Nexi. Weve also set up in São Paulo to take advantage of opportunities in Brazil. But funding, tenor and structuring projects from a comfortable perspective for a foreign bank is challenging. We seek to recognize our weaknesses and play to our strengths by working with strong local players and local development banks so we can add value through our experience, structuring skills and ability to take a longer-term view if a piece of essential infrastructure fits our requirements.MW, JPMorgan Our clients are looking for low volatility and steady predictable returns. They may have a place in their portfolio, which is more like private equity, thats prepared to take on the growth profile, the variability of margins and so on. As investors gain more experience with infrastructure, over time they find room for additional risk. Theres a great appetite for China, India and those countries in between.
The investors interested in Asia seem to be different from those interested in the OECD countries. The economies and stock markets have done well in China and India, so theres a lot of local wealth, some of which is looking to invest in infrastructure there. Petrodollar investors also seem to have a greater interest in the growth profile and risk profile than India, China and others seem to offer.
DG, ABP A huge amount of dollars needs to be spent but theres a challenge. Texas roads were going forward and then they were stopped for two years. The New Jersey Turnpike? The governor says itll never be sold. Will New York City ever privatize their bridges? They may, but when? Thats the challenge. However many billions have been raised for infrastructure, if the credit crunch is a bit slow, if governments are slow in adopting these rules, if 2008/09 becomes 2010/11, as we get closer to these funds maturity deadlines, there may be style drift. As funds take on more risk that definition of infrastructure becomes even broader.
CB, Alinda There are 50 states in the US, which for an infrastructure investor is like dealing with 50 countries. Within each state theres more than one level of government, and some assets are available at the local level, which further complicates the process for the investor. There is also a lot of infrastructure not owned by government but already in private sector hands, and a lot of privately owned infrastructure is changing hands. Electricity utilities, gas distribution and electricity transmission are nearly all in private sector hands. If you focus on the headlining marquee transactions, you may think theres been a lot of promise and it hasnt been delivered. However, if you include private sellers as well as public sellers, weve found no shortage of infrastructure transactions in the US.
DG, ABP Im surprised that, in transactions since the credit crunch, there are lenders offering full underwriting, and banks with aggressive pricing stepping up for these transactions. The headlines imply that its all closed. The project financing market for asset-based deals still appears to be wide open, with a number of lenders, particularly foreign banks, that are aggressively pursuing financing opportunities.
MW, JPMorgan Exit strategy is relevant for even OECD countries, because most strategies involve closed-end funds. But its particularly germane to the non-OECD world.
CH, 3i Having had a large private equity business in Asia for some time weve become comfortable with how to develop deal structures that allow you to invest in the right structure and then repatriate your capital. Its not usually simple, but it is possible. Also governments in some countries are being very constructive about helping external investors: for example, the Indian government. They want to attract private sector capital to fund infrastructure.
MW, JPMorgan Do equity returns available in developing markets match the expected return profile, given the additional risk? You have to take a view on the currency, on political risk, and you have to be more creative on exits.
MV, Société Générale If you are there for a three-to-five-year quick flip, you are taking on incremental risks in comparison with investing in OECD countries. But if you have a longer-term horizon, returns are there and they are higher, because risks are there as well. However, with a balanced diversified investment strategy, it can make sense. In South Africa some investors have been burnt. But despite their trials and tribulations and the volatility of demand, the projects that have come together in the toll road and the PPP sectors have seen attractive double-digit returns. When you look at the fundamentals, the growth and the appetite for investment, you can get the return.
PL, Depfa Are those returns available only to those who have the early-mover advantage? Before a market has developed and the government decides how it wants to engage in privatization, it is a higher risk, so perhaps deserving of those returns. Do you see the maturing of the market and more competition driving down yields?
MV, Société Générale In the UK or western Europe and increasingly in EU accession countries, youre seeing return erosion as pathfinder deals are put together, placed and seem to be successful, and then become commoditized. The US needs to develop a regulatory and contractual framework that will make the rules easier. In Asia were always looking for the economic and transportation flows. Youre trying to lock into that. In Brazil, the more attractive opportunities may be with corporations such as CVRD and Petrobras, that have pierced the sovereign ceiling in terms of rating. Their flows are more interesting than trying to finance a public sector development project where youre not sure that the underlying infrastructure is going to be filled in behind it.
PL, Depfa But they are different types of deals: airports play on economic cycles, as opposed to public, social infrastructure projects. Theres obviously an opportunity, but with higher risk because it is more cyclical.
DG, ABP ABP looks for government-regulated or long-term contracted assets. We prefer buying into different types of existing, contracted power plants, not building merchant power plants. We are still looking for a return; but the more regulated the asset, the lower the risk and therefore ABP is comfortable with a lower return. The more regulated, the lower the return threshold we have and, as we move towards a port or an airport, we require a higher return. ABP views infrastructure as a long-term hold and we are looking for an exit of 10 to 12 years.
MW, JPMorgan Whether its regulated or not is one factor, but whos regulating it which state, province, country? How about on the credit side? Which countries and which states or provinces would you be prepared to finance, given that there are different regulatory regimes, levels of transparency, of predictability?
DMH, Caja Madrid The margins we apply to a classic UK PFI structure are much lower than if we take traffic risk. Whats more, the US has a premium on margins compared with the same asset class in Europe. When it comes to syndication of large amounts, not many banks are prepared to take these risks in the US, because they are not familiar with these kind of assets. Among the latest transactions, theres not one American bank financing this infrastructure type of business. So of course theres a premium when it comes to underwriting large amounts. The Spanish central bank, for example, has classified country risks by categories. This determines if a Spanish bank has to provision its lending activities in specific countries. So whether or not you have to provision in a country is beyond our control. It depends on the asset class and on the country.
MW, JPMorgan The Canadian marketplace is not as mature as the UK, perhaps even Australia, but its robust. Five or six provinces have centralized public/private partnership offices and theyre coordinating, as the Australian states do, through a federal discussion body. There is federal money set aside to act as a catalyst for projects. British Columbia was an early mover, with the Richmond Vancouver Airport rapid transit project and the Sea-to-Sky Highway improvement; thats spread through Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and other provinces. Most opportunities in Canada around transportation will be greenfield projects. Theres lots of activity around regulated utilities.
MV, Société Générale But the returns are lower than in the US. Apart from Macquarie, its mostly European sponsors. On Sea-to-Sky, on Richmond-Vancouver Airport and the A25 toll road in Montreal, the returns are at similar levels to Europe. Over time, as in Europe, people get their minds around the better management of risk in the private sector. If theres equity at risk, there will be a focus on performance and delivery on time and on budget. Canada has got its act together with the equivalent of Partnerships UK.
DG, ABP So Europe has the lowest returns, Canadas next and then the US is higher and the emerging market will be the highest?
MV, Société Générale You start at rock-bottom returns in Spain and Italy, you then go to France, then the UK, although its been under pressure. Then Canada, before the US. You only get to the high teens with a lot of leverage and structuring.
DMH, Caja Madrid The return on equity for roads is below two digits in Spain. Spains concession law comes from 1972, compared with the US, which has only been discussing public-private partnership structures for three or four years. In Spain theres an implicit guarantee from the public authority, if the concession goes bankrupt. So that is attractive and is the reason why pricings in Spain are probably among the most aggressive in Europe.
MW, JPMorgan Thats Spanish government bonds plus a spread?
DMH, Caja Madrid Its not an explicit guarantee. Most legal opinions confirm that there is an implicit responsibility of the public authority when it comes to concession business in Spain. The banking market accepts this view.
The US has probably 50 different legal frameworks; some of them are doing well, like Florida or Texas, but there are a couple of PPP mechanisms that are successful in Portugal and Spain, and we dont understand why they have not been transferred to the US. Raising real tolls that affect the end consumer is a political issue. The US has a unique opportunity of transferring successful European PPP structures. We have been looking at brownfield projects in the US, but there will be some greenfields with construction risk and environmental issues. In the US the expropriation risk is allocated to the concessionaire, which makes it difficult to finance. Even in eastern Europe the public authority takes the expropriation risk.
MW, JPMorgan The US only started looking at the toll road and airport sectors three or four years ago, so its not surprising that they might be a few years behind. The US has 50 states but the European Union has 25, so we could ask why Spains concession experience hasnt moved to other EU countries. The politics takes time, but it is happening. They are talking about availability-based tolling in certain states in the US and it will vary from state to state. Do equity investors differentiate between Europe and North America? Do they differentiate across countries or regions?
LN, Watson Wyatt It lowers risk to diversify across countries and is a natural thing to do. For non-US investors in US infrastructure, there are tax implications that may make it slightly less attractive. Australia and the UK are the most mature markets, whereas continental Europe and the US look more fragmented and theoretically offer better opportunities. Clients look to construct portfolios that provide them with balanced exposure to different geographies. What worries us, however, is the amount of money that has been recently raised in all of these geographies. We believe in the long-term case for infrastructure. All the necessary prerequisites for further development of this asset class are in place while the number of funds in our database has increased dramatically over a very short period of time. So much money has been raised recently and such a big share of this capital is in first-time funds that we wonder if there is enough high-quality managers to transfer clients money into investment opportunities.
PL, Depfa Another example: the Middle East and Saudi Arabia have so many petrodollars. So the funding for new infrastructure is not a problem, yet they have interrupted power and water supplies in Jeddah and Riyadh. Why? Because the public sector doesnt have sufficient capacity to build and implement new structures quickly. Thats why theres a big opportunity for the international practitioners, together with project sponsors and operators, to make a difference, get involved and help government in these countries to develop new infrastructure.
MW, JPMorgan What about volatility in the credit markets and equity markets and the impact on infrastructure investing?
MV, Société Générale I would draw a distinction between the pure project and what is increasingly called the hybrid infrastructure market, which has crossover to the leverage market. If you take existing acquisition plus some expansion or upgrade of an existing asset, pure projects have held up well, although there has been some widening of spreads, especially for larger transactions. There is a premium for large transactions that need a weight of money. We did the refinancing on Brussels airport with Macquarie and it was closed in June. A storm came in the middle of that syndication process. Youve got an investment-grade asset, so theres no question about the underlying credit, but theres been some tightening. Some banks will commit after they get their credit approval, but on the day theyre not able to fund because they dont have liquidity at that point.
MW, JPMorgan What are you seeing in terms of spreads, rates, tightening of covenants?
PL, Depfa We have more expectation of change than evidence. The more mature PPP markets have been competitive for some time. Banks have been buying assets and generating low return on equity for themselves. Its fine if youre the mandated lead arranger and you get the swaps and the underwriting skim, but for the participants return on equity is low, and perhaps not sustainable in the long-term return on equity, unless banks have an exit. Securitization is one tried and tested route, but that may not always work, given whats happened with sub-prime. But there is definitely a developing CDO market for infrastructure risk. Although investors will inevitably look at the underlying assets more carefully in the future, the fundamentals of the sector should shine through. Were playing an important intermediation role between the public sectors need for capital on one hand and the appetite of the financial institutions to get long-term, inflation-linked, good-quality cashflows on the other. I dont see that changing, but some banks have based aggressive bidding on Basle II capital charge treatment [which will not really be fully applicable until 2010 at the earliest] rather than Basle I, and suddenly the music has stopped and they havent got a chair to sit on. That is causing a shift in pricing expectation and the appetite to do deals. But theres still not a lot of empirical evidence of that. Were currently syndicating a couple of transactions according to plan and have been engaging in the secondary market in UK PFIs, but they are small deals.
DMH, Caja Madrid Even if not involved directly in the sub-prime crisis, every bank is suffering from the inter-banking market not working properly. Its difficult or very expensive to get money on more than a three-month or six-month basis.
CB, Alinda As an infrastructure investor, we have been much less affected than the leveraged buyout community, which has been effectively sidelined until the high-yield market reopens. Infrastructure investors are not great users of high-yield debt. We have low-risk investments financed with investment-grade debt, and the bank and bond markets are still open for us. We have long-lived real assets with steady cashflows. The assets have barriers to entry and low volatility. They have high debt service coverage ratios. So financing is still available to us on attractive terms. Credit spreads have widened, even for investment-grade debt, but offsetting that is the fact that the treasury benchmark has come down, so the cost of the financing is relatively unchanged for us, whether for bank loans or in the bond market. In the credit markets flight to quality, were the quality.
CH, 3i Spreads are widening, but treasury bills and Libor, eventually hopefully, are coming down to compensate. The interesting part from an equity perspective is the crossover between what was debt now being priced as equity. There is a part of the risk spectrum where banks find lending extremely unattractive, the quasi-mezz pieces, and they are being priced in a lot of the banking offers ahead of the pricing the equity funds prepared to put on it. That funding gap is playing through on how people price assets. Funds are divided as to whether they take that sub-debt on their own books.
MW, JPMorgan Will the unfortunate incident in Minnesota, where the bridge collapsed, have any impact on infrastructure in the US?
CB, Alinda There are several lessons to be learned from the Minneapolis bridge collapse. The first is that infrastructure investing is not without risk. Things can go horribly wrong. Theres a need for due diligence, particularly engineering due diligence, in the acquisition stage, and a need for attention to maintenance as the owner-operator. But on the positive side the Minneapolis bridge collapse emphasized to the US public that there is a lot of US infrastructure in need of refurbishment. It is now known that there are 73,000 bridges that have been declared structurally deficient there is great deal of money needed to fix them. Theres an issue as to where the money is going to come from. With continuing pressures on government budgets, the money is not going to come entirely from governments. Private sector capital will also be needed. As a result of Minneapolis, politically the pendulum is swinging in favour of private capital.
MW, JPMorgan How do lenders look at the opportunity as well as the risks involved in Americas ageing infrastructure?
PL, Depfa Banks will always want independent due diligence, but whatever comfort the reports give us, we know that the outcome will always be different. Were looking to reserve enough cashflow in the project to cover the likely unforeseen maintenance. Flexibility in structuring is important to enable the project to be self-financing and to deal with those problems, and perhaps accelerated capex if something unexpected turns out. From an equity perspective, its inefficient to tie up additional cash, but that can be dealt with through LCs and contingent support. Id like to see more of a true partnership approach between the public and private sectors develop as a mechanism for sharing future risks. For example, in return for limiting the risk for the private sector partner, eg, by putting a floor on the IRR, perhaps there should be a graduated sharing of revenues above a certain base level with the public sector grantor. To encourage the private sector to take on assets with latent defects there has to be a flexible way of getting a sustainable long-term partnership in this type of structure. I question whether spending a huge amount of money on due diligence is money well spent if the public sector can mitigate those uncertainties. The collapse will force people to be more creative.
MV, Société Générale From a lending point of view you look at the quality of the sponsor and the underlying contractor. You look at superstructures, bridges and tunnels far more conservatively in terms of pricing and maintenance reserving than if you were laying blacktop, widening, or upgrading. Equally, youll be more conservative with bore tunnels than with a submerged tunnel because of the underlying geology. Even though you do the geological surveys, when you start working you have cost creep.
DMH, Caja Madrid Over the last year, since the PF market has become more aggressive, its the sponsors that have done due-diligence reports and the banks have not been involved. This will change and when it comes to transactions such as tunnel links or bridges, we will also ask for tighter turnkey contracts with acceptable liquidated damages and higher liability caps. The contractual side is important in those transactions, as is the name of the sponsor.
CH, 3i It throws up issues around reputational risk. Youre taking on risks in an infrastructure investment that youre not taking on in a lot of private-equity investment. Youre dealing with assets that are capital-intensive, where, if theres a failure, lives are at stake or theres material disruption with political fallout. Everybody can think of an example of infrastructure failure that has reflected badly on equity sponsors. As an equity investor its about making sure that youre working with the right partners in the construction phase, that you understand and manage the risks and that youre seen to be a responsible investor.
MW, JPMorgan Is there too much money chasing too few deals?
LN, Watson Wyatt We believe that there is a significant growth potential for private investments in infrastructure assets. We also see a lot of interest from institutional capital to invest in this asset class. What we have serious concerns about is the lack of experience and skill of the numerous players that are entering this market in an attempt to leverage this recent spike in investor interest.
There are a few other concerns with this asset class that make it look even more risky in investors eyes. As in every emerging asset class, the fund structures are evolving. Our clients want to hold these assets for a long time, hence open-ended vehicles are interesting. But the majority of funds are closed-ended as this allows managers to participate in profits after exit. Managers are becoming more innovative in developing investor-friendly fund structures. We see a lot of different types of offerings. However, it is an emerging asset class and only time will tell what is most attractive for investors.
Another big problem with infrastructure funds is that they have taken their fee structure from the private-equity market, where fees are higher; if you are prepared to pay these fees then you are assuming you are paying for shareholder activism and for high alpha generated by managers. But is this applicable in infrastructure, where many managers buy mature assets with stable cashflows that generate current yield but do not lend themselves easily to significant growth and operational improvements? Will infrastructure managers be able to deliver the returns they promised their investors after fees? It makes us more nervous the more we think about it.
In summary, we believe that there is long-term growth potential in infrastructure as an asset class, but there are some signs that the current market is getting overheated by newcomers and first-time funds. It is crucially important for investors to ensure that they partner with managers that have both skill and experience to ensure that they achieve the expected results.
DG, ABP The number of managers in infrastructure has exploded in the last two years. You have got to get the management team right. If you picked a poor manager and he picked a good asset, youd get an average return. If you picked a good manager and an average asset, you would get an above-average return. However, in the past two-year period, every fund has increased, typically by double. You have more managers with twice as much money. So you look at their track records. How long did it take the previous fund to invest its assets? Maybe three years. You typically have an investment period of five years in these funds. Lets say were 18 months into it. You have the credit crunch. Things slow down. There are still a lot of assets out there, and the managers are not getting the funds invested. You get further into the investment period. Returns go down because there is more and higher bidding for assets, by more managers with more money, which results in the returns being lowered. How low do the returns go? Thats the risk and challenge that concerns us.
MW, JPMorgan Do lenders have similar concerns about the quality of the teams and their deals?
PL, Depfa It depends on the asset youre purchasing. An operational company with embedded management and a good operating track record is one thing. If its a greenfield project or where theres a requirement upon the fund manager to manage the asset himself, then we would have a different view. Many people have been attracted to raise funds who dont have great track records, and we are therefore selective in who we support.
DMH, Caja Madrid There are too many players now. For example, with the Pennsylvania deal there are 14 or 15 groups teaming up. Almost every banker is building up their own infrastructure fund, you have to deal with a lot of sponsors, and the chances of winning a competitive tender are getting lower. We dont like it and we are careful in choosing our partners.
MV, Société Générale There are some new guys who have not built up their teams and dont have enough experience, track record or knowledge. One of the attractions of infrastructure is that the operational gearing and cost base is relatively low. My concern is that a lot of the value enhancements that come from management and have been achieved to date have come through financial engineering. Thats been in soft credit markets and weve all benefited from that, both on the equity and the debt sides. To truly get value and management return for paying fees, its a bump-and-grind business in terms of managing the underlying cost base and improving overall financial returns, and that will stretch out. When you build up your asset base, you quickly need asset managers in addition to your bid teams and decision-makers to put the assets on at the front end. There is a shortage of those asset managers in the infrastructure sector.
PL, Depfa The typical private equity model is not really appropriate for infrastructure assets. Theres a big turn-off for the public sector when looking at whether they can monetize or partially privatize the capital tied up in public infrastructure assets. They fear the political ramifications of disgruntled consumers and voters having to suddenly pay higher water charges or tolls because a very active and aggressive asset manager is trying to boost his equity return. That is holding up market development in some jurisdictions, where perhaps a more sympathetic longer-term, less aggressive approach is needed from the private sector.
CH, 3i The infrastructure market has developed more rapidly than private equity, so people have cottoned on to the new asset class and have been determined to put money to work. As a result you have a benign fund-raising environment from an equity perspective. A lot of funds that would have had no chance of raising a fund in the more competitive private equity market have suddenly found themselves fully funded almost against expectations. How does that change our business as an equity investor? In the short term there are a lot of people with money to spend who arent wise enough to spend it at the right cost of capital. Were trying to use the skills that will make us strong long-term investors, around asset management, around deal assessment, around manufacturing deals too, and trying to get to deals that arent part of an auction process. Its not just a charge to the line on a cost-of-capital basis. We have a long-term horizon and will spend our money when we think we can get the returns we want. So much money has been committed to funds with a structure unsuitable for the long-term nature of the infrastructure asset classes. The next evolution will be more sensible structures with more sensible fee structures. You cant charge two and 20 when youre making people 12% or 15%. We need more long-term structures, so that investors, if they choose, can hold on to asset pools that provide them with what they want. There should be more incentives to deliver on yield as well as on capital growth. Funds are not incentivized to deliver yields in the same way that they are to deliver total IRR. In five or 10 years there will be a smaller population of successful funds, as in private equity. The shake-out will be radical; success will be based around the quality of origination, how deals were transacted, how risk was assessed and priced, the breadth of the portfolios put together and the strength of the asset management capability that was built. Investors will realize that buying complex infrastructure assets is not as risk-free as they had believed.
DG, ABP Investors would be open to a structure that paid lower fees upfront and paid more to the manager based upon the return, but I havent found managers willing to accept that structure. If managers hold to their standards, evaluate the risk and when theyre not getting the return they do not purchase the asset, then they will be rewarded in the future for not spending all the money in the fund. If they return some of that money to the investors, the second fund they go out with, theyre going to get that money back from the same investors. They would win a gold star for having invested only in assets that had a good return, rather than going into auctions or over-bidding. Managers tell us that they will invest the money in five years. The fear is that if they get towards the end of the investment period and they havent managed it, returns will start to slip. I rarely hear about negotiated transactions where there are not several people who show up for a sizeable acquisition. I do not know how you spend $30 billion or $40 billion on small, negotiated transactions.
CH, 3i I dont think $30 or $40 billion will get spent, but certain funds will prove they have the quality of management team to spend money off market in less competitive environments. Thats how private equity has gone. The firms that built successful franchises are those skilled in sourcing deals.
DG, ABP There are many infrastructure funds with qualified, experienced managers. Their average age is probably higher than in many private equity funds. But I have concerns about the rush to invest in renewables. Theyre green, theyre socially responsible, but where are the experienced people who have developed and operated renewable projects long-term? Most of the investments are small, but there seems to be a lot more money going into these assets than there is seasoned expertise available. A lot of people with considerable experience in financing large-scale infrastructure projects are chasing these investments, but I doubt if those management teams have been operating facilities in renewables.
MW, JPMorgan Well thank you all very much for sharing your views on a wide variety of important topics as they relate to infrastructure investment and finance. I look forward to meeting up in 12 to 18 months to see how things unfold in 2008 relative to our prognostications.