Tag Archives: global financial investment

Climate Change Reshapes Infrastructure Investing Frontier

By Henry Teitelbaum
Editor, P3 Planet

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have noticed that  climate change investing is finally starting to get the widespread attention it deserves.

In this regard, December’s COP 21 Paris Climate Change Conference was the watershed moment we’d been waiting for. The signed document that came out of that particular event legally binds all countries to work towards limiting the rise in average global temperature to less than 2% from pre-industrial levels. In terms of adaptation effort, it also brings clarity to how the government and business need to proceed with their investments in the physical infrastructure.

“COP 21 was a clear signal to business that any investment in infrastructure has to be low carbon,” Laetitia De Marez, senior climate policy analyst at Climate Analytics Inc. in New York tells P3 Planet. She says the international agreement to limit CO2 in the atmosphere means that governments can no longer commit public funds or, for that matter facilitate private sector funding for carbon-intensive projects. Beyond funding issues, she believes there is a growing risk that these investments will create “stranded assets” as economies shift towards renewables.

Stranded assets are investments, such as those in fossil fuels, technologies or related businesses, that suffer premature write-downs or conversion to liabilities. This reduction in their value becomes more likely as regulatory, tax and other indirect costs penalize the burning of carbon.

Climate Change Tops Risk Survey

The speed with which climate change has moved to the top of the global agenda is evident in January’s World Economic Forum 2016 Global Risks Report http://www3.weforum.org/docs/Media/GRR16_ExecutiveSummary_ENG.pdf. The 11th edition of the report found that the possible failure of climate change mitigation efforts is for the first time the top concern among survey respondents. What’s more, concerns about cascading risks related to climate change, including water crises and large scale involuntary migration are now in the top five concerns in terms of potential impact.

There is also a growing recognition of the investment opportunities in delivering the physical infrastructure that addresses climate change risks. Business leaders understand that green infrastructure, whether for public transportation, renewable energy or climate adaptation projects such as flood barriers, sea-walls and coastline conservation, is a good investment in and of itself. Not only do these  investments help to safeguard human and natural habitat, they are capable of generating  stable  long-term returns.

Mobilizing the private sector is important for two reasons. One is that we live in an age of fiscal austerity and constrained public budgets. This means that achieving any of the targets set by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will require private sector funding, particularly in underdeveloped countries. The other is that many investments in public infrastructure generate economic growth in both the short and long-term that more than justifies the initial expense.(http://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2012/november/highway-grants/)

PPP Model Draws New Interest

One UNFCCC-supported approach to tapping into the financial resources, efficiencies and technologies that the private sector brings to efforts to tame global warming is through the Public Private Partnership model.

PPPs are partnerships between public institutions or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector developers, who in addition to providing expertise bring their own financing to the table. In the context of climate change mitigation efforts, they have been already been successfully used to support forest and coastal wetlands conservation efforts, among others. Looking ahead to the growing challenge that global warming poses to existing economic and social infrastructure, their use is becoming even more important as the rising cost of adaptation places a greater burden on public finances in both developed and developing economies.

The growing interest in attracting private sector investment to climate change mitigation also comes at a time when there is strong structural investment demand for the assets that are created.

Rising Demand, Constrained Supply

Institutional investors in the developed world, particularly those with very long investment horizons such as public pension funds, are finding it challenging to meet their liabilities as more and more baby boomers reach retirement age. More than a decade of low interest rates has meant that many of these funds can no longer expect government bonds to provide the yield they are committed to paying out to pension recipients. As a result, trillions of long-term investment dollars are searching far and wide for high-quality cash-generating investments backed by physical assets with sufficient yield to cover their liabilities. And this increasingly points them towards investments in green infrastructure projects.

There is much work to do. Years of under-investment and neglect of physical infrastructure in developed and developing economies alike have left many countries with huge infrastructure deficits. McKinsey & Co. has estimated the global infrastructure deficit for the period from 2013 to 2030 at around $57 trillion. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/financial_services/money_isnt_everything_but_we_need_$57_trillion_for_infrastructure

Governments, typically burdened with shorter-term political priorities, have consistently failed to make the necessary long-term investments that would put a dent on this deficit. Many have also been unwilling or unable to incentivize private sector investment by extending credit guarantees, and some do not even have the legal and regulatory structures in place. A further complication is that some of the private sector banks that used to play leading roles in arranging project financing have withdrawn from the sector since the financial crisis.

Institutions Becoming Early Stage Investors

One important development has been for pension funds, private equity firms and other long-term investors to take on leading roles in the financing of PPP projects themselves. In more and more cases, this means leaving their comfort zone and find new ways to manage the risks involved in early stage investment.

Public sector authorities around the world can do much to encourage this trend at minimal cost. Among the several ways they can help to incentivize private sector investment in climate resilient infrastructure would be to adopt PPP enabling legislation. Beyond this, governments should  provide credit guarantees to enhance the credit quality of debt funding for specific projects, remove structural impediments to infrastructure development, and promote best practice by establishing local centers of excellence.

A multilateral facility whose advancement would also support these efforts is the UNFCCC’s Green Climate Fund. This fund is designed to encourage programs and policies to support thematic investments in climate change mitigation, such as in climate resilient infrastructure for developing countries. It currently has more than $10 billion of funding in place and a goal of raising $100 billion by 2020. But the fund, which was established more than five years ago, is beset by disagreement over board transparency, country ownership and the role private enterprise should play in financing solutions. Developing countries want fund resources to focus on financing locally sourced solutions that support small- and medium-sized businesses. But developed countries are pushing for a Private Sector Facility that focuses on tapping into the huge capital resources available from institutional investors.

Explosive Growth Of Green Bonds

Other facilities for attracting private investment to climate change mitigation projects are faring better. Early progress from multilateral and national development banks in developing a global market for Green Bonds has led to explosive growth in the past three years. New issuance topped $41.8 billion in 2015, and is expected to rise to $100 billion in 2016, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative. https://www.climatebonds.net/

Governments and public sector authorities at every level can help to deepen the liquidity of this market further by issuing their own green bonds. But they should also consider offering credit enhancements such as guarantees to improve the risk profiles of important projects. Tax incentives are another tool that could be used to attract long-term investors. http://www.climatebonds.net/files/files/10%20point%20policy%20guide.pdf

What the world’s climate cannot afford is a drawn out debate over modalities. Global warming is a reality that cannot wait for consensus. We need to act now.

If you’d like to support P3 Planet’s mission to promote sustainable public infrastructure, please contact Henry at hthq@hotmail.com.

Our Fragile Markets, or Why China’s Your Daddy

By Henry Teitelbaum, Editor, P3 Planet

There seems to be very little western investors, governments or central banks can do to stem the tide of contagion from China’s collapsing stock markets.

While it’s tempting to dismiss this selloff as merely a correction in equity markets after they hit sky-high valuations, it’s troubling to see how quickly the wealth of millions of people has evaporated. Of greater fundamental concern for markets is that as China’s export-driven juggernaut slows, there are no real economic growth engines in the world to replace it. The fact is that our economies remain weak and vulnerable, and for that we have ourselves to blame.

During the past 20 years, when China’s booming economy was busy exporting goods and importing western technology and capital, governments in the US and Europe did very little to mobilize investment in the essentials of future growth at home. In Europe, the focus was on futile efforts to rein-in social spending, reform labor markets and keep jobs from disappearing, while in the US little attention was paid to economic fundamentals. Instead, successive governments, Democratic and Republican alike, threw everything behind politically popular efforts to expand home ownership to the millions.

Critically, nothing much happened at either the federal or state level to develop the public infrastructure that would be needed to support a thriving and productive 21st century economy. Whether it was upgrading roads and bridges, rail networks and airports, or building schools and public healthcare facilities, investment utterly failed to keep up with society’s needs. What we got instead was the biggest housing bubble in US history.

US Labor Productivity

Wrong-Headed Crisis Response

Even after that bubble burst, western leaders ignored or were thwarted from making these investments. Across the Euro-zone, governments focused on a self-defeating exercise in fiscal austerity, while in the US, an initial investment in fixing public roads was followed by political gridlock. Despite the opportunity to borrow long-term at historically low cost,  governments in both the US and Europe continually failed to make these urgently needed growth-generating investments.

The private sector has also failed us. Businesses across the US and Europe — rather than make bold investments in their flat-lining economies — have been sitting on their expanding piles of cash for years. Dividends to investors reached record levels while companies waited for that elusive economic turnaround that never seemed to take hold. Predictably, when the investment-starved turnaround finally did come, it was weak and woefully inadequate.

So here we are. The US, Europe and Japan are all still drowning in debt, either outright, or as a percentage of GDP. And investment spending, such as it is, isn’t anywhere near where it needs to be to allow economies to grow their way out of debt. So western economies, markets and indeed their financial systems are all looking very fragile indeed.

Investment Opportunities Ignored

It didn’t have to come to this. Investments in infrastructure create enormous value for economies that fully justify their cost. In the short-term, they generate jobs, which helps to put money into circulation in the economy through increased spending on goods and services. Whether it is public money, or private sector investment through Public Private Partnerships, the multiplier effect that follows quickly generates economic activity and tax revenue for the government.

Longer term, the completed asset supports better services for both the public and private sectors, leading to a more productive economy and a more attractive investment destination for both domestic and foreign businesses. The debt generated from building these public assets can also make for a safe, long-term  investment that can contribute to the stability of domestic markets in the face of turbulence elsewhere in the world.

Studies have repeatedly shown that infrastructure investments, particularly during times of economic bust, generate a much higher fiscal multiplier than other types of government investment, (http://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2012/november/highway-grants/).

In effect, they provide a Keynesian lift to aggregate demand at precisely the time when it is most needed. Further out in time, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, there’s a medium term boost to the economy when the asset, in their example a public road, increases the economy’s productive capacity.

The SF Fed concludes that combining these multiplier effects can mean that every $1 of government spending produces “at least” $2 of economic output.

China’s Treasury Bond Option

The colossal failure of western developed economies to adopt growth-oriented investment policies means their markets will remain extremely vulnerable to exogenous shocks such as the one China has generated. And it’s not just equities. Treasury yields could be in for a similar shock if China, now the biggest holder of US Treasurys ($1.27 trillion as of June 2015), decides to start selling off its holdings to support its markets.

In the absence of western leadership, what’s likely to happen in our fragile markets going forward will depend on how quickly and successfully China re-positions its economy towards domestic consumption. Let’s hope they decide they don’t need to sell their Treasury holdings to get there.

This blog has appeared in Medium and Business Daily.

Henry is available for freelance commissions and long-term assignments and is reachable at hthq@hotmail.com.

Mexico’s Infrastructure Plan Makes Compelling Case For Foreign Investment

by Henry Teitelbaum, Editor, P3 Planet

It probably comes as no surprise to investors that great diversity exists among the countries that make up the world’s emerging markets. Yet, when a financial crisis strikes them, it’s often because the foreign portfolio managers that run giant global investment funds indiscriminately dump their holdings of emerging market debt and equity at more or less the same time.

This behavior has often been triggered by country-specific credit issues or by changes in interest rate expectations in the US or elsewhere. But the impact on many of these countries is both immediate and far-reaching, often dramatically raising the cost of financing for governments and businesses in those countries that rely on foreign borrowings to service their debt. Typically, this leads to liquidity shortages as buyers disappear, steep losses for investors, bank runs, government and private sector defaults, and catastrophic job losses.

It doesn’t end there either. The contagion that follows reaches across borders to engulf whole economic regions. Of course, this domino effect is rarely justified by the underlying economic reality, and many western institutional investors have become adept at exploiting such short-term selloffs to pick up stocks for their portfolios on the cheap or to lock-in high yields on bonds that have been beaten down by panic selling.

Correlations In Emerging Markets Declining

Lately, this pattern has started to break down. Individual country performances seem to be reflecting a more diverse range of economic and business conditions across emerging markets better than they have in the last 20 years, and investors appear to be standing by their convictions. This is a good thing, and the surest evidence yet that emerging markets have grown up in a very short period of time. Emerging markets have not only grown dramatically just in the past five years, they now offer more ways to diversify risk across credit and equity markets.

Naturally, investors will look at broader macro-economic factors affecting individual economies such as external debt, current account, domestic deposits and foreign currency reserves. But they are also looking more closely at the policy priorities within individual countries that affect long-term stability, including progress in political and economic reform, and at the choices governments make when investing for the long-term prosperity of their people.

The selloff in January 2014 was a case in point. Emerging market countries where reforms have been implemented, where governments have limited their borrowing and where domestic savings are growing, proved resilient to the selloff. Many of these mostly Asian and Southeast Asian markets have more than recovered the steep losses that followed the change in dollar interest rate expectations.

Investors are also drawing distinctions among emerging market countries based on major programs and policy initiatives. One good example of how this is playing out can be found in Mexico. The country, which has historically been a target for foreign investment due to its oil and gas resources and proximity to the US, has lately been garnering attention for its open, progressive and highly credible approach to developing public infrastructure.

Making Mexico Investment-Friendly

And it should be. Mexico’s 2014-2018 national infrastructure plan outlined earlier this year by President Enrique Peña Nieto is an excellent example of how to structure a large-scale investment program to make it attractive to private investors. Not only  has the government incentivized domestic institutions such as pension funds to invest in early stage Public-Private Partnership projects, it has created the structures that will ensure that financing is available to get them off the ground.

The plan is nothing if not ambitious, envisioning some 7.75 trillion pesos ($590 billion) in public and private investment in infrastructure. There are 743 projects outlined for investment, and these focus heavily on energy, communications and transport. But the plan also includes new projects in housing and urban development, health and tourism.

To support investment, Mexico’s government-run infrastructure bank and fund trustee, Banobras (Banco Nacional de Obras y Servicios Publicos) has been given the capacity and the legal and structural mechanisms to make public private partnerships (PPP) “bankable” for a broad range of long-term investors, including foreign institutions.

What that means is that Banobras and Fonadin, the infrastructure trust fund that it runs, may help to catalyze private investment in infrastructure investment by taking the financial risks that private investors are unwilling to take. This is especially important in the early stages of construction, when risks are at their highest. They are also willing to provide long-term financing for projects, including PPPs that have low yields but high social impact.

Mexico, which has the world’s 14th largest economy, could really benefit from the investment, as its infrastructure places it only 64th of 148 countries in the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index. This was recognized as a key driver in the government’s decision to dramatically boost infrastructure investment. It also provides any and all potential investors with clarity on the value that the government places on the success of these projects.

A Helping Hand For The Poor 

Mexico’s government has gone further than most in trying to ensure that the investment capital is channeled to infrastructure development in parts of the country where it can make a big difference. Finance Minister Luis Videgaray indicated early this year that the plan places special emphasis on Mexico’s poorest states in the south and southeastern regions of the country.

By targeting these regions for infrastructure investment, there’s a good chance the investment will do “double duty”, and have an outsized impact on the economy of these regions. That’s because in addition to creating public assets that boost local productivity and competitiveness over the long-term, the investment will bring a near-term boost to regional economies through the jobs it creates.  Taken as a whole,  the program amounts to a powerful instrument for  addressing income inequality and increasing social stability throughout the country.

Foreign investors seem to have taken notice. The country’s equity market has been a strong performer in 2014, and currently stands out for both its emerging market-leading forward price/earnings ratio, and for its performance in relation to historical averages.

Could Mexico’s model for infrastructure development also be giving the country a leg up on the other emerging market countries with which it competes for  stable, long-term foreign investment?

I wouldn’t want to generalize about individual investment decisions. But for any investor comparing long-term prospects in emerging markets around the world, Mexico’s PPP-driven infrastructure push sure seems to tick a lot of boxes.

full disclosure: the author holds listed shares in the iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF

This article has also been published in The Conde Report on U.S.-Mexico Relations