The rise, the fall, and ... : the emerging recovery of project finance transport
Recent developments in emerging financial markets have dramatically changed the appetite for (and terms of) transport infrastructure projects. As a result of defaults in Asia and Russia and devaluations in Asia, Brazil, and Russia, political and currency and exchange risk premia have increased dramatically. Given large needs for sovereign debt financing, infrastructure project finance will be seeking guarantees at the same time as governments are issuing primary securities. Large portfolio outflows in emerging market funds mean that the sources of both equity and debt capital that became available in the mid-1990s are drying up for all but the most creditworthy projects. Moreover, real economic effects from financial events have consequences in the transport sector, since transport is a derived demand. Any decline in real economic activity is felt quickly in traffic levels and revenues. Currency devaluations that help spur exports may generate higher volumes for seaports and air cargo activity. These effects vary by sector, especially over the medium to longer term. Declines in real economic activity make matters especially difficult for toll roads, as drivers shift to free alternatives and reduce the number of trips taken. What does all this mean for project finance in transport? Risks have increased. Debt finance costs more. The available tenor of debt instruments has shortened and more equity is required for projects. The sources and availability of equity finance have changed. Project finance efforts have shifted from new projects to the privatization, rehabilitation, and expansion of existing facilities. And a"superclass"of sponsors, bankers, and investors has emerged. Failures and mistakes in project finance deals in the 1990s were sharp and persistent. But much has been learned about sound project economics, conservative financial structures, comprehensive sensitivity analysis, the effects of macroeconomic factors, and the need for proper incentives and sound institutional and regulatory arrangements.
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