Announcements and Press Releases
Infrastructure benchmark pioneers create research chair to gauge how ESG factors are affecting infrastructure investments
EDHECinfra, the same team that created an unlisted infrastructure indexing platform, launches its new three-year research project today. With the support of Natixis, the project’s aim is to create usable, comparable documented measures of the impact and risk profile of social and environmental factors on infrastructure investments.
ESG – growing in importance, growing in impact
ESG – environmental, social and governance – refers to the central factors in measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a company or business. Despite its relevance to today’s financial world, few holistic and systematic measures exist to help investors to track ESG outcomes and related risks. Because these shortfalls act as a deterrent to investment, EDHECinfra is determined to tackle them.
“Infrastructure investments have value because they are useful over long periods of time,” says Frederic Blanc-Brude, director of EDHECinfra. “Social and environmental factors significantly impact this long-term value, but today we do not know how or on what scale.”
“We want to find out what the impact of better-designed, more resilient infrastructure can be for the economy and for investors, focusing on the first-order problems, like climate risk and social acceptability, over the life of these investments,” explains Anne-Christine Champion, Global Head of Real Assets at Natixis.
“Together, we can build a new area of applied knowledge,” adds Blanc-Brude. “We will be putting together existing datasets with new ones created using artificial intelligence, combined with the depth of knowledge on infrastructure assets and investment shared between EDHECinfra and Natixis.”
Vital indices are the ultimate goal
Initially, the first aim of the Research Chair will be to produce a comprehensive but compact analysis of ESG reporting standards. Next, we will be taking the perspective of infrastructure companies and aiming to provide an exhaustive set of potential ESG impacts and risks. Following on from that and using machine learning, the team will create new datasets on ESG risks and impacts in infrastructure investments. The ultimate goal is that these will lead to the development of an infrastructure social acceptability index. We will also be seeking measures of economic impact and of the climate risk exposure of infrastructure assets.
“Ultimately, our understanding of resilience and ESG’ impact in infrastructure investment will impact investors’ selection criteria and the prudential treatment when investing in the asset class,” says Champion.
About the Natixis/EDHECinfra Research Chair
This long-term partnership between Natixis and EDHEC began in 2012. Over the subsequent seven years, they have jointly generated a number of key research findings and industrial applications thanks to the strong link between academia and practitioners. Along with the support of Natixis, the EDHECinfra research institute delivered new ways to understand and model credit risk in private infrastructure debt. We have also created series of financial benchmarks that track 20 years of investment in the asset class, leading to a better integration of this asset class in prudential regimes such as Solvency-II.
Natixis is a French multinational financial services firm specialised in asset & wealth management, corporate & investment banking, insurance and payments. A subsidiary of Groupe BPCE, the second-largest banking group in France through its two retail banking networks, Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne, Natixis counts nearly 16,000 employees across 38 countries. Its clients include corporations, financial institutions, sovereign and supranational organisations, as well as the customers of Groupe BPCE’s networks. Listed on the Paris stock exchange, Natixis has a solid financial base with a CET1 capital under Basel 3(1) of €11.1 billion, a Basel 3 CET1 Ratio(1) of 11.5% and quality long-term ratings (Standard & Poor’s: A+ / Moody’s: A1 / Fitch Ratings: A+).
(1) Based on CRR-CRD4 rules as reported on 26 June 2013, including the Danish compromise – without phase-in. See note on methodology in the 2Q19 earnings material.
Figures as of 30 June 2019
EDHECinfra exists to answer one simple question: why does infrastructure have value? We collect data, develop methodologies and produce research and tools to help explore the solution, and identify the financial, economic and social value of infrastructure. In 2019, we launched a series of global indices and benchmarks capturing the risk-adjusted performance of private investments in infrastructure equity and debt. We have built the largest database of infrastructure investment data in the world, as well as created cutting-edge asset pricing technology to determine the fair value of illiquid assets. EDHECinfra has become the premier knowledge repository for infrastructure investors. We are also developing tools to gauge the current and evolving risks and impacts that ESG brings to infrastructure investment. These encompass social acceptability, physical risks, and the usefulness of infrastructure assets, all things which determine their current and future value.
EDHECinfra partner RICS is launching the 2nd edition of its global consultation on International Construction Measurement Standards (ICMS).
Responding to industry feedback, the ICMS Coalition is updating the standard to clarify how construction stakeholders will benefit from a reporting system that provides internationally comparable life cycle cost data. The input of RICS professionals is crucial as the international standard will form the foundation of the forthcoming Global Cost Prediction Professional Statement, which will contain mandatory requirements for members.
Access the consultation here.
Read more about ICMS on the RICS website here.
We carried out the largest survey of infrastructure investors ever made. Here’s what we found:
The largest survey of infrastructure investors ever undertaken shows that most investors cannot benchmark the risks they find themselves exposed to when investing in unlisted infrastructure.
EDHECinfra releases a new survey sponsored by the Global Infrastructure Hub (GIH, a G20 Initiative). More than 300 respondents took part in the survey. They included representatives of 130 asset owners accounting for more than 10% of global AUM or $10 trillion. This marks largest survey ever undertaken of asset owners and managers active in the infrastructure space and represents the views of large sophisticated investors.
Some of the main findings include:
- Investors mostly use absolute return benchmarks (based on the risk-free or inflation rate), but less than 10% think they are good enough. Major concerns include: they are not representative, do not measure risk and do not allow asset-liability management.
- Currently, absolute return infrastructure equity benchmarks are not ambitious and not hard to beat. Most investors use a spread over real or nominal rate of 400-500bp. In a low rate environment, this falls short of annualised stock market returns.
- When investors use relative benchmarks, they use ‘fake benchmarks.’ Preferred relative benchmarks often include listed infrastructure indices, which have been shown to display 100% correlation with broad equity indices by academic research. Otherwise, investors use ‘industry peers’ as a relative benchmark, despite the well-known issues encountered with valuation and return smoothing in private markets, as well as the difficulty to make direct comparisons.
- With current benchmarking practices, investors in unlisted infrastructure equity cannot understand their risk or define their infrastructure investment strategy. The practices described by investors correspond more to the definition of a hurdle rate than a benchmark. Current benchmarks cannot identify systematic rewarded risks, monitor risk-adjusted performance or set risk budgets.
A long way to go…
Frederic Blanc-Brude, co-author and director of EDHECinfra said: “The survey results clearly show that infrastructure investment practices have a long way to go to catch up with risk management practices in other asset classes. Infrastructure investment is still at the pre-historical stage, that is, before a written version of history. Other asset classes experienced a similar evolution from opaque and ill-defined to better understood thanks to new databases and benchmarks. This time is coming for infrastructure because investors recognise these problems as they become more acute.”
The paper can be downloaded here.
A new paper drawn from the Natixis/EDHECinfra research chair sheds new light on the drivers of returns in private infrastructure debt.
Higher, yes, but not out of line…
Infrastructure credit spreads remain twice as high today as in 2008, but this new research shows that only 30bp of this increase cannot be explained by changes in systematic risk factor prices.
Anne-Christine Champion, Global Head of Real Assets at Natixis said: “These results show that infrastructure debt is fairly priced today because spreads are driven by systematic effects, representing the evolution of the preferences of market participants. This is important as infrastructure debt becomes more mainstream and measuring relative performance requires estimating fair value.”
…even though it differs from conventional corporate debt
The paper also shows that infrastructure debt pricing differs from corporate debt. Infrastructure spreads can find some explanation in a number of risk factors found across credit instruments. However, these factors impact infrastructure debt spreads differently. For example, larger corporate loans with longer maturities pay higher spreads but the reverse holds true in infrastructure.
EDHECinfra director Frederic Blanc-Brude said: “We find that these effects change over time. Some are impacted by the credit cycle, others by the business cycle. Important factors like the level of interest rates and geography have lost almost all power since quantitative easing policies started, other risk factors like size and duration are more persistent even with ultra-low interest rates.”
Unique data, a new approach
The paper utilises a unique dataset of thousands of credit spreads and a multi-factor model. These, in turn, extract the systematic components of market prices from new instruments as they become available to the market. It then applies these systematic effects to a much larger, representative set of investible infrastructure debt. This process facilitates unique insights into the private infrastructure debt market.
New EDHECinfra research finds no financial penalty or gain for infrastructure firms in implementing ESG management and reporting.
It makes no difference – either way
A new paper drawn from the EDHECinfra/LTIIA Research Chair shows that Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) scores show neither negative nor positive correlation with the financial performance of unlisted infrastructure firms when based on Return on Assets.
This initial study bears the title ESG Reporting and Financial Performance: the Case of Infrastructure. It represents the first research insights into the link between returns and ESG in unlisted infrastructure.
The study cross-references two unique databases. First are the ESG scores computed by GRESB Infrastructure since 2016 while the second are the financial metrics of the EDHECinfra universe. It shows that, after taking traditional factors into account, ESG ratings do not significantly drive returns or profits.
ESG not a risk factor after all
“ESG is not a risk factor in infrastructure investment,” says Tim Whittaker, Research Director at EDHECinfra, who is also co-author of the paper. “This paper challenges the oft-reported notion that better ESG ratings should somehow systematically increase or decrease returns.
Silvia Garcia, Senior Analyst at EDHECinfra and co-author adds: “We do not find negative correlations between returns or profits and ESG ratings either, suggesting that implementing ESG does not harm financial performance.”
Thierry Déau, Chairman of LTIIA says: “Infrastructure investors increasingly identify ESG as a first order problem, beyond expected returns. Choosing better ESG is also a way to select better individual assets. In a world where diversification is limited, this remains highly relevant.”
The analysis matches 2016-18 GRESB data for 173 firms with financial performance data from EDHECinfra’s universe of investible companies. Our infrastructure databases, which we constantly update and expand, cover 25 major markets worldwide. While controlling for other factors, it uses statistical tests to seek relationships between GRESB Scores and returns or profits.
Answering investors’ questions
Rick Walters, Director of GRESB Infrastructure explains. “This is the first generation of this research. It helps us refine our understanding of why ESG matters and how ESG data collection will continue to evolve to answer investors’ questions in the future. The ESG scores used in the study measure the management approach and transparency of performance reporting. They highlight the need for more direct measures of such performance.”
Future research will aim to use longer time series, as well as introduce additional performance measures and utilise direct measures of ESG impact.
New EDHECinfra research documents the factors behind the evolution of unlisted infrastructure prices over past 15 years.
Common risk factors found in numerous asset classes explain the evolution of unlisted infrastructure secondary market prices. That’s the finding of a new paper drawn from the EDHECinfra /LTIIA Research Chair. Interestingly, the paper also shows that that, after a long period of prices increases, “peak infra” may already be behind us.
Unlisted infrastructure prices have increased considerably over the past decade. Was it a bubble or a normal phenomenon? In a new ground-breaking paper, EDHECinfra shows that systematic risk factors can largely explain the evolution of average prices but also that valuations have shifted to a higher level.
No, it’s not a bubble
Author and Director of EDHECinfra Frederic Blanc-Brude said: “The worries about a bubble were driven by the constant increase in prices since 2008. In fact, the process of price discovery happened in slow motion. Infrastructure businesses are expected to deliver steady and predictable cash flows and, to the extent that this is the case, they should be expensive. In a very illiquid market, it took 10 years for investors’ views on fair value to express themselves.”
In a a very illiquid market where assets seldom trade, such as infrastructure, just looking at average reported prices can give insufficient and biased data. The paper uses actual transaction prices and advanced statistical techniques to estimate unbiased factor effects. It then applies these to a much larger group (the EDHECinfra universe). Our selections are based on criteria that investors actually find useful, and provide excellent representation of the investable market.
Research has identified six factors that explain the market prices of unlisted infrastructure investments over the past 15 years; size, leverage, profits, term spread, value and growth. To these usual suspects, one can add sector and geographic effects. The result is an unbiased view of the evolution of prices (price-to-sales and price-to-earnings ratios).
Current valuations make sense
Thierry Déau, Chairman of LTIIA said: “This new research shows that infrastructure valuations make sense today but also that focusing on systematic risks is an important aspect of value creation for investors in infrastructure. The existence of “value” effect for greenfield projects is good illustration of this fact.”
Blanc-Brude highlights the similarities – and important differences – between listed and unlisted assets. “Unlisted infrastructure prices should continue to be driven by common risk factors, some of which are relevant across asset classes. Unlisted infrastructure equity is actually found to be somewhat correlated with public equities, but also to have a different profile. Higher dividend pay-out ratios make future revenues more valuable today, while higher financial and operational leverage make future profits more uncertain.”
The paper concludes that average valuations have reached a plateau since 2016. Two key drivers of the slowdown are the impact of the leverage factor and interest rates on discount rates.
Singapore, 10 April 2018 – A case study of 10 Spanish toll road projects shows that ill-designed procurement can lead to pro-cyclical infrastructure investment risk and significant losses for private investors.
EDHEC Infrastructure Institute – an academic research organisation building performance benchmarks for investors in private infrastructure – shed new light on the risks encountered in infrastructure project investment with new research examining the failed Spanish toll roads that the government just took over and intends to retender to private investors later this year.
The paper – Tome La Siguiente Salida (Take the Next Exit) – A Case Study of Road Investments Gone Wrong, Spain, 1998-2018 – is based on detailed financial data on each of the concession companies as well as in-depth interviews with individuals representing the public and private sector directly involved in the collapsed projects.
Despite the discipline of project financing and the presence of a blanket government guarantee in case of bankruptcy, equity investors were wiped out and their lenders booked losses of 90 cents on the dollar. How and why did these projects fail?
The detailed analysis of the events that led to the bankruptcy of all but one of the nine toll road concessions shows how case studies can be a valuable tool for understanding risk for investors.
Governments can procure privately financed infrastructure projects in ways that magnify moral hazard and create systematic risk for investors. In the case of the Spanish toll roads the simultaneous procurement of multiple large projects in a single national market, and extremely aggressive financial structuring meant the projects could not withstand the twin shocks of rising land expropriation costs and falling traffic volumes.
But nor should the Government have covered lenders’ losses despite the guarantee that covered events of bankruptcy. The authors use a series of models based on Game Theory (the theory of strategic bargaining) to show there was no incentive for the private sector to restructure the failing concessions and it becomes rational for the public sector to let the projects fail. There were no bad guys, just rational actors.
Silvia Garcia, a co-author of the study, and Senior Analyst at EDHECinfra, says: “Game theory can provide investors with a powerful set of tools to model and predict what is often labelled as ‘political risk’, and also holds lessons for the design of guarantees and the dynamics they create at the procurement stage.” Co-author and EDHECinfra director Frederic Blanc-Brude says: “Asset owners and managers are typically limited to making private infrastructure investments one deal at a time. Building a well-diversified portfolio, when it is possible, can take a decade. Thus, individual infrastructure investment case studies can usefully complement quantitative studies and improve investors’ knowledge and understanding of risk, including the nature and effect of political and regulatory shocks.”
Silvia Garcia Moraleja, Senior Analyst, EDHEC Infrastructure Institute
Tim Whittaker, Associate Research Director, EDHEC Infrastructure Institute
Frédéric Blanc-Brude, Director, EDHEC Infrastructure Institute
Singapore, 30 January 2018 – Based on preferences expressed by major institutions in a new survey, EDHECinfra is releasing a taxonomy of global indices and sub-indices to structure the infrastructure asset class.
In its effort to create global benchmarks for infrastructure investors, the EDHEC Infrastructure Institute (EDHECinfra) recently surveyed asset owners and managers about how these indices should be structured to best address their asset allocation and performance monitoring needs.
In the largest survey of its kind over 200 major infrastructure investors, including asset owners representing more than 10% of global AUM in 2017 (US$10 trillion), revealed their preferences for the segmentation of unlisted infrastructure. This framework establishes an industry standard for unlisted infrastructure benchmarks.
Over half of respondents to the survey were focused solely on infrastructure equity investment, while a third seek both infrastructure equity and debt.
Investors mostly chose to reject the geographic and sectoral categories typically used for capital markets benchmarks, preferring instead to understand their infrastructure exposures in terms of the level of economic development and investability of national markets. They also recognised the fundamental difference between infrastructure project financing and infrastructure ‘corporates’.
Focusing on individual sectors was not considered a structuring aspect of the asset class, instead, most asset owners asked for ‘broad sector’ indices and sub-indices using `business model’ filters rather than industrial ones.
In response to these preferences, EDHECinfra reveals the industry standard for unlisted infrastructure benchmarks, outlining a taxonomy of indices and sub-indices that can create the most useful framework of reference for the asset class. Two universes (debt and equity) are split either between broad areas of economic development or by types of corporate structure, leading to eight broad market indices that will provide a global view of the infrastructure asset class.
This taxonomy also includes a limited number of sub-indices for the purpose of performance monitoring. These thematic sub-indices (by business risk, sector groups, credit risk) represent specific risk profiles to track the risk-adjusted performance of most specialised managers or dedicated accounts focused on a sub-segment of the infrastructure market.
- Almost 70% of respondents said economic development and infrastructure investability were the most relevant geographic segmentations for private infrastructure.
- 90% of respondents said it was relevant or highly relevant to segment infrastructure investments by business model (contracted, regulated, merchant).
- Investor’s views were relatively balanced on the segmentation of infrastructure by corporate structure. – 37% of respondents favour project finance specific benchmarks – 42% would rather use benchmarks with infrastructure projects and infrastructure corporates – 20% would prefer an infrastructure corporates only index
- Infrastructure debt investors were almost unanimous (95%) in the need to bucket infrastructure debt by credit risk and maturity, highlighting the need to integrate private infrastructure debt in broader fixed income strategies.
Notes to editors:
Selecting reference indices for the infrastructure asset class. A survey of Investor preferences and the EDHECinfra families of infrastructure indices.
Noël Amenc, Professor of Finance and Associate Dean, EDHEC Business School
Frédéric Blanc-Brude, Director, EDHEC Infrastructure Institute
Singapore – 9 October 2017: In open letters to the chairman of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States, EDHEC has called on regulators to take measures against the risks of investment in so-called `listed infrastructure’.
This call follows the publication by EDHEC of a position paper entitled “The rise of “fake infra”: The unregulated growth of listed infrastructure and the dangers it poses to the future of infrastructure investing.”The position paper documents the rise of the so-called listed infrastructure asset class, which EDHEC considers to be an ill-defined series of financial products. Initially targeting retail investors, and increasingly institutional investors, listed infrastructure now represents close to a third of the infrastructure investment sector.
“We strongly recommend stricter regulatory oversight of listed infrastructure products, including the obligation to include the word ‘listed’ in their name to avoid misleading investors,” says Frederic Blanc-Brude, Director of EDHECinfra, “as well as the obligation to include information in marketing documents warning investors that listed infrastructure may not deliver the same performance as unlisted infrastructure investments.”
The EDHEC paper finds that active listed infrastructure managers have invested in close to 1,900 unique stocks over the past decade, many of which cannot possibly be considered ‘infrastructure’ under any definition.
“We believe in the potential of infrastructure debt and equity investment for asset owners,” says Dr Blanc-Brude, “but today’s “fake infra” will disappoint. It is comparatively expensive and will leave investors without the promised low-risk, stable, inflation-linked returns. As a result, it could give infrastructure investing in general a bad name.”
“Serious research shows that listed infrastructure is failing to deliver on its many promises and, in our view, the number of false claims made about listed infrastructure products is high enough to consider a case of mis-selling,” adds Prof Noël Amenc, Associate Dean for Business Development at EDHEC. “Our and others’ research shows repeatedly that listed infrastructure, as it is proposed to investors today, exhibits high drawdown and volatility, does not have better risk-adjusted performance than broad stock market indices and can typically be explained away by a series of well-known factor-tilts available to investors throughout the stock market.”
Singapore – 13 June 2017 – EDHEC Infrastructure Institute-Singapore (EDHECinfra) is releasing 384 infrastructure debt and equity indices that will change the way investors measure infrastructure investment performance and allow multi-trillion dollar increases in allocation to infrastructure
The new EDHECinfra private debt and equity indices cover 50% of the broad market capitalisation of 14 European markets, and provide investors with metrics that have been unavailable to them until now, going back to 2000. Global market coverage is planned to be achieved by 2020. The academic research behind these indices has benefited from the support of NATIXIS and the Long-Term Infrastructure Investors Association (LTIIA) since 2012.
EDHECinfra indices are built using asset-level, hand-collected investment data, including infrastructure projects and so-called ‘infrastructure corporates’. The infrastructure investment data depository created and maintained by EDHECinfra covers hundreds of firms, thousands of debt
instruments and millions of cash flows and balance sheet items. It is the largest, most comprehensive such database in the world.
Thanks to a unique, peer-reviewed private asset pricing technology, previously unavailable metrics such as time-weighted and risk-adjusted returns, value-at-risk, duration, cash yields and a dozen other performance measures of private infrastructure debt and equity investments are now
available to investors.
According to Frédéric Blanc-Brude, EDHECinfra’s Director: “Our benchmarks will change the way investors approach and manage their infrastructure investments. Key asset allocation, prudential regulation or performance attribution questions can now be answered, and trillions of dollars could
now be allocated to infrastructure based on these indices.”
Chairman of LTIIA, Mr Thierry Déau said that the EDHECinfra indices will introduce a new level of transparency to assess the performance of infrastructure investments.
“We are delighted to see such progress. This ground-breaking work will help LTIIA take to the next level its engagement with public and private stakeholders globally, with the objectives of increasing the understanding of actual risks and rewards of the asset class and fostering long term investment in infrastructure,” Mr Déau said.
Managing Director and Global Head of Portfolio Management at NATIXIS, Ms Anne-Christine Champion declared that “investors can only benefit from a much deeper understanding of the portfolio behaviour of private infrastructure debt instruments which is now available for them”. “EDHECinfra is setting new standards for performance measurements for infrastructure debt investments and NATIXIS is delighted with this paramount milestone for institutional investors’ investment in the asset class,” Ms Champion added.
EDHECinfra will continue to extend its geographical coverage of private infrastructure investment data and will update its broad market infrastructure debt and equity benchmarks regularly.