Robust Benchmarks for investors in private infrastructure funds

The infraMetrics fund strategy analyser allows benchmarking the gross and net performance of unlisted infrastructure funds using robust IRR and multiple quartiles that are not biased or skewed by the limitation of manager contributed data. With this tool, thousands of observations of the typical performance of infrastructure funds in hundreds of segments, dozens of geographies and 20 years of vintages are available and updated quarterly with no lag. Simulated results are both congruent with contributed market data at the aggregate level over a long period, and more robust and precise at the vintage year or sub-segment level. With this tool, infrastructure manager selection and fund monitoring are not hindered by unreliable and biased reported fund performance data anymore.

Strategic Asset Allocation with Unlisted Infrastructure

In this paper, we show how the traditional indexes used as proxies for unlisted infrastructure fail to represent the qualities of the asset class. Listed infrastructure indices are highly correlated with the wider equity universe – if the asset class behaved in this way, there would be little point in investors buying it as it would not add much in terms of diversification or improving the risk-return profile of the portfolio. Appraisal-based indices are correlated with nothing at all, making them singularly useless for the task in hand – their construction gives results that are so “smooth” that volatility is very low and correlations close to zero, which would signal unrealistically high risk-return rewards that are simply unfeasible in the real world. EDHECinfra’s indices of unlisted infrastructure, on the other hand, such as the infra300®, represent the characteristics of this asset class well, making them the best available proxy for investors to use.

We also show how investors can carry out a simple asset allocation exercise to calculate the optimal allocation they should be making to unlisted infrastructure based on their individual portfolio needs. Using different optimisation techniques and parameters, and considering different investor profiles, our research signals consistent allocations to infrastructure in the region of 10%, many times current levels. Our indices also offer a granularity that can help portfolio design in a way that broader and less well-defined proxies are unlikely to achieve for those seeking to optimise risk-adjusted returns.

Anatomy of a Cash Cow

This paper examines how infrastructure companies differ from the rest of the economy and in particular whether or not they tend to pay larger and more frequent dividends i.e. whether infrastructure really is a ‘cash cow.’ We find that infrastructure companies exhibit key systematic differences with a sample of ‘matched’ firms that are otherwise comparable in size, leverage, revenue growth or profits. Infrastructure companies are different because they tend to exhibit high asset tangibility, asset illiquidity and asset inflexibility, as well as lower operating leverage, as measured by a range of well-established metrics founds in the academic literature. Finally, we find that infrastructure companies do pay higher (but not more frequent) dividends than other firms and that these higher payout ratios correlate well with the characteristics we have identified. We argue that using these characteristics provides an important robustness check to identify infrastructure assets.

EDHECinfra Research Insights – June 2019

In this issue, our researchers look at the results of the 2019 EDHECinfra/G20 survey of infrastructure investors to show that investors do not understand the risks they are taking when investing in infrastructure, and they put forward a methodology that can address some of the most difficult issues with regard to the fair valuation of highly illiquid assets such as infrastructure equity and debt instruments.

Using data from the EDHECinfra/LTIIA Research Chair, our authors show that systematic risk factors can largely explain the evolution of average prices for unlisted infrastructure asset, and they examine the drivers and evolution of credit spreads in private infrastructure debt.

Our researchers try to determine if better ESG does improve infrastructure returns, as the environmental, social and governance aspects of infrastructure investments have been an increasingly important set of considerations for investors, and finally they ask the question, is infrastructure always an active strategy?

The Pricing of Private Infrastructure Debt – a dynamic approach

This paper examines the drivers and evolution of credit spreads in private infrastructure debt. We ask two main questions:

Which factors explain private infrastructure credit spreads (and discount rates) and how do they evolve over time?
Are infrastructure project finance spreads and infrastructure corporate spreads driven by common factors?

We show that common risk factors partly explain both infrastructure and corporate debt spreads. However, the pricing of these factors differs, sometimes considerably, between the two types of private debt instruments.

We also find that private infrastructure debt has been `fairly’ priced even after the 2008 credit crisis. That is because spread levels are well-explained by the evolution of systematic risk factor premia and, taking these into account, current spreads are only about 29bps above their pre-2008 level. In other words, taking into account the level of risk (factor loadings) in the investible universe and the price of risk (risk factor premia) over the past 20 years, we only find a small increase in the average level of credit spreads, whereas absolute spread levels are twice as high today as they were before 2008.

EDHEC Research Insights

In new research from the EDHEC Infrastructure Institute (EDHECinfra), supported by the Long-Term Infrastructure Investors’ Association (LTIIA) as part of the EDHEC/LTIIA research chair on Infrastructure Equity Benchmarking, we show that systematic risk factors can largely explain the evolution of average prices but also that valuations have shifted to a higher level.

We show that unlisted infrastructure equity prices do not exist in a vacuum but are driven by factors that can be found across asset classes.

Additional research from EDHECinfra, supported by Natixis as part of the EDHEC/Natixis research chair on Infrastructure Debt Benchmarking, examines the drivers and evolution of credit spreads in private infrastructure debt. We show that common risk factors partly explain both infrastructure and corporate debt spreads.

However, the pricing of these factors differs, sometimes considerably, between the two types of private debt instruments.

ESG Reporting and Financial Performance: the Case of Infrastructure

This paper represents the first attempt at studying the relationship between the Economic, Social and Governance (ESG) and the financial characteristics of infrastructure companies.

The relationship between the impact of certain companies’ activities on their social and natural environment on the one hand, and their ability to deliver a certain level of financial performance on the other, is now a central question in the debate around responsible investment, especially when investors represent large constituencies of pension plan members, whether they belong to collective or individual schemes.

Unfortunately, such claims about the links between impact and returns in infrastructure are hard to substantiate. They are not verifiable, let alone falsifiable, in the current state of available data, because data on the actual impact of individual infrastructure companies on their immediate or distant social and environmental milieu simply does not exist today.

In this paper, as a first attempt to address this topic, we investigate the role of ESG reporting in relation to the financial performance of infrastructure companies. Indeed, data on ESG reporting is available and there is ground in the academic literature for arguing that the tendency to report ESG practices and the quality of this reporting are related to actual sustainable outcomes.

This paper is made possible by cross-referencing two unique databases covering the behaviour of infrastructure firms: the ESG scores computed by GRESB Infrastructure since 2016, and the financial metrics corresponding to the EDHECinfra universe.

Which Factors Explain Unlisted Infrastructure Asset Prices?

This paper drawn from the EDHECinfra /LTIIA Research Chair shows that common risk factors found in numerous asset classes explain the evolution of unlisted infrastructure secondary market prices. It also shows that after a long period of prices increases, “peak infra” may already be behind us.
Private infrastructure is an illiquid market and assets do not trade often. As a result, observable transaction prices are limited and are not representative of the investible market.
The paper uses actual transaction prices and advanced statistical techniques to estimate unbiased factor effects and apply these to a much larger group of companies (the EDHECinfra universe) which is built to be representative of the investable market.
Six factors are found to 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).

Unlisted Infrastructure Asset Pricing Methodology – A modern approach to measuring fair value in illiquid assets

EDHECinfra produces calculated indices (as opposed to contributed indices), the computation of which requires estimating the value of individual constituents: unlisted infrastructure equity or debt investments qualifying under the TICCS taxonomy.

This document describes the approach taken to estimate the value, performance, and risk of each individual index constituent.

This approach aims to follow a number of recognisable guidelines on “fair value” accounting as defined under IFRS 13 and ASC topic 820 (US GAAP).

Research for Institutional Money Management – Fall 2018

Investors hit a roadblock when investing in infrastructure. Until now none of the metrics needed by investors were documented in a robust manner, if at all, for privately held infrastructure equity or debt. This has left investors frustrated and wary. In a recent EDHECinfra/Global Infrastructure Hub Survey of major asset owners, more than half declared that they did not trust the valuations reported by infrastructure asset managers.
How, under such conditions, can the vast increases in long-term investment in infrastructure by institutional players take place? We need transparency and accurate performance measures.

This is the year of the Argentinian presidency of the G20 and it has been marked by a focus on infrastructure investment. With the support of the G20, the Singapore government, The Long-Term Infrastructure Investors Association, the Long-Term Investment Club and numerous private sector supporters, including Natixis, EDHECinfra has now built the largest database of infrastructure investment data in the world. With this we can now bring transparency and accurate performance measures to the infrastructure sector.

Using this data EDHECinfra has created performance benchmarks that are needed for asset allocation, prudential regulation and the design of infrastructure investment solutions. These first of a kind benchmarks provide investment metrics that are needed by investors; return, volatility, Sharpe ratio, duration, and maximum drawdown.
In 2019, this database will reach global coverage and a global index for private infrastructure debt and equity tracking 1000 firms can be published.

We started our journey to build benchmarks for infrastructure investors in Europe, the oldest and largest investible market for infrastructure in the world. We analysed the European market and selected the 14 major markets for infrastructure. We studied the size, age and evolution of the infrastructure industry in each of those countries, and painstakingly identified all investible infrastructure assets.

infraMetrics® by EDHECinfra

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