Mobilizing private investment in infrastructure will be key to increase growth and resilience in developing countries. Well-planned infrastructure can raise potential output growth and help reduce the carbon footprint of progress. Directing excess savings from advanced economies towards emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) helps address the low investment returns of institutional investors in developed economies while supporting achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Infrastructure is a natural match for insurers’ long-term liabilities. Long-term fixed income instruments fit well with the long-dated liabilities of insurance companies, especially for those offering life insurance and annuity products. Infrastructure projects tend to yield long-term, predictable cash flows, with low correlation to other assets and relatively high recovery value in case of repayment arrears. This match is so significant that some regulators provide special treatment for insurers that hold them to maturity. The recent update of Europe’s Solvency II Directive, for instance, provides for a “matching adjustment” that allows insurers to discount their liabilities by the rate of return of infrastructure-linked instruments, which tends to be higher than the market-implied discount rates, thus reducing the present value of these liabilities and the business cost for insurers.
However, insurance companies still allocate less than 2.5 percent of assets under management to infrastructure investment, in part because of insufficient understanding of the risk profile of this asset class. There are many reasons for the low participation of infrastructure, including the limited supply of fully operational infrastructure projects issuing debt. There is also an informational hurdle, with investors’ perception of infrastructure being risky, despite the long tradition of regulated utilities of yielding low-risk cash flows. This perception is also reflected in some regulatory frameworks, which require insurers to allocate sizeable amounts of capital to support investments in long-term debt, especially for unrated transactions, thus reducing the internal rate of return and the profitability of holding these instruments.
More recently, European regulators have acknowledged the particular risk properties of infrastructure, reducing the capital charge on this type of finance. Following the advice of the European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority (EIOPA), which performed a comprehensive analysis of historical data of infrastructure risks in advanced economies, the European Commission in September 2016 revised down the standard formula for capital charges on qualifying infrastructure debt (and equity) investments under the Solvency II Directive. This calibration resulted in a significant relief of infrastructure debt relative to equivalent corporate bonds and loans. However, this more favorable regulatory treatment remains restricted to investments in countries that are members of either the European Economic Area (EEA) or the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). So, infrastructure projects in many EMDEs do not benefit from it.
New empirical analysis of infrastructure debt in EMDEs offers an opportunity to widen the perimeter of a more favorable regulatory treatment. Recently, Moody’s Investor Service published a detailed analysis of the historical credit performance of project finance bank loans, which account for 80 percent of the funding of project finance transactions originated globally since January 1, 1983. The study reviewed data of more than 6,000 projects from a consortium of leading sector lenders (Moody’s Project Loan Data Consortium), of which more than 1,000 are projects in EMDEs.
The study shows that credit performance of project loans in EMDE debt is not substantially different from that of comparable debt in advanced economies. As in advanced economies, the risk profile of project bank loans in EMDEs improves over time. Specifically, the marginal default rate–i.e., the likelihood that an infrastructure loan performing at the start of a specific year will default within that year–exceeds the level for non-investment grade corporate exposures by the time of the financial closing of the project, but it steadily declines as the loans mature, when projects reach “brownfield stage”. Cumulative default rates of infrastructure become flat like those of investment grade instruments, while rates for originally equivalent corporate debt continue to rise throughout their lives (Figure 1). After five years, the marginal default rate of project loans is consistent with that of “AA/Aa”-rated corporates and, actually, on average lower in EMDEs than in advanced economies. For PPPs, the cumulative rate of return over the first 10 years of project loans in EMDEs is virtually the same as those in advanced economies, at less than 6 percent. Also, recovery rates for EMDE project loans average about 80 percent, and, thus, are like those for senior secured corporate bank loans.
Figure 1: Cumulative Default Probability of Unrated Project Loans in Advanced and Developing Economies
Applying the relevant data from the recent Moody’s report to two important solvency regimes for insurers shows sufficient scope for reducing the capital charge for investments in infrastructure debt. World Bank staff in the finance area have recovered the credit risk parameters from the published data on project loans and applied them to the relevant elements of the Solvency II Directive and the International Capital Standard (ICS) for internationally active insurers, which will be implemented by the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS). We apply these data to these solvency regimes, differentiating the properties of infrastructure loans from the standard corporate exposures without adjustments to current regulatory methodologies. Only the intrinsic risk profile of infrastructure debt vis-à-vis the standard risk assumptions on long-term debt was considered. When doing so, we find that the capital charges would decline significantly when these differences in risk are considered. Specifically, for a 10-year risk horizon, the annual expected loss of project finance loans (1.6 percent) is half of the expected losses implied by “Ba/BB”-rated non-financial corporates, and the implied capital charges would decline from 23.5 to 13.3 percent under Solvency II (Table 1). Under ICS, it would drop from 12.7 to 10.7 percent, consistent with the estimated economic capital within the range of 10.5 to 13.8 percent (based on the 99.5 percent conditional tail expectation). Additional analysis of rated EMDE infrastructure debt securities, using data from another Moody’s Investors Service report published earlier in 2017, indicates some flexibility to lower capital charges on these instruments under Solvency II. For instance, the charge for “Baa/BBB”-rated securities, would come down from 20 percent to about 16 percent.
Table 1: Credit Risk and Estimated Capital Charges for Unrated Project Loans (using standard risk parameters and differentiated infrastructure risk profile) *
Even a modest reduction in capital requirements for long-term infrastructure investments can significantly boost return-on-equity (RoE) under a prudent but differentiated regulatory treatment. For instance, considering a stylizing illustration for a European regulated insurer holding a 10-year infrastructure loan yielding 4.6 percent annually (less the insurer’s borrowing cost of 1.0 percent and an income tax rate of 35 percent), reducing the capital charge of 23.5 percent (under the current standard formula approach applied to corporate exposures) to about 14 percent (under a differentiated approach) would raise the RoE of investing in such an instrument from 10 percent to more than 17 percent. The latter figure is more than 50 percent above the average RoE of European life insurers in 2016.
Figure 2. Return on Equity of Infrastructure Debt Investment as a Function of Regulatory Capital Charges
Lower capital charges can help maximize finance for development, unlocking an important source of long-term capital for global growth. Although regulatory disincentives for infrastructure investment in EMDEs may be just one of the impediments to growing exposure to this asset class, the evolution of these regulations can be an important step forward. By helping to increase the rate of return of holding infrastructure-linked instruments potentially by up to 50 percent, it may help insurers and other institutional investors to accelerate the rebalancing of their assets in ways that will help crowd-in resources in quality climate-smart infrastructure projects in EMDEs. These projects are an important part of strategies to increase the resilience of these economies while helping eliminate extreme poverty and produce shared prosperity.
First published in World Bank
Note: The capital charges computed here were reached by using the implied transition probabilities for infrastructure loans and (i) mapping the current reduction factors for qualifying (unrated) infrastructure investment for EEA/OECD countries under the Solvency II SCR Standard Formula — Spread Risk Sub-Module to the expected loss of project loans in EMDEs and (ii) calibrating expected loss to the credit risk stress factor for ICS (IAIS, 2017) following the advanced internal ratings-based approach according to the finalized Basel III framework. For details, refer to Jobst, Andreas A., forthcoming, “Credit Risk Dynamics of Infrastructure Investment—Considerations for Insurance Regulation,” Working Paper (Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group).
Gender equality cannot wait in Asia and the Pacific
Equal rights have been demanded and promised for generations, but last year a shift occurred in the women’s movement. Across Asia and the Pacific and around the world, women demonstrated to condemn a status quo which continues to deprive too many women and girls of respect and equal opportunity. This is a momentum we must maintain to achieve gender equality in Asia and the Pacific, an ambition which lies at the heart of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Education is key. It remains the passport to better jobs, higher incomes and improved life chances. Progress in our region has been made and rightly celebrated, but equal numbers of boys and girls enrolled in education belies high dropout rates and lower attendance and attainment levels for girls. This is particularly acute in rural areas, where in many countries only very few girls from poor households complete secondary education. Improving health care coverage, particularly sexual and reproductive health, is another imperative. Again, women living in rural and remote areas are particularly disadvantaged, contributing to high maternal mortality rates in parts of Asia and the Pacific and teenage pregnancies with enduring societal consequences.
This inequality of opportunity contributes to placing women at a considerable disadvantage in the labour market. Over the past thirty years, female labour market participation has declined in Asia and the Pacific, where only half of all women are economically active. This is in part because women are relied on to give up to six hours of unpaid care work a day, stifling careers and ambitions and undermining equal political representation. Corporate leadership positions remain the preserve of men. Today, for every ten men in work in the Asia-Pacific region there are only six women, the majority of whom are trapped in precarious, informal employment, characterised by low wages and hazardous working conditions.
With such considerable barriers remaining to gender equality, the United Nations Economic Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific is supporting a bold coordinated response, which must include gender responsive budgeting. This approach ensures the different needs of women and men are part of budgetary decisions for the public expenditure which underpins the design of government programmes and activities. This is particularly important in shaping the provision of social protection, education and health care and the design of infrastructure. By placing a greater focus on women’s needs, gender responsive budgeting has been shown to make a major contribution to reducing the burden of unpaid work and enhancing women’s opportunities for leadership in the workplace and in political and public life.
Gender responsive budgeting could also be used to create a more supportive environment for women entrepreneurs who are proven catalysts for change and a reliable means of increasing women’s share of the workforce. Women employ other women, who in turn, are known to spend more on their families, helping give children a healthy diet, a solid education and reliable health care. As potential GDP gains from gender equality in work and society are enormous in our region, up to eighteen percent in parts of South Asia, this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
Yet this entrepreneurial potential is currently frustrated by a lack of access to finance and ICT tools for business development. Seventy percent of women-owned micro, small and medium enterprises are underserved by financial institutions in developing countries. Women-owned enterprises are consistently smaller and concentrated in less profitable sectors. Innovative technology could be deployed to reduce gender barriers and promote digital inclusion. This requires support for businesswomen to mainstream ICT across business operations, make their financial management more robust and their outlook more responsive to new technologies.
Put simply, women’s empowerment requires action on all fronts. It begins with equal opportunity to education and health care services, delivered through targeted investments, better attuned to women’s needs. Supporting women entrepreneurs with better access to finance and ICT can then keep women in work, enabling their businesses to innovate, remain competitive and expand. These businesses are essential incubators for future generations of women’s leaders, but will also contribute to a more gender equal environment today. Women’s empowerment cannot wait in Asia and the Pacific.
Radical Markets- Workable Ideas
We are living in a very interesting age. Call it a phase. A phase; where long cherished ideas of globalization is coming under threat, where Xenophobic attitudes are taking hold, where the right-wing has gained a lot of wind under them and seems ready to fly. Trump’s election, Brexit and anti-immigrant hysteria, all point towards a disturbing trend which looks as if gaining popularity and acceptance. In such a phase the ideas and concepts, utterly novel in their nature and perfectly workable if implemented, presented in the book Radical Markets gives us a hope.
Let’s start with the monopoly problem of property. Private ownership of a property while have certain advantage still cause many problems. For instance, the example, that any single person can sabotage a project if he decides to value his property at exorbitant prices after knowing it comes under a government project, for instance Hyperloop, is very common. Commenting on the “allocative” and “investment” efficiencies of a property the writers present an elaborative system to optimize both of the above mentioned functions. Surprisingly abbreviating into a very apt name, COST, the Common Ownership Self-assessed Tax, provides us with an alternative to the normal, usual taxation system. Moreover, possessing a self-regulating mechanism COST assures that the person uses the property for the best purpose. Avoiding the intricate details here, one can consider it as a system where-in one’s property would be listed on a national/international database with its price along with the option of anyone able to buy it at a click. If the property is very important for a person he might keep the price at such a level so that nobody can easily buy it however, at the same time he will be paying a handsome amount of tax on the declared value (a detailed description regarding the basis of the taxation is given in the book) which should bring in the most optimal level of pricing. Too much of a price and he ends up paying a lot of tax, too little and someone else might get it.
Not only this but the above concept can also be applied to personal skills such as for doctors, engineers and others.
Other ideas include Visa for Individual Program (VIP) which might prove to be very useful to curb xenophobic attitudes. The proposal includes setting up such a system where-in an individual, for example from U.S., invites a computer scientist here in Pakistan, and vouchsafe for these immigrant while he works at the company that the person in U.S. was able to find and share his salary with this man. Such a win-win situation might help to address many questions and grievances of people from both side of the world.
One of my most favorite and a truly radical idea is that of Quadratic Voting. Democracy, of-late, is under threat all over the world. Populism is gaining momentum and rabble-rousers are seizing the opportunities. One of the major reasons is that somehow, at some point, like globalization, democracy has failed to deliver. Problems like “majoritarian cycling” make matters worse. At times, majority can trespass on the rights of minorities. To quote the example from the book let’s suppose there is a society that has a certain plant due to which the utility bills have reduced. However, there are some in that society who due to certain health problems suffer due to that very plant. In case of a traditional voting process i.e. 1 person, 1 vote (1p1v) the majority would easily win however, for that particular class of society it is a matter of life and hence immensely significant. Quadratic Voting focuses preference and intensity of preference instead of a for and against approach. In such cases a minority can win over a majority.
To conclude, all of us, especially policy-makers around the world should consider, brainstorm and try to implement these ideas, albeit, at smaller scale, for the sake of experimentation, deducing results, suggesting improvements and omitting errors, if any.
Closing the Loop: Meet the Pioneers Turning our Global Economy Circular
A remarkable transformation is taking place in the global economy, with more and more established and start-up businesses generating value from waste products that otherwise would end up in landfill or our oceans, rivers and lakes. This is the finding from the fifth annual Circulars award, which recognizes businesses, governments and individuals that use innovation and disruptive technologies to reduce waste, emissions and the use of harmful materials.
With the circular economy estimated to represent a potential $4.5 trillion growth opportunity for the global economy, this year’s awards saw an expansion in the scope and scale of successful circular solutions. In total, close to 450 applications were received from over 45 countries, a 50% increase on last year.
“More and more businesses understand that Closing the Loop isn’t just about stewardship of our natural resources, it’s about gaining a competitive edge. Companies that lack a circular strategy risk being left behind in the new economy of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said Terri Toyota, Deputy Head of the Centre for Global Public Goods, World Economic Forum.
The winners received their awards at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. They are:
Award for Circular Economy Multinational: Schneider Electric (France) for integrating circular concepts throughout its business including prolonging product lifespan through leasing and pay-per-use; introducing take-back schemes into the supply chain and using recycled content and recyclable materials in their products; 12% of the firm’s revenues now come from circular activities and, between 2018 and 2020, about 100,000 tonnes of primary resource consumption will be avoided.
Award for Circular Economy SME: Lehigh Technologies (Atlanta, USA) for extracting resources from end-of-life tyres into new tyres and other materials. To date, the company has manufactured more than 500 million new tyres using its circular model.
People’s Choice Award: TriCiclos (Chile) for building and operating South America’s largest network of recycling stations. To date, the company has diverted 33,000 tons of recyclable material from landfills and saved over 140,000 tons of CO2 emissions.
Circular Economy Public Sector: The European Commission for their strategic leadership through the development and implementation of their international circular economy framework, ‘The Circular Economy Action Plan.’ This framework has assisted 24% of all EU SMEs in delivering circular products or services and has guided many Member State national governments to create their own circular economy strategies..
Circular Economy Investor: Impax Asset Management (United Kingdom) for encouraging circular investments by mainstream investors. Impax’s environmental markets classification system was adopted by the FTSE in 2007. Today, it invests around $8 billion in more than 100 listed companies.
Circular Economy Tech Disruptor: Winnow (United Kingdom) for helping the food industry cut waste. Winnow’s smart meters analyse what is put in bins, which in turn helps inform production processes. Winnow cut waste in half in thousands of kitchens globally and saved customers $25 million per year, the equivalent of 18 million meals per year or preventing one meal from going to waste every seven seconds.
Circular Economy Leadership: Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of the Danish Government’s Advisory Board for Circular Economy, for leadership in driving the circular economy in Denmark and beyond including in his role as Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Carlsberg.
In addition to the winners above, shortlisted companies include:
– AB InBev (Belgium): For circular activities including upcycling spent grains into protein-rich drinks and working with customers and suppliers to improve recovery and return of packaging; 43% of the company’s volume is now packaged in returnable glass bottles
– Cambrian Innovation (USA): For its EcoVolt technology, which allows the conversion of waste water from industrial processes into clean water and energy; with nine plants across the US, the company has treated more than 320 million litres of wastewater, recycling almost 95 million litres
– Close the Loop (Australia): For keeping plastic out of landfill; by developing an asphalt additive, the company is able to use soft plastic and used printer toner cartridges to make high-performance road surfaces; every kilometre of road uses the equivalent of 530,000 plastic shopping bags and 12,500 printer cartridges
– DyeCoo Textile Systems (Netherlands): For bringing the circular economy to the textile industry; its CO2-based technology eliminates the use of water and chemicals in the dyeing process; the impact of one dyeing machine eliminates the need for 32 million litres of water and 160,000 kilogrammes of processing chemicals per year
– Enerkem (Canada): For making biofuels and renewable chemicals from waste; the company’s technology allows the carbon in non-recyclable waste to be recycled in five minutes and converted into biofuels and bio-renewable chemicals
– HYLA (USA): For extending the lives of mobile phones and other devices; through its repurposing model, more than 50 million devices have been given a second life, creating $4 billion in value for their owners, keeping 6,500 tons of e-waste from landfills
– Miniwiz (Taiwan, China): For turning consumer waste into high-quality building materials; its “Trashpresso” mobile upcycling plant enables recycling without shipping waste long distances; the company has saved 17 million kilogrammes of CO2 in construction projects alone
– Tianjin Citymine (China): For pioneering the concept of “urban mining” using mobile recycling stations at waste sites to produce a reverse-logistics system of urban waste
“Consumers, employees, stakeholders and policymakers alike expect companies to lead with purpose around sustainability and are holding them accountable. Inaction or idleness can severely harm competitiveness, with a drop in stakeholder trust costing businesses globally $180 billion in potential revenues,” said Peter Lacy, Senior Managing Director, Accenture Strategy. “Moving to a circular economy delivers the disruptive change needed to secure a sustainable future, while enabling businesses to unlock innovation and growth. We are proud to recognize the individuals and organizations that are leading the circular movement, creating a thriving global economy.”
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