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The Infrastructure Finance Challenge

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Ingo Walter

Executive Summary

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1Infrastructure and its effects on economic growth, social welfare, and sustainability receive a great deal of attention today. There is widespread agreement that infrastructure is a key dimension of global development and that its impact reaches deep into the broader economy, with important and complex implications for social progress.

2There is equally broad agreement that infrastructure’s dynamics are often hard to gauge. The external costs and benefits of infrastructure projects often differ materially from their internal costs and benefits. There are usually winners and losers, so in the political arena debates on infrastructure tend to be amplified. Consequently, infrastructure is a rich field for the kind of inquiry needed to craft sensible business strategies and public policies. They begin with the basics:

  • Just what is “infrastructure”, and where do its boundaries lie?
  • How should infrastructure services be priced when they generate significant public goods whose benefits are hard to allocate?
  • How should adverse effects of infrastructure projects be incorporated into their cost structures, to be passed forward to end-users and backward to investors?
  • On the spectrum between private and public ownership, where should individual infrastructure projects fall? What is the appropriate role for public-private partnerships, purpose-specific infrastructure authorities, and build-operate-transfer models?
  • What kinds of regulatory arrangements covering infrastructure projects are appropriate given widely differing political and economic circumstances?
  • How should infrastructure development be financed, either on or off the public accounts of governments or private-sector sponsors? Where in the global pool of investable financial assets can infrastructure debt and equity best be placed?

3This study focuses on the last of these issues — infrastructure finance. The scale of infrastructure investment needed in both developed and developing countries parallels the need for investable assets to create efficient portfolios in pension funds and other long-term managed asset pools. So a sustainable global equilibrium based on returns, costs, and risks can generate dramatic shared gains.

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