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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Invest India selling assets worth $1bn to recycle infrastructure spending

The chief executive says he expects to open sale for first 10 of an expected 75 roads in the coming months

An estimated 1,100 people died in India from elephant or tiger attacks in the three years to May 2017. Anupam Nath / AP
An estimated 1,100 people died in India from elephant or tiger attacks in the three years to May 2017. Anupam Nath / AP

Invest India, an inward investment agency in India, has said that its plans to raise US$1 billion by selling off 10 motorways is the first in a potentially bigger wave of "asset recycling" deals the company is planning, with money from potential investors from the UAE and elsewhere being used to fund new schemes.

Deepak Bagla, the chief executive of Invest India, said the first set of 10 projects “will be out for bidding in the next few months” and that they were the first of “75 high-value road assets” that the country plans to privatise. It expects to bundle packages of motorways assets together offering economies of scale and granting concessions to run them for 30 years.

Christian Zhang, an infrastructure analyst with BMI Research, argues the initiative provides a low-risk option for foreign investors targeting India’s huge market for infrastructure funding than getting involved with greenfield, public-private partnership (PPP) schemes.

He said PPP projects in the country often struggled to make a profit due to construction delays, which then eat into the concession period where investors look to raise enough revenue to turn a profit from the infrastructure they build.

“An earlier analysis by us showed that around two thirds of major infrastructure projects in India, in terms of value, are completed behind schedule. These delays can be attributed to a number of factors including a slow land acquisition process and bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining permits.

“Differences in regulations between states adds to the challenge, especially as highways will likely cross state boundaries along their route,” Mr Zhang added.

India has ambitious plans to fund metros, road projects, ports and airports through PPP schemes, with 94 projects worth 1.5 trillion rupees (Dh83.61bn) approved by the country’s Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee over the past five years.

Shilan Shah, an India economist for London-based Capital Economics, said that until recently the record for delivery of schemes had been patchy.

“A heavy regulatory burden and high levels of corruption meant that many projects were either delayed or inefficiently allocated in the first place,” Mr Shah said.

As a result, he said the idea had been “almost entirely shelved” until prime minister Narendra Modi came into power three years ago and began to improve the general business environment in the country. Capital Economics is forecasting overall GDP growth of 6.3 per cent this year - an increase from 5.7 per cent in 2016.

Mr Bagla argued that the PPP model for roads and motorways has matured, with road tolls now widely accepted across the country. He pointed to a number of multinationals that have invested in the sector, including the Australian asset firm Macquarie, the US-based Brookfield and the Spanish motorways operator Abertis.

"Going forward, we expect double-digit growth to continue in the road freight segment as well as doubling of passenger car market by 2020,” he said, adding that GDP growth and higher industrialisation rates will drive more traffic onto roads, offering stable cashflows for investors.

Moreover, with reports of a potential investment by Abu Dhabi Investment Authority in Hyderabad International Airport, Mr Bagla argues that investors from the UAE are “very well positioned” to be part of India’s growth - especially in areas such as construction, real estate, retail, tourism and aviation.

“India looks forward to utilizing their expertise and jointly developing the next generation technologies and business models across these areas,” he said.

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