Infrastructure as an asset class can provide a distinct addition to African pension and investment portfolios and is increasingly being considered.
In principle, the asset class presents a compelling natural “fit” to the longer-term liability profile of most pension funds given the investment horizon of most infrastructure investments, with the primary appeal of this asset class being the potential to deliver a predictable cashflow stream over time.
The World Bank places an approximate US$93bn a year into infrastructure on the continent, a third of which is for maintenance of existing infrastructure, while its Infrastructure Action Plan FY 2012-2015 proffers important guidance as to what African institutional investors can factor into their considerations in terms of defining infrastructure, and in-turn, identifying strategic benefits in allocating to this asset class. It further identifies three important themes to which African institutional investors can draw upon:
1. Ripple effects such as an ICT application that generates data on sector performance with spill over effects in sector accountability and governance, a regional power project that has ripple effects beyond the host country, or a rural infrastructure package that boosts agricultural productivity with ripple effects on rural income and development;
2. Bottlenecks, which are investments that unlock the volume, cost, and quality of economic activity such as a law on competition that opens up the potential of private sector investments, or a source of clean water, for example, that provides for women to participate in economic activity, and;
3. Missing links, which are infrastructure investments that interconnect two markets/areas such as a bridge within a region or a cross-border power interconnector, international road corridors, or fibre-optic links in a region, to name a few examples.
Salient features of this asset class would be investments that have attributes of inelastic demand, economy of scale and a long useful life. A typical example of an infrastructure investment with such attributes is a toll-road concession.