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Governments ‘plug funding gap’ in major projects

Some workers have their lunch in one of the subway tunnels of the new train line 12 that is under construction and could be open to the public use this year with 20 stations in Mexico city.
Susana Gonzalez | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Some workers have their lunch in one of the subway tunnels of the new train line 12 that is under construction and could be open to the public use this year with 20 stations in Mexico city.

As banks struggle to rebuild their balance sheets after the damage wrought by the financial crisis, emerging economies are relying heavily on governments to finance major infrastructure projects, according to a new report.

In the Middle East and Asia-Pacific in particular, government-backed institutions often lent more than commercial banks on major projects, global law firm Baker & McKenzie said Friday.

Its report, called "Power Shift," found that these institutions – known as export credit agencies (ECAs) and development finance institutions (DFIs) – had seen "exponential growth" since the start of the financial crisis is 2008.

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Examples of ECAs include the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the Export-Import Bank of Korea. While the European Investment Bank, the Bank of China and the State Bank of India are all DFIs.

Across the world, lending from these agencies had increased threefold over the last five years, the report said, from less than $10 billion a year in 2009 to more than $30 billion in 2013.

They served to plug a funding gap created as commercial banks struggled to shake off the consequences of the global financial crisis, Calvin Walker, global head of project finance at Baker & McKenzie, said.

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Banks across the world were hard hit by the crisis, after taking on too much debt which turned toxic when borrowers struggled with their repayments. Banks have since been working to shore up their balance sheets, leading to a significant reduction in the amount lent to businesses and individuals.

To fill this investment gap, lending by government-backed agencies has grown – and was especially prevalent in some emerging markets where they provided the only project finance available. Currently in Indonesia, for instance, nine out of 10 projects have ECA or multilateral (from the World Bank, for example) support, according to the report.

While across the Asia-Pacific region as a whole in the first half of 2013, commercial lenders loaned $11.2 billion, while ECAs and DFIs together lent $16.2 billion. In the Middle East over the same period, a total of $4.9 billion was loaned by commercial lenders, compared to $10.3 million from both ECAs and DFIs.

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"The presence of ECAs and DFIs on deals not only provides an essential source of funding, but they also bring valuable comfort to commercial banks, allowing them to make the longer tenor loans that are essential for large scale energy and infrastructure projects," Baker & McKenzie's Walker said in a statement.

"The ECAs and DFIs have filled the funding gap during the financial crisis (whilst commercial banks rebuilt their balance sheets) and now the new market is more collaborative and more open to new sources of funding, including project bonds under a capital markets structure."

Commercial banks have recovered strongly in the past year, the report said, but stressed that ECAs and DFIs have retained a "strong grip" on deals.

Since 2008, JBIC is the ECA that has been involved in the most investments, investing $35.9 billion across 56 deals. While the European Investment Bank topped the league table of DFI investments over the same period; it was part of 114 transactions with a total value of $26.6 billion.

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