US Economy

Infrastructure fixes in the US not happening 'anytime soon,' says former US ambassador to ADB

Trump's infrastructure deal

Cue the trucks and trenchers, bulldozers and backhoes: President Donald Trump says he's thinking about "accelerating" his $1 trillion, 10-year infrastructure plan. Cue, too, the hip hip hooray in the markets.

Trump told the New York Times he's considering tying the plan to legislation on either health care revisions or tax reform to bridge the growing partisan divide in Washington, D.C.

"Infrastructure is so popular with the Democrats and pretty popular with the Republicans," he said in the interview. "A lot of Republicans want infrastructure, too."

But don't fire up the jackhammers just yet, according to a former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank.

"It's not going to be anytime soon," said Curtis Chin, a Milken Institute Asia fellow and trustee of World Education Services of New York. "Even if a piece of legislation passes, think about how long it takes to place something out in terms of individual projects."

Trump's timeline

Trump, though, has said he's determined to move fast on a range of fix-ups, from roads and bridges to electrical grids, water systems, and airports, some of which he likens to "a horror show."

"If you have a job that can't start within 90 days, we're not going to give you money for it," he told business executives at a town hall on Tuesday.

Even though Chin noted infrastructure changes in the U.S. can't happen soon enough, he argued it's not just about securing financing and building things.

"When you do an energy project or a road project, the reality is that you kind of come up with what we call a bankable project, which means how it's not only going to be built, but how it's also going to be maintained," he said. "My hope is that this infrastructure bill gets passed, and it will be a realistic bill, that it won't burden future governments, future taxpayers with all the obligations of financing things, continuing things that they didn't think through first."

The investment question

Investors and traders tell CNBC they're already adjusting their portfolios now that Trump has said he wants to go pedal-to-the-metal on infrastructure. Hilary Kramer, chief investment officer at A&G Capital Research, said she'll be looking at engineering, construction, and utility plays, but also other possible standouts.

"The big opportunity are companies like , a defense company, but that's very strong in communications, aerospace, and we're going into the next generation of air traffic control, they'll be satellite based," she said. "You also want to own a company like , which ironically is a Swiss company, but one of the finest large project energy companies that is very up to speed on technology and communications through IT and software demand response."

Kramer, who doesn't own stock in either company, also picked up on Trump's call to make some of the infrastructure projects public-private partnerships.

"Certainly if you have privatization that means the banks are going to benefit. They're going to be integral in terms of the financing if indeed it's a privatization with public partnership."

Chin agreed that the PPP route is the right way to go for Trump's infrastructure push, which he called good news for America.

"In my life on the board of directors at the ADB, it was always about public-private partnerships because the reality is that government alone cannot finance everything," he noted. "I think that's something that Donald Trump as a businessman knows and really America knows, too."