Crisis bites deep into Russian infrastructure programme

By bne IntelliNews June 5, 2009

Jason Corcoran in Moscow -

Russia's Stalinist-like trillion-dollar infrastructure programme to revamp its crumbing roads, bridges, ports and airports over 10 years has been shaken by the global financial crisis. Many infrastructure projects have been postponed or cancelled due to the lack of available finance from domestic and international capital markets. And the Kremlin's much touted public-private partnership (PPP) programme to stimulate investment has yet to take off, while bankers hired to capitalise on an anticipated deal-making boom have been twiddling their thumbs for the past six months.

Senior financiers held a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov at the start of the financial crisis in November last year and were told that the infrastructure programme for 2009 was being cut by 30%. The 2009 budget for infrastructure is believed to have been slashed again by a similar amount following the ruble's devaluation and dwindling federal revenues from lower commodity prices.

The government is now targeting selective projects in St Petersburg, Moscow and the Winter Olympic venue of Sochi as priorities for completion until the investment climate for foreign and private capital improves. Joerg Bongartz, chairman of the board of Deutsche Bank Russia, said the government was stepping in to meet the shortfall in showcase projects. "In Russia, there has been a reality check on infrastructure spending since the start of the crisis," Bongartz tells bne in an interview. "A significant amount of foreign capital was expected to be made available for a number of large infrastructure projects structured as public-private partnerships, but it appears now that if the government wants these projects to materialise, a larger share of the funding and the coverage of particularly the foreign exchange rate risk will need to come from the budget and government funds."

Bongartz said Deutsche Bank is still hoping to get involved in infrastructure via its corporate finance specialist team, its infrastructure and property management unit Rreef and DB Partners, and its joint venture with the Austrian construction firm Strabag.

Planes, trains and automobiles

The St Petersburg municipal government has said it will delay $13bn of infrastructure projects, which had attracted bids from international companies including Alstom, Siemens and Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element, due to the credit crisis deterring most private investors. Projects facing prolonged delays include the $10bn highway, known as the Western High-Speed Diameter (WHSD), the Orlov tunnel under the Neva River and a planned $1bn upgrade of Pulkovo airport. The Orlov tunnel and a fast-speed train link to the airport are likely to be postponed indefinitely.

The WHSD roadway encircling St Petersburg was meant to be the pioneering large PPP project in Russia, but the winning consortium formed by oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Strabag hasn't yet signed the concession contract governing the project. St Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko said in April that some of the major projects of the city's road infrastructure would be built at the expense of the federal budget after private investors pulled out. The federal government is to allocate $617m for the construction of the WHSD roadway provided the city authorities keep their word to invest $198m.

A decision on the winning consortium for Pulkovo airport has been pushed back to June 25. The municipal government on May 21 whittled down the list of bidders to upgrade Pulkovo airport to three - Deripaska's Basic Element, Flughafen Wien in partnership with Leader, an investment house founded by Gazprom structures, and German Fraport in tandem with state bank VTB. Those that didn't make it on to the shortlist include Macquarie Renaissance, a joint venture formed by the investment banks Macquarie and Renaissance Capital to invest in Russian and CIS infrastructure; Germany's Hochtief in partnership with oil and mining tycoon Viktor Vekselberg; India's GMR; and Turkish TAV Airports.

A spokesman for Renaissance Capital in Moscow declined to comment on "specific transactions," but said the alliance sees the number and quality of potential deals increasing as industrial groups look to exit non-core investments, including infrastructure assets. Macquarie Renaissance's first fund raised half of its $1.5bn target last year. Most of the funds raised came from Russian and CIS multinational development agencies such as Vnesheconombank (VEB), the Kazakhstan State Development Bank and the Eurasian Development Bank.

VEB, which is the government agency responsible for infrastructure spending, has declined repeated requests for an interview. However, VEB's chairman, Vladimir Dmitiev, recently claimed on the VEB website that international agencies such as the International Finance Corporation and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) had expressed an interest in participating in the Macquarie Renaissance fund. Dmitriev said the fund's resources will soon be used for implementing infrastructure projects in CIS countries and more credit will be made available by VEB, the Kazakhstan State Development Bank and the Eurasian Development Bank.

"And we are absolutely sure that as soon as the [the Macquarie Renaissance Fund] starts operating, we'll get a number of private and institutional investors to participate in it, including ones from the Middle East," Dmitriev said in a statement on the VEB website.

Renaissance said fund raising continues to progress, and is making solid progress, but declined to give any specifics. The Russian investment bank, insists that private investment still has a role to play in priority projects alongside government funding. "The process of private investment alongside the government will be evolutionary," explains the Renaissance spokesman. "Macquarie Renaissance Investment Fund, for example, is the first dedicated infrastructure fund to be focused on Russia and the CIS. As in other markets, investor interest will follow as the opportunities to invest ramp up."

One location where investors can be certain that most planned projects will be undertaken is Sochi, the Black Sea resort which will host the Winter Olympics in 2014. "Sochi is one of the priority areas for the government because of the reputational issue attached to hosting the Olympics," says Deutsche's Bongartz. "This has to be successful and there has to be a clear timeline for projects as the date is fixed. There still remains a great deal of interest from abroad from companies keen to get involved in services and construction."

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