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World’s Top Infrastructure Manager Eyes India Oil, Gas Pipeline Assets

Dhwani Pandya and Baiju Kalesh

(Bloomberg) -- The global slump in oil prices amid the coronavirus outbreak will push Indian state-owned firms to sell some assets, according to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets, and the world’s biggest infrastructure investor is already in line.

“There is a fair bit of opportunity for the government to divest non-core oil and gas assets, like oil storage facilities, pipelines, transmission facilities,” Suresh Goyal who heads MIRA in India and Southeast Asia, said in a March interview. “With our investment platforms, local teams, we are well placed on capitalizing this opportunity.”

While he declined to share investment projections, MIRA raised about $61 billion in capital globally last year -- the highest in the world based on data from Infrastructure Investor --and has poured $2.5 billion into India over the past decade. Attracting foreign investment is crucial to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of spending $1.5 trillion on new roads, rail links and other infrastructure over the next five years as public finances deteriorate.

READ: Andy Mukherjee’s column on how India can generate funds for its infrastructure investments

Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management last year acquired Reliance Industries Ltd.’s East West Pipeline via an infrastructure investment trust for 130 billion rupees ($1.7 billion). The government plans to split GAIL India’s transmission business into a separate entity that it could sell to strategic investors. GAIL owns more than 70% of the country’s 16,800 kms pipeline network.

“India’s energy consumption is likely to grow 60%-70% in the next decade and a half, leading to a significant jump in petroleum products and gas consumption,” said Deepak Mahurkar, leader, India oil and gas industry practice, at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “This is an important story for investors, especially the global private equity firms and infrastructure asset managers.”

MIRA set shop in India in 2009, and so far more than half its investment in the country has gone to the road sector. It is now looking to exit several investments, Goyal said, while declining to share details or returns beyond saying that they were “profitable.”

One concern, however, is how quickly and strongly the economy will recover from the coronavirus-led disruption, Goyal said. Another is banks’ increasing unwillingness to lend to the infrastructure sector. Indian lenders are battling the world’s worst stressed-loan ratio, with much of the soured debt in the infrastructure space. Banks’ lending to the sector, which includes power, roads, telecom, contracted by 1.8% in the first 10 months of the fiscal year ending March 31 compared with 10.8% growth a year earlier.

“The capital that we bring is in the form of equity but it does need the support of local banks for working capital,” Goyal said. “Hopefully measures taken by the government and the central bank will change things.”

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