Four years ago, private equity was giddy over the prospect of a massive federal infrastructure bill. Then, "Infrastructure Week" became a punchline.
Why it matters: Infrastructure is again on the table, expected to be President Biden's top legislative priority once the stimulus is signed.
- Private equity infrastructure execs are "cautiously optimistic" this time around, repeating their 2016 thesis about the nonpartisan nature of bridges, roads and airports.
Yes, but: Will a Biden infrastructure plan lean heavily on public-private partnerships (P3), which had been expected to be a major feature of Trump’s stillborn effort?
- Including P3’s could help get more GOP buy-in, but also could erode some Democrat support. One piece of the calculus may be if Biden chooses to pursue infrastructure via reconciliation (currently, it appears he will).
- "I think they should include P3’s for the multiplier effect, like the Australian model, but if it’s just federal manna to the states, some of that will crowd out private investment," explains the head of a large U.S. infrastructure fund.
- The new stimulus package includes billions in state and local aid, aimed primarily at filling revenue shortfalls. Some of that could be used for infrastructure projects, although private equity investors expect that to be mostly about small public works efforts that were planned pre-pandemic.
The state of play: Private equity firms have raised more than $200 billion for infrastructure funds over the past two years, much of which is earmarked for the U.S.
Between the lines: Last month's Texas power problems are a wildcard.
- "I think that Texas may help both parties realize that there needs to be an investment in power resilience and energy infrastructure," another private equity infrastructure investor says. "It doesn't matter if they call it 'energy transition' or not, so long as they get to the same place."
The bottom line: Everyone supports at least the idea of a major infrastructure bill, and private equity is at the ready to participate. Again.