To keep up with globalisation and regional economic integration, while meeting the needs stemming from urbanisation and other socio-economic developments, countries all over the world are implementing a variety of infrastructure construction projects. They hope these projects will make their transportation, freight forwarding and logistics services more efficient, and improve services like energy supply, telecommunications and environmental facilities. According to the latest estimates made by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), on average about US$6.9 trillion is needed to invest annually in infrastructure projects around the globe between 2016 and 2030 to support sustainable economic development. A report compiled by the Asian Development Bank says that an annual average of about US$1.7 trillion would be needed to invest in infrastructure during the same period in developing Asian countries alone, in order to satisfy the region’s huge demand for infrastructural facilities including transportation. The past few years have seen a marked increase in mainland Chinese enterprises investing in or subcontracting overseas infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative. This increase is bound to fuel a rise in demand for related professional services from mainland enterprises, generating opportunities for Hong Kong service providers.
Financial Planning for Infrastructure Projects
China is not only among the world’s leading destinations for foreign direct investment (FDI), it is also its second largest source of outward direct investment (ODI). In 2016, the value of China’s ODI (US$196.1 billion) exceeded that of its inward FDI (US$134 billion). It also did so in 2015, making the country a net capital exporter for two consecutive years. At the same time, the focus of China’s investment activities overseas has been gradually shifting from energy and natural resources to a diverse mix of sectors. According to figures released by the Ministry of Commerce, as at the end of 2016, the sectors which had received more than US$10 billion of ODI from China included leasing and commercial services, finance, wholesale and retail, mining, manufacturing, and information transmission/technology services, as well as infrastructure or related industries such as real estate, transportation/warehousing and postal services, construction industry, and power/heat/gas/water generation and supply. In recent years, China’s outward investment has also become more concerned with the merger and acquisition (M&A) of infrastructure projects. One example of this is the amount of investment in M&A projects involving transportation and power/heat generation and supply, which reached US$25 billion in 2016, about 19% of China’s total ODI in M&A that year.
In an interview, Patrick W Yip, National M&A Leader and Partner (Tax & Business Advisory Services) of Deloitte China said: “Like [investment in] industries such as manufacturing or retail, investment in infrastructure projects overseas, including expressways, bridges, railways and power plants, also requires professional services such as financial, legal and accounting services, in order to ensure the sustainable development of these investment projects. However, the nature of investment in infrastructure projects is different to that in general projects, and the scope of the services required is also different. For instance, when mainland enterprises invest in M&A of technological projects overseas, the return on investment and depreciation period of the technology and equipment concerned will probably take about three years or so, whereas investment in infrastructure can easily take five or 10 years and the payback period often takes decades or more. In light of this, long-term development plans are required. The planning not only involves macro factors such as forecasts about the medium- to long-term economic and industrial growth of the country and region concerned, but also takes into consideration changes in urban development or the changing demand of facilities users as time goes by, as well as other external factors. Hence, contingency plans or measures must be formulated in the initial stage of the infrastructure investment plan in order to cope with changing environment and raise the flexibility of the investment.”
“Also, while currently most mainland enterprises are not short of capital sources, in light of the longer investment period and more uncertainty factors, the enterprises concerned would need to formulate the right financial solutions. For instance, they can take advantage of the Hong Kong service platform to bring a number of investors together in a consortium to participate in the investment projects, while utilising different channels to arrange for appropriate financing methods or syndicated loans in a bid to alleviate investment risks by increasing the number of stakeholders.”
Using Effective Networks to Conduct Due Diligence
Encouraged by the Belt and Road Initiative, mainland enterprises are increasing direct investment activities in countries along the Belt and Road. Investment in infrastructure, including roads, marine transport, aviation, energy, and communication projects, has become one of the key areas for mainland enterprises exploring Belt and Road opportunities.
However, Yip warned: “It is more important for mainland enterprises investing in infrastructure and other facilities along the Belt and Road to conduct effective due diligence, than it is when investing in developed economies. In some of the Belt and Road countries which are not popular FDI destinations, the legal systems and commercial regulations are far from advanced and their foreign investment policies may change as time goes by or with a change of government, which will directly increase the risks for investors. In fact, infrastructure projects may bring about far-reaching impacts on the economic and social development of the investment destination. Some projects may also involve land acquisition, environmental planning and environmental protection which could affect a great number of stakeholders. All these elements would have an impact on the feasibility or future development of the projects.”
“In view of this, mainland investors are in dire need of effective professional services in conducting due diligence in the initial stage of their investment plan, to identify various factors that may affect the project and thus exercise effective risk control. Hong Kong industry players, who have rich international experience and extensive international networks, can act as the service leaders to support mainland investors’ infrastructure projects overseas, co-ordinating service teams in different regions to collect the necessary information and make assessments. This, coupled with the comprehensive range of professional services available in Hong Kong, gives them an edge in carrying out effective due diligence on Belt and Road projects for clients.”
Deloitte is one of the world’s Big Four accounting firms. It provides audit and assurance, tax, management consulting, risk and financial advisory and related services for clients around the globe. Deloitte China is a member firm of Deloitte set up in China, with 21 offices across the country and a team of 13,000 professionals. Its offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Chongqing are its four major operating arms. Deloitte China is also a Partner of the Infrastructure Financing Facilitation Office (IFFO) set up under the leadership of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. IFFO aims to pool together major stakeholders to jointly promote infrastructure investment and financing activities under the Belt and Road Initiative.
Note: For details of the company interviews conducted jointly by HKTDC Research and the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce, please refer to other articles in the research series on Shanghai-Hong Kong Co-operation in Capturing Belt and Road Opportunities.
 (1) Including the amount of investment needed to achieve climate-compatible growth; (2) Source: Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth, OECD, 2017
 Source: Meeting Asia’s Infrastructure Needs, Asian Development Bank, 2017
 Source: Statistical Bulletin of China's Outward Foreign Direct Investment 2016
 Representatives of HKTDC Research and Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce jointly conducted an interview with Deloitte China in the fourth quarter of 2017.