Main characteristics of project finance
Project finance is a form of long term financing of infrastructure and industrial projects based upon the projected cash flows of the project rather than the balance sheets of the project sponsors. In most cases, a project financing structure involves a number of equity investors, the sponsors, as well as a group of banks or other lending institutions that provide loans to the operation. The loans are usually non-recourse loans, which are secured by the project assets and paid entirely from project cash flow, rather than from the general assets or creditworthiness of the project sponsors. The financing is typically secured by all of the project assets, including the revenue-producing contracts. Project lenders are given a lien on all of these assets, and are able to assume control of a project if the project company has difficulties complying with the loan terms. Project finance has a long history behind it. Limited recourse lending was used to finance maritime voyages in ancient Greece and Rome. Its use in infrastructure projects dates to the development of the Panama Canal, and was widespread in the US oil and gas industry during the early 20th century. But it was the development of the North Sea oil fields in the 1970s and 1980s that really gave a boost to high-risk infrastructure schemes . For such investments, newly Special Purpose Corporations/Vehicles (SPCs) or (SPVs) were created for each project, with multiple owners and complex schemes distributing insurance, loans, management, and project operations. Such projects were previously accomplished through utility or government bond issuances, or other traditional corporate finance structures. In the developing world this form of financing peaked around the time of the Asian financial crisis, but the subsequent downturn in industrializing countries was offset by growth in the OECD countries, causing worldwide project financing to peak around 2000. The need for project financing remains high throughout the world as more countries require increasing supplies of public utilities and infrastructure. In recent years, project finance schemes have become increasingly common in the Middle East, some incorporating Islamic finance. The new project finance structures emerged primarily in response to the opportunity presented by long term power purchase contracts available from utilities and government entities. These long term revenue streams were required by rules implementing PURPA, the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978. Originally envisioned as an energy initiative designed to encourage domestic renewable resources and conservation, the Act and the industry it created led to further deregulation of electric generation and, significantly, international privatization following amendments to the Public Utilities Holding Company Act in 1994. The structure has evolved and forms the basis for energy and other projects throughout the world. In general, a special purpose entity is created for each project, thereby shielding other assets owned by a project sponsor from the detrimental effects of a project failure. As a special purpose entity, the project company has no assets other than the project. Capital contribution commitments by the owners of the project company are sometimes necessary to ensure that the project is financially sound, or to assure the lenders of the sponsors' commitment. All the above make project finance more complicated than alternative financing methods and in many cases more expensive. Traditionally, project financing has been most commonly used in the extractive (mining), transportation, telecommunications and energy industries. More recently, particularly in Europe, project financing principles have been applied to other types of public infrastructure under public–private partnerships (PPP) or, in the UK, Private Finance Initiative (PFI) transactions (e.g., school facilities, prisons, municipality...
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