A monthly review and outlook of the Global Listed Infrastructure sector.
Market review - as at May 2022
Global Listed Infrastructure held up well against a volatile market backdrop, fuelled by persistent concerns for higher inflation and lower growth.
The best performing infrastructure sector was Energy Midstream (+6%), as a supportive commodity price environment was reflected in strong March quarter earnings numbers. The worst performing infrastructure sector was Railroads (-3%). Concerns about the potential for a US recession later in the year weighed on North American freight rail operators.
The best performing infrastructure regions were Canada (+3%) and the United States (+3%), reflecting strong returns from these regions’ utilities and energy midstream stocks. The worst performing infrastructure region was the United Kingdom (-3%), where fears of a windfall tax on energy profits weighed on utilities with power generation assets.
All stock and sector performance data expressed in local currency terms. Source: Bloomberg.
Market outlook and Strategy
The Portfolio invests in a range of global listed infrastructure assets including toll roads, airports, railroads, utilities and renewables, energy midstream, wireless towers and data centres. These sectors share common characteristics, like barriers to entry and pricing power, which can provide investors with inflation-protected income and strong capital growth over the medium-term.
Toll roads represent the portfolio’s largest sector overweight, via positions in European, Asia Pacific and Latin American operators. We believe these companies represent exceptional value at current levels, with traffic volumes proving significantly more resilient than those of other transport infrastructure assets. Toll roads are also likely to fare relatively well in a higher inflation environment. Many toll roads have concession agreements that specify how prices can be increased, with an option to follow the inflation rate or an agreed percentage — whichever is higher.
The portfolio is also overweight Railroads, primarily via exposure to large cap North American freight rail operators. These firms are unique and valuable franchises. Their wholly-owned track networks are high quality infrastructure assets which can never be replicated. They typically operate under duopoly market conditions, with significant numbers of captive customers such as grain, chemical and auto producers giving them strong pricing power over long haul routes. Improving operating efficiency provides further scope to grow earnings.
A substantial portion of the Portfolio consists of high conviction Utility / Renewables holdings. The Portfolio’s focus is on companies with the scope to derive steady, low risk earnings growth by replacing old fossil fuel power plants with solar and wind farms, and by upgrading and expanding the networks needed to connect these new power sources to the end user. Technology advances and lower costs for utility-scale battery storage will enable renewables to represent an ever-greater share of the overall electricity generation mix. In the medium term, the roll-out of electric vehicles is then expected to provide an additional boost to utilities — first via investment opportunities associated with linking EV charging stations to the grid; and then via higher overall demand for electricity.
Underweight exposure to the Energy Midstream sector has been maintained. Strong gains across the sector during the past year have moved these stocks to lower rankings within our investment process; and we remain conscious of the structural headwinds that many of these companies could face as Net Zero initiatives gather pace.
The portfolio is also underweight the Airports sector. The emergence of the Omicron variant underscored how vulnerable many airlines remain to coronavirus-related disruption. As a result, we favour shorter haul, leisure-exposed airports, particularly European airports with large intra-Europe exposure where border restrictions are likely to be less cumbersome. We expect to see a strong rebound in traffic at airports such as Spain’s AENA, as travellers look to catch-up with friends and family or take a holiday.
Source : Company data, First Sentier Investors, as of 31 May 2022.
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