The new year – back for another swing

The first editorial of the year is always daunting. Having spent Christmas basking in unseasonably balmy Scottish weather, you’re left wondering what the heck to write.

There are two easy options – look back at deal flow in 2017 and promote the league tables that will shortly be published; or look ahead to the events IJ has planned for the coming year… awards nights and conferences.

The one thing to avoid at all costs is giving the impression that the eye was not on the ball over the holidays and you haven’t the foggiest what’s going on.

As those of you who have enjoyed a spell of gardening leave (two stretches of three months, I thank you) will recall, everyone experiences a moment of panic at what you missed while enjoying life at your former employer’s expense. This is soon dispelled as reality reasserts itself… infrastructure moves at glacial pace and precious little changes in a quarter.

In the middle of last year, having left One Search to go back to IJGlobal (no gardening leave), I received a nervous phone call from a senior candidate I had just placed into a new job before handing in my notice and failing to pick up that fee!

He whiled away three glorious months sunning himself and occasionally visiting the personal trainer in a fruitless bid to shed a few pounds before starting the new job, never once giving a thought to the market.

Quite right too. How often do we get a chance to kick back and chill for a few months? And it’s all the sweeter when you’ve just trousered your bonus… and you’re being paid full base salary for the privilege of watching daytime telly and ignoring the garden.

However, on starting his new job my senior candidate was in his first week called on to make a board-level presentation on European infrastructure finance.

He phoned up now that I was back in the saddle at IJ for a market refresher. However, my best advice (struggling myself to get my head around how the market had evolved since I’d stepped away) was to take a look at our league tables and wing it. You’ll be fine… and indeed he was.

And this brings back a memory from the early (wonder) years at IJ – 2004 or 05 – when a thrusting banking director (now a dear friend) put it beautifully during a panel session at one of our glorious conferences up in Turnberry.

It was the second day – always a tough one to power through after “conversation” had taken you into the wee, small hours after the “gala dinner” (never knew why it was called that, but suspect the old owners thought it sounded posh) – and we were seated in the audience as the first session of the day got into full swing with people who had clearly chipped off to bed early.

He leans over and says: “So, Angus… have you worked us out yet?”

Existential question? At this time of the morning? With a hangover? Are you kidding?

Retreating in the face of such a broad question, clarification was requested. “Please, narrow that down a tad...“

He sighed, gave a shrug and said: “Angus, we’re all just making it up as we go along.”

That rare display of self-awareness served as the solid foundation for friendship. Shortly after Turnberry, he treated me to lunch at Walkabout in Covent Garden and I recently returned the favour with a ginormous steak at a swanky eatery in New York… hold on, I’ve been totally had!

But enough reminiscing…

The easier option of league tables and awards awaits – and IJ has a lively agenda for the coming months.

Next week we kick off judging panels for the awards nights around the world. The first one is staged next Wednesday in London covering Europe and Africa; followed by Asia Pacific in Singapore the next week; Americas in New York the following one; and the Middle East in Dubai right at the end of the month.

We host all of our awards in the month of March and are going to be wearing out some shoe leather in the meantime to be ready for them.

As for league tables, our data team is slogging its guts out as you read this, weeding out hilarious attempts to sneak a cheeky fish farm or funeral parlour past us. As always, we will be first out with the stats.

At this early stage – and it should be noted our team still has 800 submissions to wade through – it would appear that in 2017 global project finance was a little bit down while worldwide corporate finance was a little bit up.

The only region that seems to be showing a notable uptick in project finance is Sub-Saharan Africa. LatAm and MENA are pretty much level pegging while Europe and AsiaPac are significantly down and North America a little bit down. As for corporate finance, the only regions worthy of note are North America which has shot up and Europe which is significantly down.

Oil and gas project finance has slumped on a global basis, renewables and power are up a bit and mining – never that terribly active a sector – looks to be about half down in 2017 on the previous year.

Primary finance of PF deals is significantly lower in 2017 than it was in 2016, privatisation has cratered, and refi looks to be about the same.

Possibly the most interesting data point to come out of the 2017 league tables is (and this will come as no huge surprise) is that renewable energy project financing has had a 50:50 year for regional performance. It is almost non-existent in Sub-Saharan Africa and surprisingly low (compared to 2016) in Europe and North America. The Middle East is an absolute triumph having shot up from $814 million in 2016 to $4.8 billion this last year (please bear in mind these figures are not yet complete). Meanwhile LatAm has almost tripled and APAC has logged a significant uptick in activity.

LatAm transport PF has fallen off a cliff; European social infra is surprisingly higher in 2017 than 2016; power PF in North America has really taken off; and mining and O&G PF in APAC has gone from hero to almost zero in both cases.

And then there’s the conference agenda – sadly Turnberry no more – but this reflects the global nature IJ and the markets we cover.

Bracing for a pretty full-on year ahead…