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The evolution of infrastructure and utility ownership and its implications


  • Dieter Helm
  • Tom Tindall


The paper documents the significant changes of ownership since the infrastructure utilities were privatized and, in particular, the shifts from the initial focus on dispersed retail share ownership through takeovers to more concentrated ownership and the emergence of private equity and infrastructure funds. In the process, there has been substantial financial engineering and balance sheets have been geared up towards exhaustion, with major implications for financing future investment. Increased gearing has, on the one hand, introduced the discipline of debt upon management which had engaged in substantive diversification, and on the other provided an arbitrage between the weighted average cost of capital used to calculate the allowed return, and the lower marginal cost of debt. The paper shows how regulation has determined the allocation of risk, and facilitated the observed changes in ownership and financial structures. Three solutions to the exhausted balance sheets are considered to finance future investment: rate-of-return regulation; the split cost of capital; and a collapse back into not-for-dividend, mutual or state ownership. The default outcome already witnessed in the Welsh Water and Network Rail cases is the latter case, which is inferior to the second option. Copyright 2009, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Dieter Helm & Tom Tindall, 2009. "The evolution of infrastructure and utility ownership and its implications," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(3), pages 411-434, Autumn.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:oxford:v:25:y:2009:i:3:p:411-434

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Timothy Besley & Robin Burgess, 2004. "Can Labor Regulation Hinder Economic Performance? Evidence from India," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(1), pages 91-134.
    2. Kimberly Ann Elliott & Richard B. Freeman, 2003. "Can Labor Standards Improve under Globalization?," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 338.
    3. Blanchflower, D. & Slaughter, M., 1998. "The Causes and Consequences of Changing Income Inequality: W(h)ither the Debate?," Papers 27, Centre for Economic Performance & Institute of Economics.
    4. Glyn, A. & Hughes, A. & Lipietz, A. & Singh, A., 1988. "The Rise And Fall Of The Golden Age," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 884, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    5. Drusilla K. Brown & Alan V. Deardorff & Robert M. Stern, 2001. "Child Labor: Theory, Evidence and Policy," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0111, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
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    Cited by:

    1. Palcic, Dónal & Reeves, Eoin, 2013. "Private equity leveraged buyouts in European telecoms: The case of Eircom," Telecommunications Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 573-582.
    2. Inderst, Georg, 2017. "UK Infrastructure Investment and Finance from a European and Global Perspective," MPRA Paper 79621, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Curtis, John & Devitt, Niamh & di Cosmo, Valeria & Farrell, Niall & FitzGerald, John & Hyland, Marie & Lynch, Muireann & Lyons, Sean & McCoy, Daire & Malaguzzi Valeri, Laura & Walsh, Darragh, 2014. "Irish Energy Policy: An Analysis of Current Issues," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number rs37 edited by FitzGerald, John & Malaguzzi Valeri, Laura.
    4. Giuseppe Cappiello & Paola Garrone & Paolo Nardi, 2013. "Cooperation in the initial stages of infrastructure projects: a conceptual model and surv ey of Italian utility managers," ECONOMICS AND POLICY OF ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, FrancoAngeli Editore, vol. 2013(1), pages 41-68.
    5. Bresnihan, Patrick, 2016. "The bio-financialization of Irish Water: New advances in the neoliberalization of vital services," Utilities Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 115-124.
    6. Tan, Jeff, 2012. "The Pitfalls of Water Privatization: Failure and Reform in Malaysia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(12), pages 2552-2563.
    7. Richard Meade & Magnus Soderberg, 2017. "Welfare-Maximising Investors? – Utility Firm Performance with Heterogeneous Quality Preferences and Endogenous Ownership," Working Papers 2017-09 JEL Classificatio, Auckland University of Technology, Department of Economics.
    8. Emily Poole & Carl Toohey & Peter Harris, 2014. "Public Infrastructure: A Framework for Decision-making," RBA Annual Conference Volume,in: Alexandra Heath & Matthew Read (ed.), Financial Flows and Infrastructure Financing Reserve Bank of Australia.
    9. Wouter Thierie & Lieven Moor, 2016. "The characteristics of infrastructure as an investment class," Financial Markets and Portfolio Management, Springer;Swiss Society for Financial Market Research, vol. 30(3), pages 277-297, August.

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