Avoiding customer and taxpayer bailouts in private infrastructure projects : Policy toward leverage, risk allocation, and bankruptcy
Many private infrastructure projects mix regulation that subjects the private company to considerable risk, a government or regulator that is reluctant to see the company go bankrupt, and high leverage on the part of the company. If all goes well, equityholders make a profit, debtholders are repaid, customers pay no more than they expected, and the government is not called on to bail the company out. If all goes badly enough, however, the prospect of bankruptcy will loom. Unwilling to see the company go bankrupt, however, the regulator will have to permit an unscheduled price increase, or the government will have to inject taxpayers'money into the firm. In other words, the combination means customers and taxpayers bear more risk than would appear from the regulations governing the private infrastructure project. The authors examine how these problems have played out in five cases. Then they describe how governments and regulators can quantify the extent of the problems and, using option-pricing techniques, value the customer and taxpayer guarantees involved. Finally, the authors analyze three options for mitigating the problem: making bankruptcy a more credible threat, limiting the private operator's leverage, and reducing the private operator's exposure to risk. The authors conclude that appropriate policy depends on the tax system, the feasibility of enforcing bankruptcy, and the benefits of risk transfer from taxpayer to theprivate sector.
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