Private equity, private debt and infrastructure investing are popular with institutional investors because payoffs complement the publicly traded parts of portfolios.

Private equity and debt describe securities not traded on public exchanges and negotiated between the investor and the company receiving funds. Including leveraged buyouts, these allow investors to structure terms and conditions tailored to their needs.

Consider an insurance company looking to offset long-dated liabilities. Private-equity investors occasionally negotiate spots on the company’s board, and can help make ideas successful.

In 2012, North American private equity buy-out deal flow was $152.3 billion, a post-Lehman high according to Preqin, an alternative assets data provider. Retail investors can access private equity and debt via a handful of U.S. companies, and public and private closed or open-ended funds.

There are two exchange-traded notes (ETNs) in the U.S. offering exposure to business development companies. ETNs, like ETFs, offer exposure to an index (Wells Fargo Business Development Company Index in Table 1).

However, unlike ETFs, they’re structured as debt obligations that bear credit risk (UBS’s credit risk in the case of the examples in Table 1). A redemption fee may also be levied. Note the leveraged version seeks to replicate the return of the underlying index on a monthly basis, rather than daily. Also, both ETNs have the same expense ratio (0.85%). The yields reflect the impact of leverage: BDCS’s dividend yield is 6.98% and BDCL’s is 12.87%.

Stable demand

Infrastructure investing is a form of equity or debt financing for businesses involved in permanent assets that relate to rudimentary components of an economy, such as transportation, energy, and utilities. Some businesses have monopoly-like characteristics and are regulated (e.g., hydroelectric plants), but generally the common feature is stable demand.

The idea is to translate stable demand into cash flow that investors need to offset a particular liability, such as a pension. There are three infrastructure ETFs trading in Canada (see Table 2) and seven in the U.S. (see Table 3).

Infrastructure ETFs may include shares of companies involved in infrastructure projects. Engineering and construction companies that perform infrastructure work, such as Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. NV, Fluor Corp. and SNC-Lavalin Group, are included in these ETFs, although the return profile is that of an industrial firm subject to the capital spending cycle.

Energy and pipeline companies such as Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, TransCanada Corp. and Duke Energy Corp. may also be included. These ETFs are exposed to the infrastructure cycle, but don’t necessarily have the risk characteristics institutions seek in private deals.

Some investors focus on the yield possibilities of these instruments, but the risk characteristics are more important to portfolio building. Table 4 shows the five-year volatility of various infrastructure indices compared with the S&P 500 and MSCI World indices. This includes one- and five-year returns, which struggled following the financial crisis. However, infrastructure indices have had lower volatility than broad equity indices in the global and U.S. regions.

Should you invest?

Private equity and infrastructure investing will continue to be popular with institutional investors. Although more expensive, U.S.-traded business development company index ETNs are closer to institutional infrastructure vehicles than other exchange-traded products in the capital spending cycle. Lower volatility make these vehicles interesting.

Thanks to Mark Weisdorf, managing director, CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s Infrastructure Investments Group in New York and R. Waghela of J.P. Morgan in London for providing statistics.

Table 1. U.S.-Traded Private Equity ETNs

U.S.-traded Private Equity ETNs Symbol Div Yield Expenses
UBS E-TRACS Wells Fargo Business Development Company Index BDCS 6.98% 0.85%
UBS E-TRACS 2XLeveraged Long Wells Fargo Business Development Company Index BDCL 12.87% 0.85%

Table 2. Canadian-Traded Infrastructure ETFs

Canadian-traded Infrastructure ETFs Symbol Div Yld Expenses
BMO Global Infrastructure ZGI 3.11% 0.55%
iShares S&P Global Water CWW 2.31% 0.60%
iShares Global Infrastructure CIF 2.82% 0.65%

Table 3. U.S.-Traded Infrastructure ETFs

U.S.-traded Infrastructure ETFs Symbol Div Yld Expenses
iShares S&P Global Infrastructure IGF 4.02% 0.48%
SPDR FTSE/Macquarie Global Infrastructure 100 GII 3.19% 0.59%
iShares S&P Emerging Markets Infrastructure EMIF 2.87% 0.75%
Powershares Emerging Markets Infrastructure PXR 1.56% 0.75%
Emerging Global Shares INDXX Brazil Infrastructure BRXX 5.62% 0.85%
India Infrastructure INXX 1.22% 0.85%
Emerging Global Shares INDXX China Infrastructure CHXX 2.45% 0.85%

Table 4. Broad Market and Infrastructure Index Volatility

1-Year Return 2012 5-Year Annualized Return 5-Year Index Volatility
S&P 500 (USD) 13.4% -0.6% 24.2%
MSCI World Index (USD) 13.2% -3.4% 26.6%
MSCI USA Infrastructure Index 9.3% 1.9% 18.7%
MSCI World Infrastructure Index 6.1% -2.3% 16.7%
Macquarie U.S.A. Infrastructure Index -1.0% -1.9% 19.4%
Macquarie Global Infrastructure Index 1.2% -7.1% 16.8%

Mark Yamada is President of PÜR Investing Inc., a software development firm. Disclosure: PÜR Investing Inc. provides risk-based model portfolios to Horizons ETFs.

Originally published in Advisor's Edge Report