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Pension funds skeptical about Saaremaa bridge project

Believes pension funds will be convinced once they see the detailed project: businessman Raivo Hein.
Believes pension funds will be convinced once they see the detailed project: businessman Raivo Hein. Source: (ERR)

The pension funds would be important investors in the bridge to Saaremaa businessmen Raivo Hein and Raivo Kütt introduced last week. Swedbank's head of pension funds is skeptical, but Hein believes they will be able to convince the banks once the project is available in detail.

Asked by ERR's Aktuaalne kaamera newscast last week about Hein and Kütt's approach to building a bridge to Saaremaa, head of Swedbank's pension funds, Kristjan Tamla, said that such a project comes with great uncertainty and risk.

"With such projects the construction risk, the development risk is likely to be the thing pension funds don't want to take on," Tamla said. "The uncertainty is very great." Generally speaking, European pension funds tend to invest in completed objects rather than in development projects, he added.

These two concerns are right at the heart of the analyses any fund would carry out before deciding whether or not to invest. In Swedbank's case, that's currently a no rather than a yes.

Hein: Funds need to see project in detail to be convinced

Hein understands the funds' caution, but still thinks they'll be convinced once the project is ready in detail. "It's logical, they don't have a single paper on their desks yet," Hein said. "When we get to the point where we have a very specific plan, for which we already have the financing models, by the way, then things will be different."

The Nordic countries are "full of investment funds, also pension funds" running out of projects to invest in, Hein added. By law, these funds are required to invest only in things that are very safe and run for a long time. "Let's say where we would like 10 to 15 percent return on our investment, the pension funds agree to 5 to 7 percent, because it matters to them that it's safe and long-term," he said.

Asked if he sees the recent investment in brand new ferries as a potential hurdle for the project, Hein said that the ferries could be sold, but that the number of people traveling to the island would continue to increase. He is convinced they'll be able to raise the money.

Initiators: Breaking even will take two decades

The projected cost of the bridge will be in the range of €500 million, according to Hein. The plan includes taking the bridge's operator to the stock market, where the relatively short break-even period will help.

Once it's built, the initiators of the project think they can make the bridge profitable within 20 years. For infrastructure this size, this is a rather short period. For example, the Øresund Bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö was expected in 2003 to turn a profit no sooner than 2037.

Revenue will come from fees people pay to cross the bridge, which according to Hein would be in the same price range as a current ferry ticket. If the state should want to continue supporting the locals' mobility, a state subsidy to make the crossing cheaper for the islanders could be in the cards as well, he thinks.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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