Teachers buy into Chilean utility

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan will have more than $1.6-billion invested in Chilean infrastructure after buying the country's second-largest electricity distributor with partner Morgan Stanley Investment Management.

Teachers is buying half of SAESA Group, which has about 8 per cent of Chile's electricity distribution market, in a deal worth $870-million (US). Morgan Stanley Infrastructure, an arm of the New York-based asset manager, will take the remaining $435-million stake.

The acquisition from Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. of New Jersey also includes the assumption of more than $200-million in existing company debt by each of the partners.

The deal will add to Teachers' $1-billion (Canadian) investment last year in two companies that control about 20 per cent of Chile's water and sewage industry.

Since the early 1990s, Chile has encouraged direct foreign investment to help fix previously neglected infrastructure, including roads, ports and water systems.

Its attractive tax system, stable investment policies and other benefits have proven a lure for investors around the world.

Canada, which also has strong ties to Chile through mining investments there, was the third-largest investor in the country in 2006, behind the United States and Spain. Infrastructure is making up a growing amount of that total.

"This is yet another step in a long, deep look into Chile and infrastructure assets there. It's a great country to be in," Stephen Dowd, Teachers' vice-president of infrastructure, said in an interview from Vancouver.

Teachers will continue to look for investments in markets with good protection for investors and transparent regulatory regimes, although few are as progressive in these respects as Chile, Mr. Dowd added.

The country's unique characteristics are making it a crowded place to do business. Mr. Dowd said the auction process initiated by SAESA's New Jersey owner earlier this year was very competitive, although he did not know how many other bid groups participated.

Other Canadian investors active in Chile include Brookfield Asset Management Inc., the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and British Columbia Investment Management Corp. In 2006, the three investors teamed up to buy Chile's largest electricity transmission firm, HQI Transelec Chile SA, for $1.55-billion (US).

Mr. Dowd also said Teachers would be interested in investing in Canadian infrastructure, if it could find projects that meet its criteria.

"There are some really good opportunities in infrastructure, but they're of a smaller size than what we look at," Mr. Dowd said.

Last year, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters he wanted to find ways to encourage large pension funds to invest in Canada, and introduced a new Crown corporation in this year's budget to encourage public-private partnerships.


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