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Project Finance – A Primer

Financing for specific projects and assets

Project Finance – A Primer

Project finance is the financing of long-term infrastructure, industrial projects, and public services, based on a non-recourse or limited recourse financial structure, in which project debt and equity used to finance the project are paid back from the cash flow generated by the project.


project finance theme


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Breakdown of Project Finance

Now let us break down each of the components of this definition to get a detailed understanding of what it incorporates:


#1 Financing of long-term infrastructure, industrial projects, and public services

Project Finance is generally used in oil extraction, power production, and infrastructure sectors. These are the most appropriate sectors for developing this structured financing technique, as they have low technological risk, a reasonably predictable market, and the possibility of selling to a single buyer or a few large buyers based on multi-year contracts (e.g. take-or-pay contracts).


#2 Non-Recourse/Limited Recourse Financial structure

Project Finance is the structured financing of a specific economic entity – a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) – created by the sponsors using equity or debt. The lender considers the cash flow generated from this entity as the major source of loan reimbursement.

Hence, if the borrower defaults, the issuer can seize the assets of the said SPV but cannot seek out the borrower for any further compensation, even if the SPV does not cover the full value of the amount defaulted.


#3 Payment from cash flow generated by the project

Cash flows generated by the SPV must be sufficient to cover payments for operating costs and to service the debt in terms of capital repayment and interest. Because the priority use of cash flow is to fund operating costs and to service the debt, only residual funds after the latter are covered can be used to pay dividends to sponsors undertaking project finance.


Why Do Sponsors Use Project Finance?

A sponsor (the entity requiring finance to fund projects) can choose to finance a new project using two alternatives:

  1. The new initiative is financed on the balance sheet (corporate financing)
  2. The new project is incorporated into a newly created economic entity, the SPV, and financed off balance sheet (project financing)


#1 Corporate Finance

Alternative 1 means that the sponsors use all the assets and cash flows from the existing firm to guarantee additional credit provided by lenders. If the project is not successful all the remaining assets and cash flows can serve as a source of repayment for all the creditors (old and new) of the combined entity (existing firm plus new project).

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#2 Project Finance

Alternative 2 means instead that the new project and the existing firm live two separate lives. If the project is not successful, project creditors have no (or very limited) claim on the sponsoring firm’s assets and cash flows. The existing shareholders then benefit from the separate incorporation of the new project into an SPV.


How Is Project Finance Difference from Corporate Finance?

Now that we have a basic understanding of what project finance means, let us understand how project finance differs from corporate finance. The table below outlines important differences between the two types of financing that need to be taken into account.


project finance vs. corporate finance

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Who Are The Sponsors of Project Finance?

By participating in a project finance venture, each project sponsor pursues a clear objective, which differs depending on the type of sponsor. In brief, four types of sponsors are very often involved in such transactions:

  1. Industrial sponsors – They see the initiative as upstream and downstream integrated or in some way as linked to the core business
  2. Public sponsors – Central or local government, municipalities and municipalized companies whose aims center on social welfare
  3. Contractor/sponsors – Who develop, build, or run plants and are interested in participating in the initiative by providing equity and or subordinated debt
  4. Financial sponsors/investors – Plays part of a project finance initiative with a motive to invest capital in high profit deals. They have high propensity of risk and seek substantial return on investments



Summary and additional resources

We learned about the basic characteristics of project finance, how it is different from corporate finance, major uses of project finance and the type of sponsors involved.

To learn more about how to value a business, or to prepare for a career in project finance, we’ve got all the resources you need!  Here are some of our most popular resources relate to project finance:

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