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Global Infrastructure a $6 Trillion Opportunity

Each week, more than one million people are either born in or migrate to cities around the world. Much of this rapid urbanization comes from the emerging world, putting tremendous pressure on that country’s feeble infrastructure. Pipes burst, roads are jammed, the water is tainted and the lights even go out.

Merrill Lynch estimates that $6 trillion will need to be spent by selected emerging market countries over the next three years to meet the basic needs of these citizens. Water, transportation and energy investments will consume the bulk of these funds, accounting for 82 percent of total projected spending. Nearly every emerging market country Merrill researched will make an investment in all three.

While each developing country could benefit from an upgrade, needs vary. This table details how different emerging market countries stand up against each other in terms of quality for the country’s roads, rails, ports, etc. We’ve highlighted the specific areas where the countries rank in the bottom half among the 133 surveyed by the World Bank.

You can see that Brazil has the worst overall ranking among the countries listed. Though the country is a large exporter, the extremely poor condition of the country’s roads and rails has hampered the growth of internal textile and farming industries. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the country, as the government already has a plan in place to improve these conditions (Read: Brazil’s Infrastructure Plays Catch Up).

India’s infrastructure also rates poorly, and is slowing the country’s ascent to top of the world’s economies (Read: India’s Achilles Heel). One of India’s key issues is electricity. Merrill says that nearly 40 percent of Indian households do not have access to electricity, the worst of any major developing economy.

Power is also a problem in South Africa where a major power plant has not been built in 20 years and blackouts/power outages have hurt the country’s mining industry in recent years. Merrill projects $54 billion will need to be spent on the country’s power system over the next three years, accounting for nearly half total infrastructure spending.

China, which accounts for more than half of that $6 trillion estimate, ranks far above emerging peers in terms of infrastructure at the 65th percentile. Merrill says that one of China’s biggest needs is in water and environmental development. The firm estimates that the Asian country will need to build roughly 40,000 reservoirs at Rmb 12.5 million a piece to create an internal water distribution system and alleviate pressure when regions experience extended droughts such as what China is seeing presently.

The needs of a growing global population set to reach 7 billion later this year and investment needed to supply these people with sufficient water, roads, housing and power is why we identified infrastructure as a megatrend in 2007 and made it the key investment theme of the Global MegaTrends Fund (MUTF:MEGAX).

Although some infrastructure investments, such as those in Russia, have seen delays as fiscal dollars have been diverted during the financial crisis, we continue to believe in the long-term viability of the story.