Future Economy Driving Infrastructure Needs

08/17/22 | Roxanna Islam, CFA

Although it is a widely used term, “infrastructure” actually has a much broader definition than people may realize. Infrastructure refers to the structures and systems that underly an economy. It does not just include surface transportation (roads, bridges, railways) or utilities like waste and water, but also newer technologies like broadband and even electric vehicle charging.(1) According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), cumulative infrastructure needs over the next ten years from 2020 - 2029 will be $5.9 trillion—up over 29% from the $4.6 trillion reported in the previous forecast which covered 2016 – 2025. Of the forecasted $5.9 trillion, estimated funding is only $3.4 trillion, leaving around a $2.6 trillion funding gap.(2) This funding gap provides opportunities for investment in infrastructure companies. The Alerian US NextGen Infrastructure Index (INFRA) is an index of companies primarily engaged in infrastructure development, which has actually outperformed on a YTD basis compared to broader U.S. equities.

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Why is infrastructure important?

There are several reasons why infrastructure needs are growing within the U.S. For example, existing infrastructure like roads, highways, and railroads needs to be maintained, repaired, or replaced. Total vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. has increased to almost $3.3 trillion in the twelve months ending June 2022—up over 10% in the past ten years and stressing current surface transportation infrastructure.(3) In the next ten years that number could increase significantly—even if there are less passenger vehicles on the road due to more remote work and less commuting, the number of goods and freight moved across the U.S. has been growing steadily. Freight tonnage is expected to grow 28% from 2021 to 2032—over 70% of this will be carried over the road via trucks.(4) Without properly built roads, there could be an increase in congestion, freight delivery delays, accidents, and fatalities. Second, new infrastructure is required to be built in order to meet more advanced technological needs. For example, broadband deployment and maintenance is now more important than ever as humans become more digitally connected. Also, as the country shifts to net zero, there needs to be an adequate amount of charging stations for electric vehicles. The U.S. currently has enough charging stations to meet only 4% of projected demand.(5)

The U.S. government has recently taken some steps to recognize this large funding gap. In late 2021, the U.S. passed a five-year, $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which has been the largest infrastructure investment in recent history. Out of this package, $550 billion is new spending including: $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, $65 billion for the power grid, $65 billion to improve broadband infrastructure, $55 billion for water infrastructure, and $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging

What does INFRA look like?

INFRA starts with a broad universe of U.S. equities and selects companies engaged in the construction, development, operation, and maintenance of infrastructure. These companies must belong to one of several GICS Sub-Industries (the bar chart below includes those currently found in the index but is not all-inclusive). The 100 largest stocks by market capitalization are included and equal-weighted to ensure exposure across business segments (approximately 1% weighting each). Because of these selection criteria, the majority of the index are large-cap companies (97.2% by index weight) and most companies are from the industrials sector (39.3% index weight) and the utilities sector (32.0% index weight).

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Bottom Line:

Infrastructure does not just include surface transportation (roads, bridges, railways) or utilities like waste and water, but also newer technologies like broadband and even electric vehicle charging. As infrastructure needs grow, there is significant opportunity for investment in infrastructure-related companies.

The Alerian US NextGen Infrastructure Index (INFRA) is the underlying index for the First Trust Alerian U.S. NextGen Infrastructure ETF (RBLD).

 

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(1) What is Infrastructure? (senate.gov)

(2) National_IRC_2021-report.pdf (infrastructurereportcard.org)

(3) U.S. DOT Traffic Volume Trends – June 2022

(4) ATA U.S. Freight Transportation Forecast to 2032 | American Trucking Associations

(5) Electric-vehicle charging gets a $7.5 billion boost (kpmg.us)

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