New Australian govt aims to bridge infrastructure deficit
* New Australian PM wants to be "Mr Infrastructure"
* Funding reforms to free up huge infrastructure backlog
* Foreign pension funds and construction firms circling
By Jane Wardell
SYDNEY, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's ambition to be known as "Mr Infrastructure" is raising expectations of financing reform to open up tens of billions of dollars in construction contracts and pension fund investment opportunities.
Abbott is targeting infrastructure to counter a hit to economic growth from Australia's fading mining investment boom, boosting earnings prospects for construction companies including Leighton Holdings Ltd, Asciano Ltd, Macmahon Holdings Ltd and Downer EDI Ltd.
Australia is in need of everything from roads and rail to ports and utilities to cope with expected demand over the next four decades, when the country's population of almost 23 million is projected to double and Asian demand for its goods and services is forecast to soar.
Industry estimates of the infrastructure deficit range as high as A$700 billion ($655.10 billion), or as much as 50 percent of GDP, even though significant development has already taken place over the past decade as the country enjoyed a once-in-a-century mining boom.
A rapidly growing domestic pension pot of A$1.6 trillion could fund that deficit almost twice over, while leading offshore funds including Canada's CPPIB are also keen to invest. But financing so far has been stymied by the structure of the deals - which leaves funds exposed to early construction risk - and the lack of a deep, liquid domestic corporate bond market. Continued...