In step with the money men

COMMENT: Volatility is a fact of life, as financial markets demonstrated in early February, writes Barry Parker.

As the stock market gyrated, financial planners told their clients, “keep calm and carry on” and stick to the long-term programme. For port planners, with their decades-long planning horizons, this message must be nuanced somewhat.

At the recent Planning for Shifting Trade conference hosted by the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), speakers talked about future proofing. In particular, KPMG speaker Piyush Mishra, from the firm's US port practice, spoke about an emphasis on flexibility and how ports need to be adaptable to changes.

Mr Mishra also hinted that new financing arrangements, in particular partnerships between public port authorities and private players such as ship owners or property investors, call for a new set of conversations, particularly with Big Data lurking in the background.

As a long-time observer of such communications - or, more properly, the lack of - I would say that port planners should redouble their efforts at looking out towards the commercial side, and make more effort to develop relationships, both formal and informal, with commercial players who may have an influence on activities at their ports. These players need not be geographically right around the corner, or even just across town, and the conversations ought to extend beyond the usual suspects.

Besides cargo, terminal and service providers around the port, financial funds providers - who have a keen sense of 'value' are going to be increasingly important. The money-men will likely be included in more deals as governmental resources continue to be constrained.

At the AAPA event, there were certainly discussions about informing the government (an important funding source for US ports) about the economic and social importance of ports. However, there was also a clear recognition throughout the two-day conference that private capital was going to play an even greater role in buttressing port projects.

At events in my home town, where both port folks and financial folks have been in the same venue, the interactions have been sub-optimal. To get to the financial resiliency discussed by KPMG and others, the port community needs to continue reaching out to the bankers and investors.

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