Goldman Sachs: Water Is Still the Next Petroleum

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In 2008, Goldman Sachs called water “the petroleum for the next century” and those investors who know how to play the infrastructure boom will reap huge rewards, during its annual “Top Five Risks” conference. Water is a U.S.$425 billion industry, and a calamitous water shortage could be a more serious threat to humanity in the 21st century than food and energy shortages, according to Goldman Sachs’s conference panel. Goldman Sachs has convened numerous conferences and also published lengthy, insightful analyses of water and other critical sectors (food, energy).

Goldman Sachs is positioning itself to gobble up water utilities, water engineering companies, and water resources worldwide. Since 2006, Goldman Sachs has become one of the largest infrastructure investment fund managers and has amassed a $10 billion capital for infrastructure, including water.

In March 2012, Goldman Sachs was eyeing Veolia’s UK water utility business, estimated at £1.2 billion, and in July it successfully bought Veolia Water, which serves 3.5 million people in southeastern England.

Previously, in September 2003, Goldman Sachs partnered with one of the world’s largest private-equity firm Blackstone Group and Apollo Management to acquire Ondeo Nalco (a leading company in providing water-treatment and process chemicals and services, with more than 10,000 employees and operations in 130 countries) from French water corporation Suez S.A. for U.S.$4.2 billion.

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In October 2007, Goldman Sachs teamed up with Deutsche Bank and several partners to bid, unsuccessfully, for U.K.’s Southern Water. In November 2007, Goldman Sachs was also unsuccessful in bidding for U.K. water utility Kelda. But Goldman Sachs is still looking to buy other water utilities.

In January 2008, Goldman Sachs led a team of funds (including Liberty Harbor Master Fund and the Pinnacle Fund) to buy U.S.$50 million of convertible notes in China Water and Drinks Inc., which supplies purified water to name-brand vendors like Coca-Cola and Taiwan’s top beverage company Uni-President. China Water and Drinks is also a leading producer and distributor of bottled water in China and also makes private-labeled bottled water (e.g., for Sands Casino, Macau). Since China has one of the worse water problems in Asia and a large emerging middle class, its bottled-water sector is the fastest-growing in the world and it’s seeing enormous profits. Additionally, China’s acute water shortages and serious pollution could “buoy demand for clean water for years to come, with China’s $14.2 billion water industry a long-term investment destination” (Reuters, January 28, 2008).

The City of Reno, Nevada, was approached by Goldman Sachs for “a long-term asset leasing that could potentially generate significant cash for the three TMWA [Truckee Meadows Water Authority] entities. The program would allow TMWA to lease its assets for 50 years and receive an up-front cash payment” (Reno News & Review, August 28, 2008). Essentially, Goldman Sachs wants to privatize Reno’s water utility for 50 years. Given Reno’s revenue shortfall, this proposal was financially attractive. But the water board eventually rejected the proposal due to strong public opposition and outcry.

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