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German Insurers Weigh Funding to Plug Merkel Infrastructure Gap

Germany’s insurers said they may back a government call to invest in infrastructure to help cover an annual 7 billion-euro ($9 billion) taxpayer shortfall to repair roads and bridges.

The GDV, the Berlin-based group that represents insurers including Allianz SE, said today it’s ready to steer long-term capital to infrastructure provided Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition provides adequate legal safeguards for investments. The response follows a call to industry in July by Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel to help kick-start projects.

A dearth of government cash and low returns on insurers’ investments may lead to a marriage of convenience to refurbish German infrastructure. Low interest rates are impinging on the profits of insurers. Bonds make up about 80 percent of the combined 1.4 trillion euros they hold in investments, according to the GDV.

The insurance industry is keen to help with “big engagements” in infrastructure, the GDV said in a 19-page position paper. “More planning security would make it easier for insurers to finance” projects amid examples in Europe of partnerships that have soured, as when the Spanish government in 2012 cut solar power subsidies, it said.

In a coalition contract forged last year, Merkel agreed to boost federal infrastructure spending by 5 billion euros before the next election in 2017. The BDI industry group puts the annual funding gap at about 7 billion euros.

The GDV said it seeks talks with Merkel’s ministers on models that may be adopted to secure long-term returns on investments. Plans by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to finance infrastructure projects by so-called public-private partnerships fizzled over the issue of legal liability.

The group said it also wants Merkel to champion a change to Solvency II capital-adequacy rules for insurers that will come into effect in 2015. Infrastructure investments should be reclassified as low-risk compared with other assets in the new rule book, reducing capital needed to back the investments, said the GDV.

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