Release of Free Cash Flow

The project entry typically has a finite life. Its dividend policy is usually specified contractually at the time any outside equity financing is arranged. Cash flow not needed to cover operating expenses, pay debt service, or make capital improvements—so-called free cash flow—must normally be distributed to the project’s equity investors. Thus, the equity investors, rather than professional managers, get to decide how the project’s free cash flow will be reinvested.

 When project is financed on a company’s general credit, the project’s assets become part of the company’s asset portfolio. Free cash flow from the project augments the company’s internal cash resources. This free cash flow is retained or distributed to the company’s shareholders at the discretion of the company’s board of directors.

 Project financing eliminates the element of discretion. Investors may prefer to have the project company distribute the free cash flow, allowing them to invest it as they choose. Reducing the risk that the free cash flow might be retained and invested without the project’s equity investors’ approval should reduce the cost of equity capital to the project.

 The sponsor is not necessarily placed at a disadvantage under this arrangement. If the sponsor is considering additional projects that it believes are profitable, it can negotiate funding for these projects with outside equity investors. If they agree to fund any of these additional investments within the project entity, the dividend requirement can be waived by mutual agreement and the funds invested accordingly.

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