The Covid-19 panic that has sent markets spiraling has also upended the working conditions and lifestyles of project finance officials, with cancelled conferences, enforced remote working, handshake bans and even the prospect of "virtual closing dinners," however that is supposed to work.
Amazingly, deals are still being launched, notably Competitive Power Ventures’ debt raise for its Three Rivers combined-cycle gas-fired project in PJM Interconnection (PFR, 3/12).
“Timing is horrible,” says one head of project finance. “A year after all the big PJM deals were arranged, and now facing coronavirus-mania. They’ll need to schedule a remote virtual closing dinner. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be tough.”
While sponsors are persevering with their financing plans, at least for now, conferences are being cancelled or postponed across the board, the most recent being Infocast’s Solar Power Finance & Investment Summit, which was scheduled to take place next week but has been postponed to October.
And deal makers, in many cases, are having to adapt to remote working.
“Many more dogs barking and babies crying can be heard on conference calls,” chuckles a project finance lawyer.
“Working remotely for me will be weird,” adds the project finance chief, who has young children. “Now that I’m thinking about it, I may work from Starbucks or a WeWork locale. I’m sure they [the children] could care less about dad’s conference calls and financial models.”
An employee in Barclays' 7th Avenue office has tested positive for Covid-19, according to an internal staff memo. Like many institutions, the bank is implementing split and rotational home-working arrangements.
“Everyone is freaking out about coronavirus,” says another project finance banker whose team is working from home. “They just closed my kid’s school for the rest of the week, so that will make it inconvenient. We stocked up on food and I liquidated a bunch of my holdings to prepare for a recession, so we’re ready.”
Market participants are also grappling with the prohibition of handshakes at meetings.
“I actually think the elbow bump is cool,” says the project finance head. “Benjamin Netanyahu recommends the Namaste... also cool.”
Not so cool is the chest bump. “Of course, that technique discriminates against thin people,” the banker says, reflecting. “The Namaste is more egalitarian.”
Bowing like the Japanese? “I like it, but it’s a sincere strain on the back and joints over time."
And the footshake? “It’s just a tough sell in the western world."