CALGARY - Alberta Investment Management Corp. would be more keen to invest in pipeline projects if it didn't take so long for regulators to approve them, the fund manager's CEO said Wednesday.
"The time it takes to get them approved becomes an impediment. I don't want to sit there and argue for 10 years over permits and all that sort of thing."
"It's not that I don't think environmental reviews and so on are appropriate. I think they are. But let's get them over with in a decent amount of time and not just use them as delaying tactics because I think in a number of cases we're delaying investments that are important to the overall efficiency of economies."
De Bever made his remarks before AIMCo, which invests on behalf of 26 pension, endowment and government funds in Alberta, released its results for the year ended March 31.
It earned a gross return of 7.9 per cent on about $70 billion in assets. After costs, the return was 7.4 per cent, below the 8.2 per cent it earned in the previous fiscal year.
However, AIMCo made $1.3 billion more - or $973 after fees - than its market benchmark in its most recent year, whereas a year earlier its returns were flat compared to the benchmark.
"Obviously this is, in the current environment, not a bad return," said de Bever.
AIMCo had $69.7 billion under management as of March 31, compared to $68.8 billion during the previous year.
It has cited energy, food and materials as key areas to invest and has made investments around the world, from South America to Australia.
"To be honest, I'd like to find stuff a little closer to home, but the problem is I can't find something that's terribly interesting," said de Bever.
He expressed mixed feelings about Glencore's deal to buy Regina grain handler Viterra.
De Bever said he was "disappointed" that company ended up being acquired rather than being the one doing the buying. AIMCo had hoped to use its 17 per cent stake in Viterra to push it into becoming a bigger international player.
"If you want strong Canadian companies then they have to be competitive in terms of being able to hold their own against foreign competition," he said.
On the other hand, the Viterra sale made AIMCo a lot of money on its investment in the company.
"If you can double your money right away or you can double your money in five years, what are you going to do?"
De Bever said smaller investments in agricultural technology will be a focus, rather than on big investments in grain handling. He also expressed skepticism about investing in land funds in many parts of the world.
Like many pension funds, AIMCo is keen on infrastructure investments, which would seem to make pipelines a good fit.
"If people said 'look, we need your money in 18 months and we're going through a review process (and) that's the end of it,' that would be something to look at," said de Bever.
Once a sector that attracted little attention, pipelines have been drawing a great deal of environmental scrutiny in recent years.
Pipeline proposals have been attacked for both the possible harm that could result from a spill as well as for the broader climate change impacts of the "dirty" oilsands crude many would carry.
Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway project has faced stiff opposition from First Nations, environmental groups and others. More than 4,000 people registered to speak at hearings currently underway into that project, which would ship Alberta crude to the northern B.C. port of Kitimat, B.C., for export to Asia.
At a Bank of Montreal investment conference in Toronto on Wednesday, the president of Kinder Morgan Canada said local opposition is one of the biggest hurdles to a planned expansion to the company's Trans Mountain line.
Trans Mountain currently delivers 300,000 barrels oil a day from the Edmonton area to the B.C. Lower Mainland and Washington State. The expansion would more than double the line's capacity, which would result in more oil tankers would in B.C. coastal waters.
"We're seeing more resistance from grandstanding Vancouver politicians than we are from almost anybody else and we're working that problem," said Ian Anderson.
"We've got two or three of them off the ledge, back into a more reasonable place."
TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) has been trying to get its Keystone XL pipeline between Alberta and the U.S. Gulf Coast approved for about four years.
The Obama administration rejected the line in its entirety earlier this year, saying it needed more time to weigh a new route through Nebraska to ease environmental concerns. It said the rejection was in response to Republican efforts to speed up the process, not on the merits of the project itself.
TransCanada has since broken up the pipeline into two separate projects. It aims to begin construction on the southern leg, which requires no federal permit, this summer while the U.S. State Department re-reviews the northern part, which crosses the Canada-U.S. border.
At the BMO conference, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said he expects the new review will be complete early next year and will incorporate much of the previous environmental impact statement that was completed in August 2011.
Copyright 2012 The Canadian Press. All Rights Reserved.