Analysts forecast an IRR of 12 per cent for the project, the viability of which is crucial to the listing of Hopewell Highway The proposed HK$15 billion Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is expected to comfortably achieve an internal rate of return (IRR) of up to 12 per cent, according to analysts. This is the consensus estimate of brokerages ING Financial Markets and BNP Paribas Peregrine, based on the Pearl River Delta's traffic flows. The bridge's financial viability is crucial to the future growth prospects of listing candidate Hopewell Highway Infrastructure, a toll-road unit of Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung's Hopewell Holdings that hopes to help build it. Analysts and fund managers widely expect Hopewell Highway will be allowed to take a leading role in the project, which has long been championed by Sir Gordon. 'Hopewell Highway stands to obtain investment rights in the bridge,' said Norman Ho Man-kei, a fund manager at Value Partners, which has invested US$980 million in Greater China stock markets. 'The question is the bridge's IRR.' The Y-shaped, 28km bridge linking western Lantau to Macau and Zhuhai should spur logistics, tourism and economic activities in the western Pearl River Delta. A Hong Kong government spokeswoman said a joint study on the bridge's feasibility by the administration and the National Development and Reform Commission was nearing completion, with a final decision on whether to proceed with the project expected shortly. It is understood that the central government is likely to give a green light to the project, with the bridge expected to be completed by as soon as 2006. According to a research report by ING, a member of the syndicate underwriting Hopewell Highway's listing, the bridge should achieve a 'justifiable IRR' of 12 per cent. It estimated total daily traffic at 23,150 vehicles compared with Sir Gordon's earlier estimate of 15,000 vehicles daily. The estimated IRR was also above average of 10 per cent for Guangdong infrastructure projects, industry sources said. BNP, another member of the underwriting syndicate, has advanced a more conservative IRR estimate of 10 per cent on the assumption that 70 per cent of the construction costs would be financed by debt. The bridge could draw 7.3 million passenger trips annually if 50 per cent of the existing traffic between Macau and Hong Kong and 90 per cent of the existing traffic between Zhuhai and Hong Kong utilised the bridge, it said. Passenger trips between Macau and Hong Kong stood at 10.8 million in 2001 while those between Zhuhai and Hong Kong reached 2.1 million. BNP also assumed 60 per cent of trips would be made by passenger vehicles and the rest by commercial vehicles paying a flat rate of HK$150 per trip. 'Recall that the IRR does not take into account the 5.2 million people [3.4 million visitors and 1.8 million locals] projected to visit Disneyland when the theme park opens in 2005 ... the IRR of the bridge should be even higher,' BNP said. Underwriters of Hopewell Highway's initial public offering are to start a roadshow today in Hong Kong, Singapore, London, New York and Tokyo. Hopewell Holdings will be seeking shareholder approval for the spin-off at an extraordinary general meeting on Wednesday . Hopewell Highway hopes to raise between HK$2.77 billion and $3.64 billion in one of Hong Kong's largest offerings this year, with up to 70 per cent of the proceeds earmarked for unspecified future investments in infrastructure projects. Its debut on the stock exchange is scheduled for August 6.