The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
By Lisa Springer
NEW YORK ( StreetAuthority) -- Many of us grew up in a world where natural resources like water and oil were cheap and plentiful, but those days are long gone. In today's world, some natural resources (such as clean drinking water) are already stretched to the limit and becoming increasingly scarce. In fact, potable water is already a top concern of world leaders and is beginning to rival oil as an investment theme.
Oil prices are making headlines, having resumed their relentless rise after dipping briefly during the recession. Demand is fueled by the insatiable appetites of countries like China and India, where more oil is needed to fuel economic expansion. The world won't run out of oil anytime soon, but most experts believe peak oil is already behind us and that developing new crude oil sources will be an increasingly expensive (and dangerous) endeavor.
Yield: 11% French utility giant Veolia Environnement owns the world's largest water business in terms of revenue. The company's water segment designs and builds infrastructure necessary to provide clean water and operates drinking water plants, wastewater treatment and recycling facilities, drinking water distribution systems and wastewater collection networks. The last five years have been challenging because Veolia expanded too aggressively and was drowning in debt during the recession. Earnings fell roughly 12% a year and Veolia was forced to slash its dividend nearly in half. More recently, however, the company has begun a massive restructuring to streamline operations, cut debt and focus resources in growth areas like water, where the company enjoys a leading market share and competitive advantages. In particular, Veolia plans to expand its water business in China, where rapid economic growth requires more water for agricultural and industrial applications. Veolia plans to sell about $6.5 billion worth of assets and reduce long-term debt to a still-high but much more manageable $16 billion, or 65% of capitalization.