Global Investment Flows Plummeted 23% in 2017 to Three-Year Low

(Bloomberg) -- Global flows of foreign direct investment plunged 23 percent in 2017 to a three-year low amid a decline in cross-border mergers and acquisitions, a trend the United Nations called “troubling” for the risk it poses to emerging economies.

The decline in FDI to $1.43 trillion from $1.87 trillion 2016 -- even as trade and economic growth picked up -- also reflected lower investment in projects other than mergers, according to the annual World Investment Report on Wednesday from the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

Inward flows to developed economies dropped 37 percent to $712 billion as mergers and acquisitions fell 29 percent. Meanwhile, FDI flows to developing economies remained stable at $671 billion, with investment into Latin America rising for the first time in six years.

“This negative trend is a long-term concern for policy makers worldwide, especially for developing countries, where international investment is indispensable for sustainable industrial development,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the report. “This troubling global investment picture underscores the importance of a conducive global investment environment.”

This Year

The UN projects FDI flows will rise “marginally” this year, by about 5 percent to $1.5 trillion, while remaining below the average over the past decade, amid policy uncertainty and trade tensions. There’s also a rise in investment restrictions as well as concerns about national security and foreign ownership of land and resources, along with heightened scrutiny of foreign takeovers, the report said, even as many countries make efforts to attract FDI.

The investment downturn in 2017 also partly reflected a decline in the global average rate of return on foreign investment, which fell to 6.7 percent from 7 percent. Developed nations, along with West Asia and South Asia’s developing economies, showed slowing returns.

The U.S. remained the biggest recipient of FDI, attracting $275 billion last year, followed by China with record inflows of $136 billion, the UN data showed. Outflows from China fell for the first time since 2003, down 36 percent to $125 billion as a result of policies clamping down on investment in response to “significant capital outflows” during 2015 and 2016, the report said.

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