Blog Post

China’s outward foreign direct investment

China’s outbound foreign direct investment (ODI) may have exceeded inbound foreign direct investment (FDI) for the first time in 2014, according to the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China (MOFCOM).

By: Date: June 28, 2015 Topic: Global Economics & Governance

This result is remarkable because it implies that China may have already become a net exporter of FDI, something surprising given the country’s stage of development as well as its relatively low share of global ODI stocks (Figure 1).

The reality could actually be quite different.  ODI figures may be substantially distorted due to the presence of offshore intermediaries such as Hong Kong, and tax havens in the Caribbean, which accounted for circa 70% of China’s total ODI flows and stocks in 2013 (Figure 2). MOFCOM requires companies to register the first (not the final) destination of their cross-border transactions and  not to take into account reverse flows, making it hard to determine the final size and distribution of Chinese ODI. In a recent Working Paper with Carlos Casanova and Xia Le[i], we recalculate China’s Outbound Foreign Direct Investments (ODI) in a way which accounts for these distortions.

Our estimates show that China’s ODI flows and stocks may have been overestimated andcould actually be more diversified that previously thought (Figure 3). First of all, ODI flows and stocks in 2013 may have been much lower than reported by MOFCOM. The reason for this discrepancy is that approximately 40% of all flows to Hong Kong ending up being reinvested in China as inbound FDI , in order to benefit from preferential conditions (Xiao, 2004).

In addition, the geographical distribution of Chinese ODI stocks and flows may be more balanced than previously thought, with developed markets in North America and Europe accounting for a larger share of final flows and stocks.

While Asia remains the largest recipient of Chinese ODI, its share falls from 70% to 50% according to our estimates. The fact that Asia is the main recipient of Chinese ODI makes sense given the region’s geographical proximity and close trade links with China. However, Chinese official statistics define Asia in very broad terms – to include the Middle East and Central Asia – so this figure would decrease significantly based on narrower geographical classifications.

Europe emerges as the second largest recipient according to our estimates. The continent goes from being a relatively modest recipient of ODI (8% of stocks and 6% of flows in 2013), to accounting for 19% of total stocks, and 17% of total flows in 2013. Take the European Union (EU) as an example: recent media reports have claimed that we are witnessing wave of Chinese investments into the EU; however official statistics place this figure at a modest USD 4.4 billion in 2013. Our estimates show that in reality Chinese ODI flows into the EU could have been closer to USD 10.4 billion, challenging previously held assumptions that China remains a minor investor in the EU.

North America also sees an increase in its share of ODI, with the United States accounting for over 75% of flows and stocks to North America. This comes as no surprise. MOFCOM’s statistics show that Chinese ODI flows into the US were USD 3.8bn in 2013, a figure which is lower than the value of the largest transaction that year (the purchase of Smithfield’s Food for USD4.7bn, which happened via the Cayman Islands). Our estimates put this figure at around USD 9.0 billion (stocks: USD 49.2 billion).

Latin America is the only region that experiences a drop in Chinese ODI, however if we exclude offshore centers from the equation, ODI stocks to the region actually increase after accounting for data limitations based on our estimates (USD 9.9 billion according to MOFCOM vs. USD 23.2 billion based on our estimates).

  

All in all, even if China did not really make it to surpass the landmark of becoming a net creditor in 2014, there is no doubt that it will in the future as China’s ODI stocks in the world are underrepresented relative to the country’s size. In particular, a number of issues will add to the existing momentum behind Chinese ODI.  First, the easing of application procedures for ODI is bound to continue as China moves forward with capital account liberalization. Second, there is a growing need to internationalize Chinese corporations to boost productivity  and reduce excessive capacity in several sector. Boosting ODI to overseas markets where demand is still on the rise, as is the case with most ASEAN countries, will enable China to outsource this excessive capacity. Labor-intensive sectors will also seek to expand overseas in order to benefit from relatively lower labor costs and maximize profit margins, favoring ODI flows to manufacturing activities in ASEAN and to a lesser extent Africa. Third, China’s huge amount of reserves will need to be diversified into higher yielding assets over time.  Fourth and most importantly, the Chinese government is the one pushing this process not only at the level of the individual company but also with grandiose initiatives such as the 21st Century Silk Road.

With the growing importance of Chinese ODI, we also hope that tracking where this huge amount of money is going becomes easier over time.


[i] https://www.bbvaresearch.com/en/publicaciones/chinas-odi-how-much-goes-where-after-round-tripping-and-offshoring/


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

India in 2024: Narendra Modi once more, but to what end?

Even with the recent economic slowdown, India still boasts Asia’s fastest growing economy in 2018. But beneath the veneer of impressive GDP expansion, uneasiness about India’s economic model clearly tempers enthusiasm.

By: Alicia García-Herrero and Trinh Nguyen Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 17, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

What is in store for the EU’s trade relationship with the US ?

If faced with a resurgent President Trump after the next US election, the EU will have some difficult decisions to make as it is compelled to enter a one-sided negotiation. Failure to strike a deal will imperil the world’s largest trade relationship and contribute to the progressive unravelling of the rules enshrined in the World Trade Organization – although the changes required of Europe by Trump’s demands may ultimately turn out to be in the interest of Europeans.

By: Uri Dadush Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 16, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Director's Cut: Evolution of US-China relations amid trade-tariff conflict

Bruegel director Guntram Wolff and Bruegel fellow Uri Dadush welcome William Alan Reinsch, senior adviser and Scholl chair in international business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, for a discussion of how China-US relations are developing in the context of unfolding trade war.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 14, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Implications of the escalating China-US trade dispute

If allowed to escalate, the trade dispute between China and the United States will significantly increase the likelihood of a global protectionist surge and a collapse in the rules-based international trading system. Here the author assesses the specific impacts on the Chinese and US economies, as well as the strategic problems this dispute poses for Europe.

By: Uri Dadush Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 14, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

Will China’s trade war with the US end like that of Japan in the 1980s?

The outcome of the US-China trade war is anticipated to be quite different from the experience of Japan in the 1980s and 1990s, due to China’s relatively lower dependence on the US and having learned from the Japanese experience.

By: Alicia García-Herrero and Kohei Iwahara Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 13, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Trade war: Is the U.S. panicking due to China's big hedge?

U.S.-China trade war has suddenly taken centre stage following Donald Trump’s unexpected announcement to ramp up tariffs if no deal is reached. U.S. is in desperate need for a comprehensive victory, and China is ready to make concessions, but not to the extent of transforming its state-led economic model into a market-based economy.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 9, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

External Publication

Can emerging markets be a source of global troubles again?

According to popular perception, emerging-market economies have not experienced serious macroeconomic and financial turbulence since the beginning of this century. This perception was not entirely correct because it disregarded spill-over effects of the global financial crises of 2008–2009, the consequences of the decline of oil and other commodity prices in 2014–2016, economic and financial troubles caused by violent conflicts and regional political instability.

By: Marek Dabrowski Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 9, 2019
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

Spitzenkandidaten visions for the future of Europe's economy

What are the different political visions for the future of Europe’s economy? Bruegel and the Financial Times organised a debate series with lead candidates from six political parties in the run-up to the 2019 European elections.

By: Giuseppe Porcaro Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Global Economics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Date: May 8, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

Life after the multilateral trading system

Considering a world absent a multilateral trading system is not to promote such an outcome, but to encourage all to prepare for the worst and instil greater clarity in the mind of policymakers as to what happens if compromise fails.

By: Uri Dadush and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 25, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

What else China can do to support growth in the short term

Recent data shows the downward spiral in the Chinese economy has somewhat eased on a cyclical basis, but it is still too early to cheer for a full stabilization.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 23, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

The next step of the Belt and Road Initiative: Multilateralisation with Chinese characteristics

The increasingly broad objective of China's Belt and Road Initiative has attracted the attention not only from the BRI members, but also from other major players such as the United States and the European Union.

By: Alicia García-Herrero and Jianwei Xu Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 18, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Why China's current account balance approaches zero

China’s current account is projected to be balanced within the next few years. Observers disagree whether this is due to structural factors or Chinese policy. We review their assessments of the Chinese saving and investment situation and what this implies for the future.

By: Michael Baltensperger Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 15, 2019
Load more posts