Global investment flows flat in 2019, moderate increase expected in 2020

20 January 2020

Foreign direct investment fell slightly from US$1.41 trillion in 2018 to $1.39 trillion in 2019. Flows to developed countries decreased by 6%, while those to developing economies were unchanged.

Global foreign direct investment (FDI) totaled US$1.39 trillion in 2019, slightly less than a revised $1.41 trillion for 2018. But flows are still expected to rise moderately in 2020, according to an UNCTAD Investment Trends Monitor published on 20 January.

The United States remained the largest recipient of FDI, attracting $251 billion in inflows, followed by China with flows of $140 billion and Singapore with $110 billion.

FDI flows to North America remained flat at $298 billion. But flows to developed economies as a group decreased by 6% to an estimated $643 billion – just half of the peak amount recorded in 2007.

“The trend for developed economies was conditioned by FDI dynamics in the European Union,” the monitor says, “where inflows declined by 15% to an estimated $305 billion.”

UNCTAD found that flows to developing economies remained unchanged in 2019 at an estimated $695 billion, meaning that these countries continued to absorb more than half of global FDI.

Analysis of the different developing regions showed the highest growth for Latin America and the Caribbean, at 16%. Africa continued to register a modest 3% rise while flows to developing Asia fell by 6%.

FDI inflows: global and by group of economies, 2008–2019*
(Billions of US dollars)
FDI inflows - global
Source: UNCTAD (* Preliminary estimates)

After two years of low inflows, countries with economies in transition saw FDI rebound in 2019 to an estimated $57 billion. The 65% pick-up was driven partly by expectations for higher economic growth in the region in 2020 and more stable prices for natural resources.

The UNCTAD monitor also highlights other FDI trends:

  • FDI in the United Kingdom down 6% as Brexit unfolds.

  • Hong Kong, China divestments cause a 48% FDI decline among turbulence.

  • Singapore up 42% in a buoyant region of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

  • Zero-growth of flows to both the United States and China.

  • Inflows to the Russian Federation more than doubled to $33 billion.

  • Brazil up 26% at the start of a privatization programme.

  • German inflows triple as multinational enterprises extend loans to foreign affiliates in a year of slow growth.

  • Cross-border mergers and acquisitions decreased by 40% in 2019 to $490 billion – the lowest level since 2014. The fall was deepest in the services sector (-56% to $207 billion).

FDI inflows: top 10 host economies, 2018 and 2019*
(Billions of US dollars)
FDI inflows - top 10
Source: UNCTAD (* Preliminary estimates)

UNCTAD expects FDI flows to rise marginally in 2020 on the back of further modest growth of the world economy. Corporate profits are expected to remain high as signs of waning trade tensions emerge.

However, expectations are tempered high geopolitical risks, concerns about a further shift towards protectionist policies and the 22% decrease of announced greenfield projects – an indicator of future trends.