Global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows fell 49 per cent in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, due to the economic fallout from Covid-19, according to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
UNCTAD's latest Global Investment Trends Monitor released on Tuesday showed developed economies saw the biggest fall, with FDI reaching an estimated $98 billion in the six-month period, a decline of 75 per cent compared to 2019.
It noted that in the wake of the pandemic, lockdowns around the world slowed existing investment projects and the prospects of a deep recession led multinational enterprises to reassess new projects.
"The FDI decline is more drastic than we expected, particularly in developed economies. Developing economies weathered the storm relatively better for the first half of the year," said James Zhan, UNCTAD's investment and enterprise director. "The outlook remains highly uncertain."
The trend of massive FDI decline in developed countries was exacerbated by sharply negative inflows in European economies, mainly in the Netherlands and Switzerland. FDI flows to North America fell by 56 per cent to $68 billion.
Meanwhile, the 16 per cent decrease in FDI flows to developing economies was less than expected, due to mainly resilient investment in China, it noted. Flows decreased by just 12 per cent in Asia but were 28 per cent lower than in 2019 in Africa and 25 per cent lower in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the six months to June 2020, developing countries in Asia accounted for more than half of global FDI.
The decline cut across all major forms of FDI, the report shows.
The report shows that cross-border merger and acquisition (M&A) values reached $319 billion in the first three quarters of 2020. The 21 per cent decline in developed countries, which account for about 80 per cent of global transactions, was checked by the continuation of M&A activity in digital industries.
The value of greenfield investment project announcements -- an indicator of future FDI trends -- was $358 billion in the first eight months of 2020. Developing economies saw a much bigger fall (49 per cent) than developed economies (17 per cent), reflecting their more limited capacity to roll out economic support packages.
The number of announced cross-border project finance deals declined by 25 per cent, with the biggest drops in the third quarter of 2020, suggesting that the slide is still accelerating.
The UNCTAD report noted that the prospects for the full year remain negative and global FDI inflows are likely to decline 30-40 per cent in FDI flows.
"The rate of decline in developed economies is likely to flatten as some investment activity appeared to be picking up in the third quarter," it said, adding that flows to developing economies are expected to stabilise, with east Asia showing signs of an impending recovery.
The flows will hinge on the duration of the health crisis and the effectiveness of policy interventions to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic. Geopolitical risks continue to add to the uncertainty.
Despite the 2020 drop, FDI remains the most important source of external finance for developing countries, according to UNCTAD. Global FDI stock stood at $37 trillion at the end of 2019, it added.