Chinese investment in the US crashed in Trump’s first year in office

Bye-bye, FDI.
Bye-bye, FDI.
Image: Reuters/Thomas White
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Chinese investment in the United States plummeted in 2017, a product of policies stemming both from Beijing and Washington. The drop comes after 2016’s record levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) from China in the US, and looks set to continue this year.

According to research firm Rhodium Group, in 2017 Chinese investment in the United States reached $29 billion in consummated deals, marking a 35% decrease from the year prior.

However, over half of that accounted for deals that were announced in 2016. The value of newly announced deals in 2017 dropped 90% compared to the year prior, to a mere $8.7 billion. By those measures, 2017 notched the lowest amount of newly announced Chinese FDI in the US in six years.

The main factor behind the drop, as Rhodium notes, are controls that Beijing imposed early last year on outbound investment. The clampdown hindered some of the country’s most aggressive dealmakers, including property giant Wanda and travel conglomerate HNA.

Tracking Chinese FDI in the US month by month shows that investment dropped immediately once Beijing issued its warning. In December 2016, China invested roughly $8 billion into US businesses, according to Rhodium. In January 2017, it invested  just over $2 billion, and less than that each subsequent month of the year.

Yet Washington also played a part in curbing deals. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an inter-agency government branch that vets deals for potential national security threats, played a role in staving off a few key investments that were pending. Last September, it derailed a planned $1.3 billion acquisition of Oregon-based Lattice Semiconductor by Canyon Bridge Capital Partners, a California-based fund with ties to China’s government. Two months later, Chinese aluminum maker Zhongwang called off a $2.8 billion purchase of Cleveland-based aluminum manufacturer Aleris, citing uncertainty over CFIUS approval. In total, Rhodium lists seven failed deals that would have led to “at least another $7 or $8 billion” in Chinese investments into the US had they been approved.

This year, deal flow looks unlikely to rebound. While Beijing has signaled its capital controls will loosen slightly to accommodate its “Belt and Road” initiative, the kind of major deals that drove its outbound investment boom are unlikely to return.

Meanwhile, Washington looks set to increase scrutiny into Chinese investment in domestic companies. Yesterday a senate committee considered the pros and cons of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act. The bill would increase the jurisdiction of CFIUS, expanding the types of deals the agency can vet and thwart—with China being the unnamed but obvious target.