Global foreign direct investment (FDI) continued its recovery in April, with signals of future investment reaching their highest on record, as capital pledges relating to sustainability and technology post large gains.

The fDi Index, which tracks foreign investors’ sentiment, stood at 732 points in April — down from March, but marking an increase of 66.7% from April 2020, when countries were placed under Covid-19 lockdowns worldwide, according to the latest figures from investment tracker fDi Markets. This represents the largest annual increase in the fDi Index since it began in October 2015.

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The number of greenfield FDI projects announced worldwide by foreign investors fell slightly to 853 in April, down from 1064 a month earlier, but almost double the record low of 483 projects tracked in April 2020.

This points to a new forming capital expenditure (capex) cycle, as outlined by Morgan Stanley analysts on May 17, who predict that capex “will generally grow above gross domestic product through our forecast horizon [into the second quarter of 2022].”

Growing investment horizon

While project numbers declined, there are strong signs of more investment to come. Some 449 signals — an early indication that a company will be considering a future investment project and a major component of the fDi Index — were tracked in April. This is the highest number on record.

More than half of April’s signals, which include both new funding and plans for expansion, were in the software and IT services (tech) sector, including UK-based cybersecurity giant Darktrace, which raised £165m after listing on the London Stock Exchange. 

Meanwhile, California-based Intel set out plans to expand chip manufacturing capacity in the US, Europe and other global locations, while Ohio-based retail giant Kroger is considering US sites for customer fulfilment centres as it pushes forward its e-commerce strategy. 

Automotive and tech push gains

The automotive sector as a whole saw the largest increase in cross-border investment activity in April, with projects worth more than $2.6bn, up by almost $1.5bn from a year earlier.

Michigan-based automotive giant General Motors (GM) is planning to invest $1bn to expand its operations in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, to include electric vehicle (EV) production capabilities, while Japanese carmaker Toyota is to invest $803m into its Princeton, Indiana plant, adding two electric SUVs to production and creating 1400 jobs.

The tech sector also recorded a strong month, with the value of investments jumping by $1.18bn, compared with a year earlier. US-based cloud enterprise solution developer ServiceNow announced plans to add 300 staff to its intellectual property and development centre in Dublin, Ireland, over the next three years.

ServiceNow’s vice-president Mark Cockerill said in a statement that “Dublin is quickly becoming a central hub for global tech talent, and we’re looking forward to bringing more great people into our business as we continue to grow."

Consumer products, food and beverage companies announced significant expansions in April too. France-based luxury goods company LVMH Group plans to open a new e-commerce and storage hub in Shanghai, China, while US-based Cargill is set to invest $350m to establish a new canola processing facility in Regina, Canada.

Maintaining top spot

North American countries posted the largest rise in the number and value of FDI projects in April, compared with a year earlier, continuing the trend seen in March. The UK and Singapore both posted large rises in capital pledges, while China and Poland saw greenfield FDI valued at more than $1bn, but down on the same month a year earlier.

Asia-Pacific saw the largest decline in announced FDI in April, compared with a year earlier, mainly thanks to a $6.4bn natural gas joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina announced in April 2020. The energy transition continued to be reflected in April 2021 figures, with almost nothing pledged to fossil fuel projects, compared with $4.43bn worth of renewable energy investments.

US investors, traditionally the world’s largest source of capital, also continued to pursue domestic opportunities. Some 319 US interstate projects were tracked in April, compared with 171 abroad. 

The most capital-intensive project in April was Ultium Cell’s plans for a $2.3bn EV battery factory in Tennessee, as part of a joint venture with GM and South Korea-based LG. California-based Apple also announced plans to invest $1bn over ten years to build a new campus and engineering hub in North Carolina.