There were 1278 greenfield foreign investment projects into the UK in 2018, the highest ever on record, according to fDi Markets. These projects amounted to $36.5bn, the largest inflow of capital expenditure (capex) into the UK since 2015, but an average figure compared to the last eight years of inflows.
The average price tag of a greenfield FDI project into the UK has remained historically low since 2016, compared to the 2003 to 2015 period, averaging $26m per project, finds fDi Markets. Prior to 2016, however, average capex per project always exceeded $30m.
Greenfield foreign investment into the UK has witnessed fairly consistent growth since 2003, when the country garnered 385 projects for $19.5bn. However, FDI growth faltered slightly in 2016 and 2017, dropping both years to 1075 projects in 2017.
The historic FDI inflows for 2018 suggest that international investors have regained some confidence since the UK's 2016 referendum, and also took advantage of the weaker pound sterling.
Although M&A and greenfield FDI have many differences, it is interesting to note that within real estate acquisitions, at least, foreign interest in the UK remained resilient throughout 2017 and 2018 since global investors tend to think long term and are, therefore, not as preoccupied with Brexit, says Alistair Meadows, JLL’s head of UK Capital Markets. Of course, greenfield investors are long-term thinkers too.
“In terms of Brexit’s impact [in the first quarter 2019] we’re seeing fantastic interest in the UK commercial market, [especially] from Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the US. Domestic players have been more quiet, [which] has given opportunity to foreign capital,” says Jonathan Harris, founder of Harris Associates, a UK commercial property agency and asset manager.
“The devalued sterling has also made things cheaper. Whatever Brexit we have, investors know it will be sorted out and London is the capital of Europe. It’s English-speaking and [investors are] comfortable with our laws [taxes and low interest rates],” he adds.