No need for anyone to sit down while reading the news that we report on page 7. The revelation that cross­border greenfield investment in financial services is sputtering is not exactly a shocker. Yet the ramifications for overall FDI flows are notable, if not unexpected.

Since 2003, the software and IT services sector had been the biggest generator of FDI projects, as ranked by fDi Markets, our greenfield investment tracking service. Financial services claimed the top spot in 2008, accounting for 10% of projects globally, on the back of what was nearly a 40% jump in project numbers over 2007. Last year, financial services provided more than 1500 projects, $55bn in capital investment and more than 150,000 jobs. But in the first two months of this year project numbers in the sector are down nearly 30% from the same period last year.

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Financial services, of course, is among the sectors most vulnerable to economic recession, along with electronics, real estate, chemicals, communications and automotives (the problems of the ‘big three’ auto makers pose a major FDI threat to a number of locations in North America and abroad – see our GM story on page 38).

Could the more recession-resilient sectors take up a bit of the slack? These include renewable energy, software and IT, professional services, aerospace and healthcare.

Based on the reading fDi has taken of the market through our 2009 investor intentions survey (page 82), companies in all manner of industries are proceeding with caution. Some 44% of the companies polled by fDi say they are planning no overseas greenfield investment projects this year; and nearly as many say they will not be carrying out expansions of existing facilities either. More than half say their companies will make fewer overseas investments in 2009 than last year.

However, to turn the numbers on their head, the results also mean that 55% of companies will make at least one investment this year, and about the same percentage will expand at least one facility this year. A bullish 7.5% still intend to carry out more than 20 projects.

If ‘flat is the new up’, as the CEO of our parent group Pearson likes to say, and by extension, marginally down is the new flat, then greenfield investment levels have a slim chance of staying ‘flat’ this year.

But only a slim one.

Courtney Fingar