A year can make all the difference, but sometimes it isn’t enough to declare a global recession truly over. While this year’s Global Outlook Report showed that greenfield investment is coming back, FDI still fell in 2010. Granted, a decline of 0.38% is rather encouraging when compared to the crash of 17.3% in 2009, but it is hardly a number to tout.
However, a closer look into the numbers reveals some interesting stories and trends. Some trends, such as the growth in Brazil and Latin America, are very encouraging. It is hardly a surprise that Brazil is doing well, but it certainly seems as if the traditional FDI powerhouses of the US, China and western Europe are about to have some serious competition on their hands in the near future. Our team travels to Brazil every year – when we're lucky, more than once – and it is truly impressive to see how quickly things are changing. Areas of the country that have traditionally been quieter, such as its north coast, are now being marketed as the next Cancun.
On a sector and business activity basis, it was the less sexy areas that brought in and generated the most projects. Software and IT services, business services and financial services were the top sectors in 2010, while manufacturing was once again the top business activity. I still have trouble understanding why we don’t hear more from investment promotion agencies about the potential for manufacturing when year after year it has been such a solid performer. Maybe this year’s 21% increase in manufacturing projects will finally force them to take notice.
Looking at the bigger picture though, there are plenty of reasons to be encouraged by the virtual zero. Growth is multi-polar, instead of dominated by a few select countries. Job creation levels declined by 4% in 2010, but unemployment rates around the world have been grudgingly moving back down. Last year was certainly not the rosiest FDI time we have ever had, but we'll surely take it over the darker days of 2009 and 2008.
So what then for 2011? All of our indicators point to the distinct possibility that project numbers will return to growth, as will capital expenditure and job creation. There are many obvious risks out there that we can see every day in the news, from conflicts to sovereign defaults to soaring commodity prices. But when we compare this year’s report to others, there are plenty of reasons to believe that FDI and the world economy have turned the corner.