Despite the Ukraine war and global inflationary pressures throwing a spanner at the post-pandemic foreign direct investment (FDI) recovery in 2022, investment into several countries is already surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
Announced greenfield projects in 2022 to date have not fared well. Between January and June this year, recorded projects are down by almost 4% on the same period last year, and 26% on the first half of 2019, according to preliminary figures from fDi Markets.
Set against a lagging market, Armenia, Qatar and Cyprus top the ranking of countries that stand out for the post-pandemic investment recovery they have experienced in the first half of the year, according to an analysis based on fDi Markets data tracking the percentage increase in the number of FDI projects recorded in the first six months of 2022, compared with the first six months of 2019 (for this analysis, fDi only included countries that recorded 10 or more projects in the first half of the year).
Foreign investors announced a record 14 FDI projects in Armenia in the first half of 2022, which represents a seven-fold increase from the two projects recorded in the same period of 2019, fDi Markets figures show.
Further, it is noteworthy that 10 of the 13 projects tracked in the first six months of 2022 were in software and IT services, when the country averaged only two investments annually in this sector over the course of 2010s.
As the country’s domestic tech sector has matured over the decade, growing from 1.2% of the country’s gross domestic product to 5.1% in 2020, foreign investors are now emboldened to move in. San Francisco and Yerevan, Armenia-headquartered video editing app Picsart gained ‘unicorn’ status last year, surpassing a value of $1bn. More recently, American and Russian tech businesses are moving in. US-based Nvidia is reportedly due to open a new research and development centre in the capital Yerevan, and Russia’s answer to Google, Yandex, opened a new office in Armenia in June, aimed at coordinating the company's activities in the Commonwealth of Independent States countries.
In neighbouring Georgia, tech enthusiasm has been borne out in a similar way. Investment into software and IT services rose by 1000% to 11 projects recorded in the first half of the year, compared to only one such project in the same period of 2019. Overall greenfield investments rose by 50% to 15 projects over the same period. In a report, the Georgian government stated that UK-based Godel Technologies will relocate its business to Georgia this year due to the “attractive business climate”, “competitive environment” and “skilled workforce”.
In Qatar, FDI projects over the first half of the year are up 176.9% from the same period of 2019, driven by an increase across the board in business services, financial services, software and IT, and notably in coal, oil and gas. The country’s state oil and gas company, QatarEnergy, has teamed up with ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Eni and Shell to develop the North Field East (NFE) liquified natural gas project in the city of Ras Laffan. The foreign partners will own 25% of NFE, and total investment is budgeted at $28.75bn.
In its 2022 FDI confidence index, consultancy Kearney ranked Qatar in the top 25 for the first time, suggesting that the country “likely benefited from investor enthusiasm about the country hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup”.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, the UAE tracked the biggest absolute number increase of projects with 292 in the first half of 2022 — a large jump from the 185 projects recorded in the first six months of 2019.
Greece has also made the most of the pandemic years in retooling its investment proposition. Since the pandemic, FDI has fared better with more than double the projects recorded in Greece in the first half of 2022 compared with the same period of 2019.
Behind this uptick is renewed confidence in a country previously tarnished by its sovereign debt crisis, as large-scale investors embark on more ambitious projects, such as Microsoft's $1bn investment into a data centre region and Portugal’s EDP plans to invest over €500m in 500MW of installed renewables capacity in Greece by 2025.
Foreign investment into Cyprus has traced a similar pattern of rebounding confidence. Greenfield investments rose by 150% in the first half of 2022 from the same period of 2019.
Better known for its ‘Golden Visa’ programme, the Mediterranean island has displayed resilience in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a 600% increase in software and IT investments between 2019 and 2022. Israeli pharmaceutical company Medison Pharma is also enlarging its European operations to include Greece and Cyprus.
Baltic nation Latvia also showed positive signs of FDI growth, particularly in electronic components. Sweden-based Anodox announced in March that it will open two factories, one electric vehicle battery factory and another to produce lithium iron phosphate cells. Supported by the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia, the investment totals €50m.
Elsewhere, Luxembourg has also seen an improvement in its FDI attractiveness. In the first six months of 2022, Luxembourg has surpassed investment levels seen in the whole of 2020 and in the first half of 2019, putting it on track to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Overall, Portugal attracted 117 projects in the first half of 2022, up from 70 from the same period of 2019. By capital expenditure, renewable energy tops the list of sectors with $515m invested between January and June with three European renewable energy companies setting up shop in the country.
The Portuguese capital’s tech credentials have also not gone unnoticed by foreign investors either. Swedish fintech Klarna has opened a new product development centre in the city. “Today, companies are not necessarily looking for traditional office spaces. They look for neighbourhoods with soul and life. Smaller, original spaces with a spirit of community — this is what Lisbon has to offer,” said Carlos Moedas, Lisbon’s mayor, on Klarna’s arrival in the capital.
Ireland is firmly in the FDI spotlight with a record number of projects tracked by fDi Markets between January and June and the year’s biggest greenfield project to-date. The country tracked 168 projects in the first half of the year, with big-ticket investments going into semiconductors and tech. At time of publication, the biggest greenfield recorded project anywhere in 2022 has been US chip giant Intel’s €12bn expansion at its plant in Leixlip, Ireland.