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China economy

China investment in US slides to 7-year low in 2018 amid trade war

  • Beijing’s tighter grip on outbound investment and Washington’s stepped-up scrutiny of Chinese purchases also take their toll, research group says
PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2019, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 January, 2019, 11:11pm

Chinese direct investment in US assets dropped sharply in 2018 to the lowest level in seven years, due to the trade war, Chinese restrictions on outbound investment and new US government scrutiny of Chinese acquisitions of American assets, the Rhodium Group consultancy reported on Monday.

The data is the latest sign of the cooling of the China-US relationship, with the slowdown in Chinese interest in US assets likely to continue, if not worsen, this year. Lower investment also raises risks of a further slowdown in the global economy.

Last year Chinese companies completed just US$4.8 billion in new business acquisitions and investments in the US, down 84 per cent from US$29 billion in 2017 and 90 per cent from US$46 billion in 2016.

US trade war forces businesses to rethink Chinese investments amid fears dispute will drag on into new year

Taking into account the US$13 billion in US asset sales by Chinese companies – much of it required by the Chinese government of overly extended Chinese conglomerates – net Chinese investment in the US fell US$8 billion last year.

Rhodium warned that the pressures would persist this year, with the “dark cloud over US-China relations” unlikely to disappear.

“The pipeline of pending Chinese investments in the US is at a five-year low, and most hurdles weighing on China’s US investment are poised to persist or deepen,” the group said, citing the continuation of Beijing’s strict outbound capital controls and the effects of its campaign to cut debt and risky lending.

Chinese investment in US property cools amid US-China trade war

In addition, Washington is expected to implement tougher screening of venture capital and hi-tech acquisitions.

Still, a major trade deal between China and the US could help spur investor appetite in sectors that do not raise national security concerns.

And Chinese investors still have some appetite for US assets. In contrast to the slowdown in direct investment, Chinese venture capital financing in the US hit a record US$3.1 billion in 2018 as regulatory hurdles eased, Rhodium said.

“However, a slowdown in China’s technology sector and an expansion of US screening to include certain venture capital transactions present headwinds for Chinese outbound venture investment, some of which were already visible in the second half of the year,” the group said.