FDI’s Ultimate Purpose Posturing

An IMF working paper, responding to gaps in the benchmark coordinated direct investment survey and bilateral reporting generally, has stripped out offshore special purpose structures for the first time in an attempt to chart ultimate investor relationships and totals. It stipulates “asymmetries” in country inward and outward numbers where one is twice the other in half of cases and small economies have disproportionate shares as purely financial conduits. They do not represent physical ownership at the accepted 10 percent threshold and through “complex chains” can mask the business and geographic source. The analysis uses new OECD data and removes the artificial vehicles to chart actual integration and linkages where tiny global hubs in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and elsewhere fade in importance among the 115 nations tracked. The average discrepancy in pairs is over $5 billion and may derive from conflicting valuation methods for unlisted equities despite Fund guidance. The proliferation of special purpose entities (SPEs) at multinational firms distorts “real” activity, as they are non-resident domiciles without production or presence and often “pass-throughs” for tax and confidentiality advantages. Offshore frameworks can be readily created in major jurisdictions like the US, where they bring in an estimated $100 billion in annual revenue. They encourage questionable transfer pricing for intragroup sales which are to be at “arms- length,” but violated EU rules through Luxembourg and Ireland-based transactions. Tax-shifting to low-cost or exempt locations is another goal and the British Virgin and Cayman Islands are two examples of places that do not report to outside bodies. The final investor with majority voting control may be unknown, but SPE isolation knocks one-third from the IMF survey results even though regional true FDI ties between neighbors, such as with Hong Kong and China are strong. When excluding these arrangements Cyprus and Mauritius are no longer on the top 40 locations and are replaced by “traditional economies” such as the Czech Republic and Saudi Arabia which do not offer financial engineering and round-tripping possibilities. The publication urges permanent statistical revisions around the concept of actual interconnectedness which could feature in the next comprehensive tabulation due in the coming months, at the same time that the US tax code could be changed to reflect productive rather than paper trail direction according to bipartisan advocates.

The fresh methodology will not improve Turkey’s relative position as its aspirations to better balance international portfolio and direct inflows and bridge the chronic current account deficit clash with visa and aid disputes. US commercial relations have frayed since last year’s aborted coup and subsequent crackdown on hundreds of thousands of alleged sympathizers, including a prominent philanthropist and think-tank head the past month. President Erdogan insists that exiled cleric Gulen be extradited and accused embassy personnel of abetting overthrow , as big state lender Halk Bank is under investigation in Washington for illegal gold trading with Iran. Bilateral visa processing has been suspended as the currency again slipped toward 4/dollar on the tensions, aggravated by a threatened EU aid cutoff for anti-democratic practice. Entry talks are already in the deep freeze, and the Turkish President criticized Brussels for “wasting time” and hinted at quitting both the decades-long negotiations and model FDI makeover.