Svet v pasti neproduktivnih investicij

Spodaj je izvleček iz zanimivega teksta Angela Gurrie, generalnega sekretarja OECD, kjer govori o pasti financiranja in investiranja v sodobnem svetu. Po eni strani živi svet v iluziji likvidnosti zaradi neortodoksnih politik centralnih bank (kvantitativno sproščanje), toda ta sredstva gredo v neproduktivne namene. Predvsem ležijo v hedge skladih ali pa jih podjetja namenjajo za odkupe lastnih delnic (buybacks). Zanimivo je, da finančni trgi (borze) bolj nagrajujejo podjetja z večjim obsegom buybacksov kot pa podjetja z večjimi kapitalskimi naložbami.

Na drugi strani so se tudi naložbe multinacionalk v t.i. globalne verige vrednosti (global value chains) ujele v past nizke donosnosti. V veliki meri je šlo za preveč obsežne naložbe v države v razvoju, kjer je donos na vložen kapital danes manjši od cene financiranja. Hkrati pa je zanimiv trend, da medtem ko podružnice multinacionalk v razvitih državah dohitevajo svoje “matere” po obsegu prodaje na zaposlenega, to ne velja za dodano vrednost na zaposlenega. Ali drugače rečeno, bodisi gre za selitev proizvodnje z zelo nizko dodano vrednostjo ali pa “matere” z različnimi mehanizmi transfernih cen izsesajo dodano vrednost iz hčerinskih družb v tujini. Ali še drugače rečeno, multinacionalke pri investicijah v tujino zasledujejo operativno učinkovitost in davčne razloge, ne zanimajo pa jih naložbe v raziskave in razvoj ter inovacije v državah v razvoju. Logično.

In tretjič, potem pa je tu še problem davčne optimizacije zaradi škodljive davčne konkurence med razvitimi državami, kar vodi do navideznih naložb v države z nizkimi davčnimi stopnjami. Več o tem v naslednjem postu.

The liquidity illusion

As a result of low policy interest rates and quantitative easing, the world is awash with liquidity. This has flattened yield curves and reduced risk premia across assets. In turn, financial investors are chasing ever higher yields. For example, we are seeing:

  1. Strong growth in illiquid holdings – particularly in hedge funds and new alternative assets that use a lot of derivatives for hedging.
  2. A big rise in borrowing by emerging and frontier markets and issuance of high-yield corporate bonds. At the same time, we see a systematic decline in covenant protection for lenders who may be competing for yield now, but who may run into future problems.
  3. Increasing interdependence – regulatory reform has made banks safer, but financial institutions are more closely connected than ever. The world of so-called ‘shadow banking’ is increasingly interacting with pension funds and insurance companies.

Paradoxically, corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars of liquidity because of what they perceive as an uncertain and risky economic environment or because of flawed tax regimes. What we need therefore is, on the one hand, more diverse sources of private financing for productive investment and, on the other hand, efforts to limit interconnectivity in the financial sector – by separating traditional deposit banking from more risky activities, for example.

The geographic divergence in investment patterns and the role of global value chains

Cross-border investment patterns have become largely determined by  the rise of global value chains – GVCs – which have led to a geographic divergence in investment as multinationals outsource investment from advanced to emerging economies. One possibility explored in the Outlook is that there may have been too much investment in less efficient locations, giving rise to excess capacity in parts of the global supply chain. But business surveys also show us that economic uncertainty is a major factor holding back real investment in advanced economies, where companies are favouring share buybacks and cross-border asset divestments.

Nor does cash returned to shareholders appear to be finding its way into new productive investments. In fact, stock markets in advanced economies are punishing firms that invest: Over the 2009-2014 period buying shares in companies with low capex, while selling those with high capex, would have added 12% to the value of your portfolio in Japan, 21% in emerging countries, 47% in Europe, and a whopping 50% in the United States. Clearly, the incentives are badly skewed!

At the same time, we see evidence of significant overinvestment in some big emerging markets where regulations, controls and dominant state-owned companies weaken market signals. The fact that investment per unit of sales in general industry has been running at double the rate in emerging markets than in advanced economies may indicate some of these inefficiencies.

This has led to sales per employee in emerging market firms catching up with levels in advanced economies, without a similar convergence in value added per employee. This lag in convergence may be reinforced by multinationals pursuing operating efficiency and tax strategy over investment in R&D and innovation when making cross-border investments.

Our Outlook suggests, moreover, that the investment pendulum may have swung too far in some cases. One striking finding is that the return on equity has fallen markedly in emerging market firms, below the cost of equity, on average, and even below the cost of debt in some casesSo, while  net returns (ROE-COE) for general industry firms in our sample were safely above 10% in the US and Europe, they were close to zero in emerging markets. Clearly, past over-investment has opened up a ‘negative value creation gap’ for investors!

We cannot undo mistakes of the past, but we can avoid making them in the future. This means levelling the playing field so that firms have equal access to demand in all countries, and so that capital can be allocated smoothly across borders, in line with the OECD Codes. But, we also need to continue improving framework conditions, and to improve policy certainty, using tools like the OECD’s updated Policy Framework for Investmentfor example.

Vir: Angel Gurria, OECD

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