Disruptions to the global economy have caused many if not most companies to adapt their overseas expansion strategies. This is highlighted by the results of the Corporate Outlook Survey 2021, conducted by Investment Monitor in partnership with the International Chamber of Commerce.
The vast majority of respondents to the survey cited at least some change to their corporate strategies since the Covid-19 pandemic began: 42.5% say their companies are reassessing where to invest and 27.4% are reassessing modes of entry, while 17.8% have put all overseas investments on hold and an equal percentage are scaling back on these investments. A stoic 30.1% say their companies have not made any changes.
The online survey set out to understand what companies currently think about the global environment for business, and was completed by 117 corporate executives with responsibility for and knowledge of their company's overall strategy. The majority of respondents represent small and medium-sized enterprises.
Not surprisingly, the ongoing impact of Covid-19 is seen as the biggest strategic risk to the respondents’ companies with 38.6% citing it as the top threat, followed by legal and regulatory changes (21.7%), geopolitical issues (18.1%) and climate change or other issues (10.8%).
Revenue growth is an understandable top strategic priority for these executives, ranking number one on a list of five, with innovation, expansion into new markets or business segments, and talent following in descending order of importance. Environmental, corporate and social governance, or ESG, although growing in relevance for many organisations, remains a distant number five on the list.
As to what’s driving foreign direct investment (FDI) decisions, access to new customers or markets is by far the biggest factor, capturing 56.2% of responses. Among the other factors considered, de-risking was the most significant, at 13.7%.
Despite the challenges of the current business environment, respondents were more optimistic than not – albeit cautiously so. Nearly half of respondents said they were either somewhat or very optimistic about the global economic outlook, with even rosier outlooks for their own sectors, regions and companies.
When weighing up the attractiveness of various regions as investment destinations, the Americas (with 35.2% of responses) and Asia-Pacific (36.6%) were the biggest beneficiaries of a change in sentiment in a positive direction in recent months, followed by Europe (32.4%). The Middle East, meanwhile, was deemed less attractive by more respondents (36.6%) than those who said it had grown in attractiveness (21.1%), while 42.3% said their perception of the region had not changed. Likewise, Africa had a higher swing to negative (35.2%) than positive (26.8%), with 38% saying its attractiveness for FDI was unchanged either way.
Regarding individual countries, those cited as having improved in respondents’ view of their investment attractiveness included the US (with 29% citing its enhanced appeal), the Netherlands (14.5%), Canada (11.6%), Brazil (10.1%), the United Arab Emirates (10.1%) and the UK (10.1%). Other countries rounding out the top ten list of investment destinations seen as growing in attractiveness are Australia, India, Mexico and Switzerland (all at 8.7%).