China’s first deficit in foreign investment signals West’s ‘de-risking’ pressure

SHANGHAI (Reuters) -China recorded its first-ever quarterly deficit in foreign direct investment (FDI), according to balance of payments data, underscoring capital outflow pressure and Beijing’s challenge in wooing overseas companies in the wake of a “de-risking” move by Western governments.

Direct investment liabilities – a broad measure of FDI that includes foreign companies’ retained earnings in China – were a deficit of $11.8 billion during the July-September period, according to preliminary balance of payments data.

That’s the first quarterly shortfall since China’s foreign exchange regulator began compiling the data in 1998, which could be linked to the impact of “de-risking” by Western countries from China, as well as China’s interest rate disadvantage.

“Some of the weakness in China’s inward FDI may be due to multinational companies repatriating earnings,” Goldman Sachs wrote.

“With interest rates in China ‘lower for longer’ while interest rates outside of China ‘higher for longer’, capital outflow pressures are likely to persist.”

Julian Evans-Pritchard, head of China economics at Capital Economics, said the unusually-large interest rate gap “has led firms to remit their retained earnings out of the country”.

Although he sees little evidence that foreign companies are, on aggregate, reducing their presence in China, “we do think that, over the medium-term at least, increasing geopolitical tensions will hamper China’s ability to attract FDI and instead favour emerging markets that are more friendly to the West.”

Driven by the FDI outflows, China’s basic balance – which encompasses current account and direct investment balances and are more stable than volatile portfolio investments – recorded a deficit of $3.2 billion, the second quarterly shortfall on record.

“Given these unfolding dynamics, which are poised to exert pressure on the RMB, we anticipate a sustained strategic response from China’s authorities,” Tommy Xie, head of Greater China Research at OCBC wrote.

Onshore yuan trading against the dollar also hit record-low volume in October, official data showed, highlighting authorities’ stepped-up efforts to curb yuan selling.

Xie expects China’s central bank to continue counter-cyclical interventions – including a strong bias in daily yuan fixings and managing yuan liquidity in the offshore market- to support the currency in the face of these headwinds.

Latest data shows that onshore volume of yuan trading against the dollar slumped to a record low of 1.85 trillion yuan ($254.05 billion) in October, a 73% drop from the August level.

The People’s Bank of China has urged major banks to limit trading and dissuade clients to exchange the yuan for the dollar, sources have told Reuters.

In September, foreign exchange outflows from China rose sharply to $75 billion, the biggest monthly figure since 2016, Goldman Sachs data showed.

($1 = 7.2819 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Shanghai newsroom;Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)