An Evaluation of the reasons why a multinational enterprise undertakes FDI
There are many conceptualisations and variations to the definition of MNCs; however the most commonly accepted definition is that of Barros and Cabral (2000) who defines a MNC as the corporation which has large structure spanning the national border of a country to include operations and bases in several countries. For a firm to be considered a MNC it must own at least in part, a subsidiary in a second country (Glass and Saggi, 2002).
Over the years, MNCs have continued to expand their operations by improving their investment portfolios and operational outputs in other countries in their quest to enhance productivity and more importantly achieve better value for their owners and maximise profit for their shareholders. While it is often argued that MNCs ship capital to where it is scarce, transfer technology and management expertise from one country to another, and promote the efficient allocation of resources in the global economy, it is important to note that inspite of this, the ultimate goal of the corporation is to increase profit and improve share value for its owners and shareholders (Barris and Cabra, 2002).
It is believed that while FDI helps the country at the receiving end it also benefits the organisation because FDI by their nature has multiple benefits and can offer quick growth for any organisation if carefully undertaken. According to the International Monetary Fund (2002) FDI refers to an investment made to acquire lasting or long-term interest in enterprises operating outside of the economy of the investor. It plays an important role in global business especially in an everly increasingly competitive world marked by competition and globalisation. FDI can also provide a firm with new opportunities, distribution channels, markets and cheaper production capacities including, skills, technology and financing (IMF, 2002).
In the work of Zarsky (2002) he points out that MNCs who invests in other countries often tend to benefit from lower costs and higher productive efficiency amongst several other benefits, therefore for firms seeking to achieve better performance, FDI is always undertaken as a strategic decision to achieve such objective. The aim of this paper is to discuss the importance of FDI to multinational organisations and evaluate some of the most important reasons why a MNC would undertake foreign direct investment abroad. The paper looks at the varying benefits of FDI and how it particularly benefits the firm undertaking such investment.
UNCTAD estimates that there are over 76,000 multinational corporations with affiliates and subsidiaries running to about 770,000 worldwide (UNCTAD, 2007). In 2005, FDI was estimated to have reached over $1.5 trillion with MNCs responsible for 12% of the world’s GDP while employing over 55 million people across the world (OECD, 2007). The OECD also estimates that 100 of the largest MNCs in the world account for over 15% of foreign assets with them accounting for 1/3 of global trade. In total over 70% of MNCs are based in advanced industrial countries with increasing stake in the developing world. The increasing surge of MNCs in emerging markets over the past decade especially attests to the fact they are increasingly undertaking FDI through market expansion to diversify their portfolios and increase their presence. Some of the few examples are: Vodaphone in India, Ford in Turkey, Microsoft in the UK and Coca cola in African countries. As is inherent in some of these examples, FDI can either take the form of merger, acquisition, the development of a new firm and or joint venture participation with existing firms (OECD, 2007).
According to Thomsen (2000) FDI is important in so many ways for both the host country and the firm making the FDI because it holds various advantages in the long term for both. However, while its benefit for the firm is the focus of this paper, it is important to state that FDI can stimulate competition so long as there are proper policies in the host economy. Therefore FDI investment is not only important to the multinational firm but also the host economy for which it has so many spill over effects which is enjoyed in the long term. Generally, there is outward FDI and inward FDI. Outward FDI is the type of foreign direct investment which typically leaves a country while inward FDI is one which is received by a host country (Ekholm, 2004). MNCs participate in both forms of FDI and benefits from both at the same time through their activities. While outward FDI is generally not in favour of the host economy, it is said to benefit the MNC because it offers the opportunity for reinvestment or as profits for the owners or shareholders. Inward FDI on the other hand benefits the host economy as it creates jobs and generates tax for the government while also benefiting the multinational company in several ways.
Why MNCs undertake FDI
In the old economics textbook, various reasons were adduced to the motive behind MNCs undertaking of FDI in other countries. One of the main explanations is that ‘Market disequilibrium and distortions’ give MNCs the impetus to undertake foreign investment (See e.g. Knickerbocker, 1973; p. 21). In a sense, it is believed that government imposed distortions as well as temporary disequilibria for example causes the need for firms to look outside their domestic market for opportunities in other countries (Ibid). Another explanation often put forward for MNCs motive for undertaking FDI is that market imperfection drives MNCs to look outward because imperfection in a market creates opportunities and economies of scale therefore it offers the MNC a perfect opportunity to increase its profits by investing its stake (See: Ekholm, 2004). While some of these explanations are still true to some extent as to why MNCs undertake FDI, the current and most important reasons indeed surpases what is documented in the old textbooks of economics as explained earlier.
Today, MNCs undertake foreign direct investment for various reasons and one of such is the increasing pressure wielded by competition through the forces of globalisation on the MNC making the rate of risk higher as to sustain long term operation in domestic markets (Nunnenkamp, 2002). Indeed through the modern process of globalisation, competition has taken a new dimension as forces outside a country can compete with a firm irrespective of its dominance in its local market, its brand awareness or strenghth, with the power of increasing competition therefore, survival today is about thinking ahead of the game, organisational thinking through innovation, collaboration, expansion and increased presence in other markets. This can be said to be one of the main impetus for MNCs motive for undertaking FDI abroad as such investment would enable the firm to achieve its objectives of improving profits and enhancing productivity theough cost cutting.
Another motive behind MNCs undertaking of foreign direct investment is to diversify risks in their markets and portfolios. As noted by (Johnson, 2005) increasingly the macro business environment is becoming characterized with operational risks as the rate of unceratinty is increasing and markets are failing. The recent recession is an example of such risks existing in the external operating environment, since the recession which first started in 2007, several well known brands have collapsed while many are still suffering from the ruins of the recession. Indeed, many organisations operating in single markets and with limited product and market portfolios were exposed to market failures and increased risks in the last recession which consequently marked major decline in their share value and profit margin. Consequently, as a result of the threats associated with the risks of operating in one single market or product, MNCs are undetaking FDI abroad in other to diversify the risks in their primary market. Risk for a MNC can come in various faces. It could be operational risk, market risk, product risk, and several other. Undertaking FDI therefore offers the MNC the opportunity to mitigate such risks by diversifying into other markets or products through FDI.
In the recent work of Davis (2009) he suggests that by undertaking foreign direct investment the MNC is able to lower production costs while also able to avoid trade restrictions. More so, the increasing labour cost and the cost of production in industrialised economies has given more impetus to MNCs to undertake FDI in a way that would allow them to lower production costs and enjoy cheaper labour costs (Barros and Cabral 2000). Ford motors is a typical example; Since the cost of production of Ford motors has increased in the UK, the company has decided to conduct its operations from other markets like Turkey for example where the cost of labour and production is relatively low. In addition to aiming to reduce labour and production costs, MNCs also undertake FDI to take up opportunity in profitable markets (Johnson, 2005) and this especially has to do with markets where there are better opportunities for the MNC to compete and make profit while at the same time increasing its brand value and identity (Ibid). Most of large oil and gas firms in the industrialised countries are typical examples of this development. Most big western oil firms such as Shell, Chevron, Mobil, BP, Texaco, etc have increased their presence in oil producing nations such as Russia, Angola, Brazil, Nigeria, Qatar, etc because the oil market in such countries require huge investment and infrastructure which they can undertake through FDI yet the market is such that there is little competition and therefore when they enter such markets they are able to use their market power and experience to increase their profit and become better at what they do.
Shell like many other oil firms operating in the oil industry of many countries around the world have been able to avail itself of more opportunities in the general oil and gas market as well as other related industry through FDI than it can do in its primary and domestic markets. Similarly, the oil producing companies generally have been able to learn more about the intricacies of downstream and upstream operations as well as able to diversify into other related markets while at the same time able to contribute to the development of their host communities, although there are issues concerning corporate social responsibility and the environmental degradation caused by oil companies to their local communities, however the opportunistic and growth aspect of participating in other markets which FDI offers has been the main motive of MNCs. A similar development can be seen in other industries too, like the beverages industry for example where Coca cola is a prime example, Coca cola have been able to enter over 200 countries mainly to take advantage of the gaps and opportunities in those markets for the purpose of maximising its own profits while at the same time increasing its enhancing productivity and creating edge against its competition. The question to ask indeed is why MNCs are addicted to profit making and the taking up of opportunities everywhere there isIn response to such question: Kugler (2001) suggest that large firms over the past twenty years have been operating in a tougher and competitive world where their market power is challenged by small firms and the power of globalisation, it is this which gives them the motivation to invest abroad with the aim of challenging their competitors and taking to their advantage the benefit inherent in other markets to increase their profits and stay ahead of the game. Several MNCs also take opportunities abroad through FDI with the aim to vertically integrate their operations back and forward so as to sustain their operations and maintain healthy profits.
It is at this juncture that the role of greed in their motive to undertake FDI can also be located. While little research exists in the literature on greed and why MNCs undertake FDI abroad, the 2007 global financial crisis has sparked academic debates about the role of greed in the operations and investment motives of MNCs abroad. In the work of Gultung (2009) for example looking at the case of some oil firms, financial institutions and industrialised apparel firms’, he talks about grievance, greed and opportunism in the way MNCs engage in FDI. The author explores the exploitation and the activities of many multinational corporations; How they exploit local firms, resources and labour in the foreign markets in which they operate. He cited the case of Shell in Nigeria and how the firm has over the year’s completely overtaken and forsaken local communities in which they exploit natural resources. As a consequence of such exploitation – Gultung suggests that many farmers have ceased operations while many fishermen are not able to feed their families and survive because their lands and firms have been taken over by oil activities and in many cases devastated and contaminated, yet Shell announce billions of dollars in its after profit tax every year. A similar example was cited of the apparel industry and the activities of company like Primark which has over the years undertaken foreign direct investment in India and many developing countries but to take advantage of labour and other local factors. Exploitation according to the author is defined as a “means through which one party gets much more out of a deal than the other-measured by the sum of internalities and externalities”. Sadly, most MNCs always get much more out the deals they strike than others. It is in this definition that it can be further argued that many MNCs as it is across many industries in the world mostly exploit other parties with whom they engage in FDI, therefore it can be assumed that MNCs often undertake FDI in order to improve their profits with the motive to exploit others resources and take advantage of the opportunities in such markets.
Finally, MNCs undertake FDI as a result of what Gorg and Strobl (2001) describe as the Product Life Cycle effect which occurs as a result of products reaching their maturity. For example a FDI takes place when product maturity hits and cost becomes an increasingly important consideration for the MNC.
This paper has explored the foreign investment activities of MNCs and the main reasons why they undertake FDI; it has presented various motives and factors underlying MNCs quest for investment abroad and as discussed above; one of such reasons is to increase profit, diversify risks and increase their competitiveness. The motive to undertake FDI to improve competitiveness has particularly become important for many MNCs given that in the current business environment, competition has become the order of the day and irrespective of size or location, small firms are able to compete in the same market with the multinationals. For the multinationals therefore, competitiveness has been the key and that includes aggressive expansion, constant innovation, acquisition and investing in markets abroad through various means. In view of the reasons mentioned in the paper, the reasons why MNCs undertake FDI can be said to be numerous and dependent on specific factors having to do with individual MNCs. For example some MNCs would make FDI decision to avail themselves of opportunities abroad, while other would take such decision to diversify risks, or vertically integrate their operations.
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