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How do Firms’ Outward FDI Strategies Relate to their Activity at Home? Empirical Evidence for the UK


  • I thank the European Tax Policy Forum and the ESRC (RES-060-25-0033) for financial support for this research and Chiara Criscuolo and an anonymous referee for helpful comments. This work contains statistical data from Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is Crown copyright and reproduced with the permission of the controller of HMSO and Queen’s Printer for Scotland. The use of the ONS statistical data in this work does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data. This work uses research data sets that may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates. All errors are my responsibility.


This paper provides new empirical evidence on the relationship between the structure of firms’ overseas FDI and the performance and organisation of their home-country operations in both manufacturing and business services. It addresses two questions. First, does sorting into multinational status on the basis of productivity extend to the scale of overseas activity? Second, is there evidence that off-shoring to low-wage countries has asymmetric effects on high and low-skill activities in the home economy? The paper considers heterogeneity in firms’ outward FDI strategies and in their behaviour at home, distinguishing between low-skill and high-skill-intensive activities. I differentiate between firms that invest in relatively low-wage economies and hence might be engaged in vertical FDI, and those that only invest in high-wage economies. I find that firms that invest in low-wage economies simultaneously invest in a large number of high-wage economies, employing complex FDI strategies. I add to existing evidence by demonstrating that selection into multinational status on productivity extends beyond the decision of whether or not to engage in FDI, to the geographic scope of overseas operations. This is consistent with the highest productivity firms being best able to overcome large fixed costs of establishing multiple overseas facilities. I find evidence consistent with differential effects of vertical FDI on firms’ high and low-skill manufacturing activity in the UK. Relocating low-skill activity to relatively low-wage economies could enable a firm to expand output, with potential positive effects on investment, employment and output in complementary (high-skill) activities at home. For firms investing in relatively low-wage economies, I find that labour in these countries may substitute for relatively low-skilled labour in the UK. In high-skill manufacturing industries I find that multinationals that invest in low-wage economies are larger, more capital intensive and more intensive in their use of intermediate inputs than other UK-owned firms.