The Age of Macroinvestment

BEIJING – South African President Jacob Zuma’s warning to Western corporations to change their neocolonial attitudes toward Africa or risk losing out to China and other developing economies will resonate powerfully this week, as South Africa hosts Brazil, Russia, India, and China at the fifth BRICS summit. But Zuma’s stance reflects the rise of cross-border “macroinvestment,” a phenomenon that is more remarkable than the developing world’s declining reliance on the West.

Business investment is usually project-based, with the factory to be built or the land to be cultivated forming the investment boundary. A larger deal – for example, a concession to mine iron ore in Mongolia – would include more complex investment boundaries, establishing details like the project’s timing and the anticipated benefits to the host country.

For example, beyond building the mine itself, the deal could include investments in transport systems to market the mined product, energy generation, and accommodations and other facilities for workers in the surrounding communities. In some cases, the deal might even include features aimed at boosting domestic added value by localizing the mine’s procurement or creating the capacity to process the mine’s output.

The advent of macroinvestment is rendering even such extended deals obsolete. Macroinvestment involves government-to-government agreements that pre-allocate large lines of cross-border public financing. (This should not to be confused with the equity-based private investment strategy of the same name, which attempts to anticipate and profit from global trends.)