The rate of return on capital of U.S. foreign subsidiaries has been much higher than the rate of return on capital of U.S. affiliates of foreign companies. Over the period 1982-2005, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimates that the difference in returns, after subtracting taxes, averaged 6.3 percent per year. One explanation explored in this paper is the fact that multinationals make large intangible investments that affect profits but are excluded from BEA capital stock measures. Differences in reported returns on foreign direct investment (FDI) could exist if there were differences in the timing and magnitude of these foreign intangible investments. We explore this possibility using a growth model with two types of intangible capital: plant-specific intangible capital and technology capital. Technology capital is accumulated know-how from investments in research and development (R&D), brands, and organizations that can be used in as many available locations as firms choose. As countries open up, there are gains to foreign direct investment with more locations available in which to put technology capital. We choose parameters of our model to mimic the U.S. current accounts and find that the mismeasurement of incomes and capital stocks accounts for a little over half of the difference in reported returns.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimates the return on investments of foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational companies over the period 1982?2006 averaged 9.4 percent annually after taxes; U.S. subsidiaries of foreign multinationals averaged only 3.2 percent. Two factors distort BEA returns: technology capital and plant-specific intangible capital. Technology capital is accumulated know-how from intangible investments in R&D, brands, and organizations that can be used in foreign and domestic locations. Used abroad, it generates profits for foreign subsidiaries with no foreign direct investment (FDI). Plant-specific intangible capital in foreign subsidiaries is expensed abroad, lowering current profits on FDI and increasing future profits. We develop a multicountry general equilibrium model with an essential role for FDI and apply the BEA?s methodology to construct economic statistics for the model economy. We estimate that mismeasurement of intangible investments accounts for over 60 percent of the difference in BEA returns.
International finance ; Technology - Economic aspects
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