Foreign Control - Key Facts

† indicates source. Last updated: 2 February 2020

Note that there are often revisions to official data, leading to some changes to reported data for past years.

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Key Facts

Foreign direct investment (ownership of companies) in New Zealand increased from $15.7 billion in March 1989 to $121.7 billion at March 2019 - almost eight times. As a proportion of the total output of the economy, Gross Domestic Product, it has risen from 22% to 40%. Ownership of overseas companies by New Zealand residents has not grown as fast over that period (over five times) so net foreign direct investment has grown almost ten times from a net liability of $8.8 billion to $86.5 billion, and as a percentage of GDP more than doubled from 13% of GDP to 29%.

Foreign Direct Investment from International Investment Position, National Accounts, Statistics New Zealand, InfoShare series IIP088AA. GDP from National Accounts, Statistics New Zealand, InfoShare series SNE038AA.

Foreign owners controlled 38% of shares listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange in 2019. In 1989, the figure was 19% and it was estimated to be below 5% in 1986. It peaked in 1996-97 at 61%.

At March 2017, they owned an estimated 30% of the value of all corporate equity (shareholdings) and 39% of privately owned equity of corporate enterprises in New Zealand, including shares not listed on the stock exchange.

1986, 1987: "Brian Gaynor: New Zealanders buy back their sharemarket", New Zealand Herald, 19 October 2013; and "Brian Gaynor: Potential problems in NZX's high level of foreign investment", New Zealand Herald, 31 January 2015; 1989-1997: "Corporate Governance Research on New Zealand Listed Companies", by Mark Fox, Gordon Walker and Alma Pekmezovic, Arizona Journal of International & Comparative Law Vol. 29, No. 1, 2012, Table 4, p.16. 1997-2004: "Savings and the Equity Market" - JBWere submission to the Savings Working Group, November 2010, p.2. 2005-2019: Equity Ownership Survey - New Zealand 2019, JBWere, 12 December 2019, p.3, "Ownership structure of NZX primary listed stocks since 2005".

Foreign investors owned 21% (or $399 billion) of net wealth in New Zealand whose commercial net value totalled $1.9 trillion at March 2017. They owned 24% of private net wealth. Total wealth comprises housing, land, other property, plant, equipment and financial assets owned directly or indirectly by households, government, non-profit organisations and foreign investors. New Zealand residents owned a further $246 billion of investments abroad. (These totals exclude shared natural wealth such as rivers, and human and social capital.)

Wealth is calculated from Statistics New Zealand's Annual Balance Sheets 2007-17 (provisional), and the corporate equity estimates (which do not include households' equity in unincorporated enterprises) are calculated from equity data from the same source, eliminating double-counting of share value by including only holdings by government, households, overseas residents, and non-profit institutions serving households.

In 2019, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approved foreign investment totalling $17.6 billion. The average for the decade 2010-2019 was $9.2 billion. Of the $17.6 billion in 2019, $13.7 billion was sales from one overseas company to another or from one New Zealand part-owner to another ($6.7 billion on average over the decade). Only company takeovers involving $100 million or more need OIO approval, except those involving land or fishing quotas. For private Australian investors the threshold was $530 million in 2019, and is adjusted upwards each year for inflation: it is $537 million in 2020. For investors covered by the following trade and investment agreements, the threshold is $200 million: the CPTPP Agreement, the Korea FTA, ANZTEC (the agreement with Taiwan), the Hong Kong CEP, the China FTA, and the P4 Agreement. There is a lower threshold for government-owned investors. Until 1999, the threshold was $10 million, it then became $50 million, and from August 2005 the government increased it to $100 million.

Overseas Investment Commission and Overseas Investment Office. In earlier years, statistical releases provided summaries of data. Data for each year is now supplied with the release of December decision sheets.

Threshold for Australian Investments: see
https://www.gazette.govt.nz/notice/id/2018-go5441 and
https://www.gazette.govt.nz/notice/id/2019-go5142

For thresholds for the other trade and investment agreements see Subpart 2 of the Overseas Investment Regulations.

Note that the OIO suppresses some values. In 2017, final totals were suppressed and were estimated by us. The actual values were supplied in the December 2018 release.

In 2019, the OIO approved the sale of 78,678 hectares of freehold rural land to foreigners. This is a substantial reduction from 2018 when the sale of 137,834 hectares was approved. It is well below the average for the decade 2010-2019 of 116,498 hectares. The sale of 9,054 hectares of leases, forestry cutting rights and other interests in land was approved. This is only one-fifth of the 2018 area of 45,044 hectares and less than a quarter of the average for the decade of 38,175 hectares. In 2019, 58,352 hectares of the freehold land and 6,923 hectares of the leases and other interests in land were from one foreign investor to another or one New Zealand part-owner to another. Statistics on sales of land to overseas interests are poorly recorded and incomplete. Our best estimate is that in 2011 at least 8.7 percent of New Zealand farmland including plantation forestry, or 1.3 million hectares, was foreign-owned or controlled and it could have reached 10 percent. In a recent investigation, Radio New Zealand identified the 100 largest private land owners in 2019. The list was dominated by forestry companies. Radio New Zealand estimated that "at least 3.3 percent of New Zealand's land is foreign-owned." The percentage of farmland would be almost double: in 2018, 13.7 million hectares were in farmland out of New Zealand's total land area of 26.7 million hectares. However, that does not include smaller land owners, or the widespread overseas ownership of leases, forestry cutting rights and other forms of control of the land.

Overseas Investment Commission and Overseas Investment Office.

"Overseas Ownership Of Land: Far Greater Than The 1% The PM Claims", by Bill Rosenberg, 2012 (www.converge.org.nz)

Farm land area from Statistics New Zealand's Agriculture Production Survey, InfoShare series AGR001AA.

"Green Rush: Foreign forestry companies NZ's biggest landowners", by Kate Newton and Guyon Espiner, 10 October 2019, Radio NZ.

Statistics NZ data shows the countries where $100m or more in foreign direct investment was based as of March 2019 as being, in decreasing order: Australia, Hong Kong, US, Japan, UK, Singapore, Canada, Netherlands, British Virgin Islands, China, Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and France (though the investments from some countries have been suppressed). These accounted for 93% of foreign direct investment in New Zealand. Australia alone accounts for 50% with $57 billion of the $113 billion total.

International Investment Position, Statistics New Zealand: Directional basis stock of direct investment by country (Annual-Mar), InfoShare series IIP081AA. Note that these statistics are compiled on a different basis from those also from Statistics New Zealand above, so the total does not match. These are compiled on a "directional" basis, based on ultimate nationality of ownership; the above are on a "balance sheet" basis, based on residency of the company. Industry statistics below are also compiled on a directional basis.

Mallika Kelkar. (2011). "The ultimate sources of foreign direct investment (p. 19). Presented at the New Zealand Association of Economists (NZAE) Conference, Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://archive.stats.govt.nz/methods/research-papers/nzae/nzae-2011/ultimate-sources-foreign-direct-investment.aspx

Hong Kong, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Luxembourg are tax havens, and the Netherlands, Singapore and Switzerland are also used to avoid tax. A Statistics New Zealand study showed that in 2010, large proportions of the foreign direct investment from the Netherlands, Singapore, Hong Kong and tax havens was in fact from other countries, led by the UK, US, Germany and Canada. In 2019, other tax havens with investments in New Zealand companies include Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Channel Islands (which includes Jersey and Guernsey), Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Isle of Man, but the value of all their holdings has been suppressed as "confidential". Bermuda showed a negative investment in New Zealand companies between 2009 and 2011 and data released in 2015 showed it was negative up to 2015 (negative $1.8 billion in 2015), but all values since 2004 (when it had $1.85 billion) have now been suppressed.

Germany has also showed negative investment from 2013 to 2017, and Fiji since 2002. Ireland's ownership went negative in 2017 following steadily falling direct investment and was negative $107 million in 2018. Negative investment suggests that the companies may have been loaded with debt to their owners (which can be a tax avoidance mechanism) or are technically insolvent.

Tax havens are identified from taxhavens.org and oxfam.org

The Financial and insurance services sector, which includes the four big Australian owned banks, accounted for by far the biggest part of foreign ownership of New Zealand companies by industry in March 2019, with $38.4 billion. Next was Manufacturing at $17.2 billion. Other industries having more than $1 billion of foreign investment were, in decreasing size, Agriculture, forestry, and fishing; Wholesale trade; Retail trade; Rental, hiring and real estate services; Professional, scientific and technical services; Electricity, gas, water and waste services; Mining; Information media and telecommunications; Health care and social assistance; and Accommodation and food services. $16.6 billion was unable to be allocated to an industry because of the way foreign direct investment is estimated, or was suppressed as being confidential.

Source: International Investment Position, Directional basis stock of direct investment by industry (Annual-Mar), InfoShare series IIP080AA - Statistics New Zealand. Like the country statistics (see above), these are compiled on a directional basis.

Transnational corporations (TNCs) make massive profits out of New Zealand. In the year to March 2019, the profits were $10.3 billion. Over the last decade they have averaged as much as the combined exports of seafood and milk powder. In the decade 2010-2019, TNCs made $84.4 billion in profits from New Zealand. They made an average rate of profit after tax on their shareholdings of 11.6% (11.5% in the year to March 2019). On average only 28% was reinvested (and 25% in the year to March 2019). Profits have averaged three times the increase in foreign direct investment holdings each year.

Another $9.4 billion left New Zealand in the year to March 2019 made up of investment income from debt and smaller shareholdings (portfolio investment), making a total $19.7 billion. Over the last decade this has averaged as much as the combined dairy and forest product exports.

The investment income deficit (income on New Zealand investment overseas less income on foreign investment in New Zealand) has been greater than the current account deficit for all but three years since 1989 which further increases New Zealand's foreign liabilities.

More than two out of every five dollars or 42% of the $19.7 billion went to the owners of New Zealand's banking sector: $8.3 billion. The investment income from overseas ownership of the banking sector ("Deposit taking corporations") after taking account of its small investment income from abroad, accounted for two out of every three dollars of New Zealand's current account deficit in the year to March 2019: $7.2 billion compared to $10.8 billion. The finance sector, which includes banking, finance and insurance, accounted for almost two thirds- (62% or $12.1 billion) of the investment income going overseas.

Balance of Payments: Current account primary income (Annual-Mar), InfoShare Series BOP058AA; Current account investment income by sector (Annual-Mar), InfoShare series BOP059AA; and Balance of payments major components (Annual-Mar), InfoShare series BOP055AA - Statistics New Zealand. Detailed sectoral income is from BPM6 Annual, Directional basis investment income by industry (Annual-Mar), InfoShare series BOP063AA.

Exports: Key Statistics Table 7.04 - Value of principal exports (excl re-exports), InfoShare series EXP005AA - Statistics New Zealand.

Foreign investors are not great for employment - they only employ 18% of the workforce (down from 21% in 2000, though rising slowly since 2010). Foreign ownership does not guarantee more jobs. In fact, it can add to unemployment such as in examples of private equity takeovers including NZ Rail, Feltex, Cadbury's and Dick Smith Electronics.

Business demography statistics: Enterprises by industry and overseas equity 2000-18, Statistics New Zealand, available in NZ.Stat at http://nzdotstat.stats.govt.nz/WBOS/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=TABLECODE7608.

Foreign ownership has not improved New Zealand's foreign debt problem. In 1989, total private and public foreign debt stood at $47.5 billion, equivalent to about two-thirds (68%) of New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product. As of March 2019, it was $282.9 billion (or $300.9 billion including derivatives), equivalent to 93% of New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product (99% including derivatives) despite all of the asset sales and takeovers.

Source: Statistics New Zealand as follows:
International investment position (IIP) (Annual-Mar) - InfoShare series IIP088AA;
External lending and debt by sector and relationship (Annual-Mar) - InfoShare series IIP078AA;
International non-equity financial instruments by sector (Annual-Mar) - InfoShare series IIP074AA;
New Zealand's A&L - Level 3 Components (Discontinued March 2000) (Annual-Mar) - InfoShare series IIP007AA;
GDP(P), Nominal, Actual, Total (Annual-Mar) - InfoShare series SNE038AA.

 

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa,
P.O. Box 2258
Christchurch 8140.