The Productivity Advantage and Global Scope of U.S. Multinational Firms
This paper examines whether the productivity of U.S. business establishments is related to the extent to which their parent firms are globally engaged--from being an exporter to being a fledgling multinational that has taken a few cautious forays into foreign markets to being a seasoned multinational with extensive foreign operations. Theory suggests that multinationals possess proprietary assets that confer a productivity advantage over their domestically-oriented rivals, and that this advantage is positively correlated with the global scope of a firm’s operations. That is, those firms with the greatest productivity advantage are able to absorb the costs and overcome the risks of operating in a wide range of foreign countries, from those where it is relatively riskfree and economical to operate, to those where it is risky, difficult, and costly. This connection between the multinational’s widening of its geographic scope of operations and its productivity can be self-reinforcing. Once a multinational has successfully operated in a risky environment, it may benefit from learning effects that can lower the cost and risk of further enlargement of geographic scope. The positive correlation between a firm’s global engagement and its level of productivity has already been demonstrated. This paper extends that research by testing whether the correlation holds up when productivity is measured at the level of the individual establishment, rather than at the level of the consolidated business enterprise. It also examines whether the correlation between global engagement and productivity exists in non-manufacturing industries. Finally, it examines whether linkages between the multinational’s domestic and foreign operations, in the form of imports of goods by the parent company from its foreign affiliates, enhance the productivity of the multinational’s domestic business establishments. The findings confirm the positive correlation between global scope and productivity and demonstrate that it holds for both manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries. The effect of imports of goods from foreign affiliates on the productivity of the establishments of their parent firm depend on the geographic location of the affiliates: Imports from affiliates in high-income countries tend to be associated with high productivity whereas those from affiliates in low-income countries tend to be associated with low productivity. The study was made possible by combining BEA enterprise-level data on the U.S. operations of U.S. multinational firms with data on all U.S. business establishments collected by the Census Bureau in the U.S. economic census covering 2002.
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