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Returns on FDI. Does the U.S. Really Do Better?

  • Barry Bosworth
  • Susan Collins
  • Gabriel Chodorow-Reich

According to the U.S. external accounts, U.S. investors earn a significantly higher rate of return on their foreign investments than foreigners earn in the United States. This continued strong performance has produced a positive net investment income balance despite the deterioration in the U.S. net asset position in recent years. We examine the major competing explanations for the apparent differential between the rates of return. In particular, almost the entire difference occurs in FDI, where American firms operating abroad appear to earn a persistently higher return than that earned by foreign firms operating in the U.S. We first review a number of explanations in the literature for this differential. We then offer some new evidence on the role of income shifting between jurisdictions with varying rates of taxation. Using country-specific income and tax data, we find that about one-third of the excess return earned by U.S. corporations abroad can be explained by firms reporting "extra" income in low tax jurisdictions of their affiliates.

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Paper provided by Harvard University OpenScholar in its series Working Paper with number 90801.

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Handle: RePEc:qsh:wpaper:90801
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  1. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Hélène Rey, 2007. "From World Banker to World Venture Capitalist: U.S. External Adjustment and the Exorbitant Privilege," NBER Chapters, in: G7 Current Account Imbalances: Sustainability and Adjustment, pages 11-66 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Stephanie E. Curcuru & Tomas Dvorak & Francis E. Warnock, 2007. "The stability of large external imbalances: the role of returns differentials," International Finance Discussion Papers 894, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  3. Cedric Tille, 2003. "The impact of exchange rate movements on U.S. foreign debt," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 9(Jan).
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  7. Harry Grubert & Timothy Goodspeed & Deborah L. Swenson, 1993. "Explaining the Low Taxable Income of Foreign-Controlled Companies in the United States," NBER Chapters, in: Studies in International Taxation, pages 237-276 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Huizinga, Harry & Laeven, Luc, 2008. "International profit shifting within multinationals: A multi-country perspective," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(5-6), pages 1164-1182, June.
  9. Hausmann, Ricardo & Sturzenegger, Federico, 2006. "Global Imbalances or Bad Accounting? The Missing Dark Matter in the Wealth of Nations," Working Paper Series rwp06-003, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  10. James R. Hines, Jr. & Eric M. Rice, 1990. "Fiscal Paradise: Foreign Tax Havens and American Business," NBER Working Papers 3477, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Stephanie E. Curcuru & Tomas Dvorak & Francis E. Warnock, 2007. "The Stability of Large External Imbalances: The Role of Returns Differentials," NBER Working Papers 13074, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. John Kitchen, 2007. "Sharecroppers or Shrewd Capitalists? Projections of the US Current Account, International Income Flows, and Net International Debt," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(5), pages 1036-1061, November.
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  14. Goodspeed, T-J & White, A-D, 1996. "International taxation," Papers 96-11, Wellesley College - Department of Economics.
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