The estimated number of foreign-owned businesses in Australia (with foreign ownership greater than 50% of total equity) was 9,946 at the end of the financial year 2014-15[1], according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) study, Economic Activity of Foreign Owned Businesses, 2014-15.[2] Though foreign-owned firms accounted for approximately 0.5% of the total estimated number of businesses in Australia, they employed almost one million workers (accounting for 8.7% of total business employment in Australia), and contributed over $220 billion to the Australian economy in terms of industry valued added (IVA) (representing around one-fifth of Australian total value added in 2014-15). [3]

Other economic indicators to which foreign-owned businesses in Australia contributed over one-fifth of the total economic activity include:

For statistical analysis, please see DFAT, Austrade and the Annual Investment Statement to the Parliament from the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

Economic activity of foreign- and Australian-owned businesses by industry

Majority foreign-owned businesses made significant economic contributions in the 'Mining' and 'Manufacturing' sectors where they contributed $39 billion and $29 billion respectively. Their respective shares of the industry’s IVA were around 33% and 30% (see table below).

By country, US-owned mining firms contributed almost two-thirds of total IVA of foreign firms in their sector in 2014-15, followed by those of Canada (4.9%), China (4.3%) and South Africa (4.2%). Over the same period, manufacturing activity was also dominated by the US-owned companies which accounted for 38% of total IVA of foreign-owned companies. The EU28 as a whole was also a key contributor in the industry with almost one-third of the total foreign-owned companies’ IVA. Other active companies from individual economies included the UK (13.5% of total IVA), Germany (7.4%) and Japan (6.8%).

Foreign-owned enterprises were also major contributors to Australian economy in the 'Professional, Scientific and Technical Services' and 'Wholesale Trade' categories with respective value added of $28 billion and $26 billion. Their shares were about 26% and 43% respectively. By country, the US again played a dominated role in the 'Professional, Scientific and Technical Services' category with an overall share of 39% of total IVA of foreign firms in this industry in 2014-15, more than double the combined share of the 28 countries of the European Union (EU28) of 18%. Other active companies from individual economies included Japan (8.3% of total IVA), Ireland (6.3%) and the UK (4.4%).

In terms of the IVA in 'Wholesale Trade' category, the EU28 companies collectively played a more significant role than those of the US - the average share of the EU28 was 43%, well above that of the US’ 25%. However, American firms with total value added of $6.5 billion were well ahead of the UK ($5.8 billion or 22% of total IVA), Japan $4.4 billion (or 17%) and Germany $2 billion (or 7%).

Economic activity of foreign and Australian owned businesses, 2014-15

Economic activity of foreign and Australian-owned businesses by country of origin

Overall, US-owned businesses made a greater contribution to the Australian economy than businesses owned by residents of any other foreign country. They led in all reported indicators including operating business number, employment, sales of goods and services, operating expenses, taxable profit, exports of goods and services and IVA (see table below).

EU28-owned businesses as a whole also have a substantial presence in Australia, with some activities collectively contributing to the Australian economy more than those of the US, such as operating businesses, employment, sales of goods and services, total operating expenses, operating and taxable profits and compensation of employees. The major contributing economies within the EU28 were the UK, Germany and France. Of the total, economic activities of companies owned by the UK, Germany and France accounted for about two-thirds of the total EU28.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japanese-owned businesses made a greater contribution to the Australian economy than businesses owned by residents of any other foreign country in 2014-15. In terms of IVA, Japan’s contribution was 9.9% of the total which was equivalent to the combined value added (9.8%) of the other top four Asia-Pacific economies: New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and China. More significantly, Japanese firms in Australia contributed more than the combined numbers of the four major economies in regions in other reported economic indicators, such as taxable profit, capital expenditure and exports of goods and services.

Economic activity of foreign-owned businesses in Australia 2014-15 versus 2010-11

From 2011 to 2015, foreign-owned enterprises (with ownership greater than 50%) in Australia performed relatively well in various activities as measured by market share (see table below).

In particular, foreign-owned businesses in Australian grew market shares in sales and exports of goods and services, both of which were up by more than three percentage points over the period.

In terms of IVA, the average share of the foreign-owned companies rose by 2.4 percentage points to 20.8% in 2014-15 from 18.4% in 2010-11. In terms of the number of jobs, foreign-owned firms employed 966,200 in 2014-15 which accounted for 8.7% of Australian total employment (11 million). This latest share was up from 7.6% five years ago.

A snapshot of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Australia (i.e. foreign-owned businesses in Australia with ownership greater than 10%) and its benefits to the Australian economy

As well as presenting data on majority-owned foreign businesses, the ABS also included some information on businesses with minority foreign ownership (those with foreign equity holdings of between 10% and 50%). As traditional FDI statistics treat 10% as the threshold for foreign ownership, it’s interesting to look at the statistics that apply to these combined categories. Among the key findings are:

  • There were 11,154 foreign-owned operating businesses in Australia in 2014-15, including 9,946 companies with foreign ownership greater 50% (majority) and 1,208 with foreign ownership greater than 10% and less than or equal to 50% (minority)
  • FDI in Australia supported the employment of nearly 1.2 million persons (or one in 10 jobs in Australia)
  • FDI in Australia contributed $286 billion in IVA to the Australian business economy (excluding the financial and insurance services industries which could not be measured), representing over one quarter of total Australian business output
  • FDI in Australia in 2014-15 accounted for assets valued at $2.7 trillion and paid wages and salaries valued at $82 billion. These firms made operating profits before tax of $64 billion and contributed around 14% of total taxable profit
  • FDI firms in Australia recorded sales of goods and services of $944 billion including an estimated $132 billion exported.

Data visualisation tool

Based on ABS research jointly funded by Austrade and DFAT, Austrade’s new data visualisation tool provides views by country and industry on the activities of majority foreign-owned companies in Australia. It also presents high-level perspectives on jobs, economic growth, productivity and trade linked to FDI.

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[1]  The 2014-15 reference period was the latest available data from the Australian Taxation Office used to compile this study. As a result, later years could not be included in this release.
[2]  This study is the first time in 15 years the ABS has produced such comprehensive figures on foreign-owned business operations, and the Bureau cautions against making direct comparisons with the last similar effort in 2001 due to data and calculation differences. The ABS study was commissioned by Austrade and DFAT to provide the most recent, detailed snapshot of investment flows and benefits to the Australian economy. The study provides an overview of the economic activity of foreign majority owned businesses - those with 50% or more foreign investment.
[3]  IVA is the value of goods and services produced in the country, minus production costs. In this ABS survey, IVA includes all industries except the financial and insurance services industry.