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When Chinese investment in U.S. companies plunged by 83% last year, it was the result of Beijing's crackdown on capital. But it also reflected a reckoning for four Chinese titans who Beijing cut down to size, according to new research.

Expand chart
Data: Macro Polo; Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

What's going on: Since 2008, Chinese investors have poured $122 billion into U.S. companies. Half of that — $55.8 billion — was in 2016. But last year, investment plunged to just $9.1 billion.

Why it happened: Joy Dantong Ma, a researcher at MacroPolo, writes in a new report that among the reasons for the surge of investment was a loosening of government oversight, known as Order No. 9, and a devaluation of the yuan.

  • But, but, but: When Ma looked at the individual investments, she saw that just four companies — what MacroPolo calls the Group of 4 — accounted for 61%, or $34 billion, of China's entire 2016 investment.
  • The four: Anbang Insurance, HNA Group, Oceanwide Holdings and Wanda Group.
  • Absent those six deals, 2016 would have been just a tad higher than the three prior years, Ma writes.

Beijing noticed too: For years, Beijing has encouraged China's companies to "go out" and invest around the world. But that's not how the government viewed the Group of 4, which it proceeded to treat as something akin to traitors.

The bottom line: Ma attributes the four companies' 2016 dealmaking to pessimism gripping the Chinese business community, otherwise known as capital flight. "Faced with a depreciating currency and a slowing economy, investors looked for safe havens to park their assets," she writes. What followed was the Chinese government attempting to shock the system out of its funk.

Coda: Now, says Ma, Chinese investment has reverted to the mean: In 2016, the U.S. suddenly became 29% of total outbound Chinese investment, from an average of 8.3% from 2009-2015. Now, it is closer to the long-term average.

Go deeper

FBI conducts "court-authorized" search of Rep. Henry Cuellar's home

Rep. Henry Cuellar. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The FBI said it conducted a "court-authorized" search on Wednesday in the area of the Texas home of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

State of play: "The FBI was present in the vicinity of Windridge Drive and Estate Drive in Laredo conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity," an FBI spokesperson told Axios, adding that they "cannot provide further comment on an ongoing investigation."

Big Tech lobbies hard against looming antitrust bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big Tech CEOs, including Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai, have been jawboning lawmakers as a Senate committee takes up a key antitrust bill Thursday.

Why it matters: The bill prompting this lobbying frenzy could upend how tech's giants do business, and tech's critics see this as a "now or never" moment for Congress to check the industry's power.

Biden stock market gets Trumped

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

U.S. stocks markets performed worse during the first year of Joe Biden's presidency than during the first year of Donald Trump's presidency.

By the numbers: The S&P 500 rose 19.3% between the market close before Biden's inauguration and yesterday's market close, compared to a 24.1% increase for Trump during the similar period.