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.

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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.

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