R&D and the economic crisis

October 26, 2010

The European Commission's 2010 "EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard" shows that R&D investment by top EU companies fell by 2.6% in 2009, even though sales and profits fell much more, by 10.1% and 21.0% respectively. The fall in R&D investment by leading players in the US, at 5.1%, was twice as sharp as in the EU, but the worldwide reduction was lower, at 1.9%. Japanese firms maintained their level of investment. Companies based elsewhere in Asia - China, India, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan - continued the high R&D growth seen in previous years. Japanese car maker Toyota is the world's biggest R&D investor (€6.8bn) for the second consecutive year. Three EU companies feature in the top ten: Volkswagen, the biggest investor based in Europe with €5.8bn, Nokia and Sanofi-Aventis. The Scoreboard covers the top 1400 companies worldwide.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science said: "The fact that major EU firms have largely maintained their R&D investment shows that they recognise R&D as key to emerging stronger from the crisis. But the wide gap with the top US companies in areas like software and biotechnology and the continuing rapid rise of Asian-based companies highlight the innovation emergency Europe is facing. . We urgently need heads of state and government at the December European Council to back the Innovation Union proposals that Antonio Tajani and I announced on 6 October."

This year's Scoreboard shows that despite almost unprecedentedly difficult economic conditions R&D investment remains an important strategic priority for top firms worldwide.

Trends in world regions

During 2009, leading EU companies reduced R&D investments much less than their US counterparts despite similar drops in sales (around 10%) and higher drops in profits (13.0% as against 1.4%)

European companies' R&D performance is weak in key hi-tech sectors. For example the US companies featured in the Scoreboard invested five times more than their EU counterparts in R&D on semiconductors, four times more in software R&D and eight times more in biotechnology.

Japanese companies maintained R&D investment despite strong decreases in sales (around 10%) and profits (88.2%).

Major companies headquartered in some Asian countries continued the high R&D growth of previous years, e.g. China (up 40.0%), India (27.3%), Hong Kong (14.8%), South Korea (9.1%) and Taiwan (3.1%). Swiss companies also increased R&D investment (2.5%).

Company and sector trends

Three companies headquartered in the EU are among the top ten R&D investors (Volkswagen, Nokia and Sanofi-Aventis), along with three from the US (Microsoft, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson), and one from Japan (Toyota, in top position). The top 50 includes 16 EU companies, 19 US firms and 12 from Japan (fig. 2). 30 of the top 50 cut R&D investment in 2009.

Despite the crisis, the sectoral composition of R&D investment worldwide has remained broadly the same. For US companies, high R&D-intensity sectors, such as pharmaceutical or computer services, contribute to more than two-thirds of the total R&D. By contrast, for European and Japanese companies, medium-high R&D intensity sectors (for example automobiles or electronics) predominate, while the high R&D intensity sectors constitutes only around one-third of the total investment.

There were massive reductions in R&D investment by some automotive firms, e.g. Ford (32.4%), Renault (26.5%) and General Motors (24.1%). Others such as Nissan and Toyota showed a modest reduction or even increased R&D investment, e.g. Hyundai.

Companies boosting R&D investment in 2009 included not only those with good sales and profits such as Huawei Technologies (27.8%) and Apple (25.4%), but also some firms, such as Bayer (8.8%) and General Electric (10.1%), that increased R&D while profits and sales fell.

The alternative energy sector continued to grow rapidly. The Scoreboard now includes 15 companies (9 more than last year) fully focused on clean energy technology. These companies, 13 based in the EU and 2 elsewhere, invested more than €500 million in R&D in 2009, an increase of 28.7%. Alternative energy investments are also made by companies classified under other sectors, e.g. oil & gas.

Differences across EU - Spain's top R&D investors resist the crisis

Within the EU, R&D growth rates differ between Member States due to their varied sector composition. Some of the biggest R&D decreases in 2009 were by companies based in countries such as Germany (down 3.2%) and France (4.5%) with a large automotive industry.

Countries like Finland (down 6%) and Sweden (6.6%) where IT hardware is a major industry for home-based companies were also hit hard.

However, Spain's top R&D investors increased investment by 15.4%, despite a drop in sales of 6.4%. This was due to large increases by top Spanish companies such as Telefónica (16%) and Acciona (29%) and the inclusion of top players such as Banco Santander (18%).

The EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard is published annually by the European Commission (DG Research and Joint Research Centre) and provides information on the world's top 1400 companies (400 from the EU and 1000 from outside) ranked by their investments in R&D. It measures the total value of their global R&D investment, irrespective of the location where the relevant R&D takes place. It does not therefore indicate trends in private sector R&D intensity - business R&D expenditure in a particular country or region as a proportion of GDP, whether that expenditure is by home-grown companies or through inward investment.


2010 "EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard" and other IRMA (Industrial Research Investment Monitoring and Analysis) reports: http://iri.jrc.ec.europa.eu/reports.htm

For more information:

European Commission Joint Research Centre

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