Revisiting British Investment in Latin America: The River Plate Trust Group, 1879–1963

Abstract: The article analyses the performance and profitability of the firms controlled by the River Plate Trust Group in Argentina and Uruguay from 1879 to 1960 to challenge the notion that British investments in the Southern Cone involved greater default or insolvency risks because of nationalism, expropriations, and over-taxation. Also known as Morris or Morrison group, River Plate Trust became the most important British business group in the region during the First Global Period, as it controlled a number of public utilities, mortgage and financial firms. Our case shows that the decline of British investment in mortgage and financial activities did not mark the end of this business cycle after WWI; rather, it signalled a change in the direction of capital flows. Capital outflows from host economies to Great Britain—via dividends—continued over the interwar period, with only a brief interruption between 1931 and 1934. The business cycle of British firms entered a new phase, characterized by stagnant British investments and increasing capital returns from Argentina and Uruguay to Great Britain. Moreover, British public utility firms continued to invest in the River Plate until the 1940s, because profits from the region supported the distribution of high dividends to shareholders.