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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Investors are cautiously optimistic about their investment plans in developing countries over the next 12 months despite increased concerns about the euro zone debt crisis, a survey by the World Bank's political risk insurance agency found on Thursday.
In a survey of 275 global investors by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), more than half of corporate investors said they expect to increase investments in developing countries over the next 12 months.
Nearly three quarters of respondents said they planned to moderately or substantially increase investments in developing countries over the next three years.
Just 10 percent of respondents said they planned to decrease investments, and just 8 percent planned to cut back on investments over the medium term.
MIGA chief economist Ravi Vish told Reuters that even though the survey was conducted six months ago and may not capture the growing concern over the euro zone crisis, investors remain upbeat about developing countries' prospects.
Vish said investors were concerned about spillover effects from the euro zone crisis and a possible liquidity freeze by banks, which would impact project financing.
European banks have been the largest investors in emerging market project finance, Vish added.
He said investors in developing economies were mainly drawn by oil, gas and mining sectors, with growing interest in banking and infrastructure development.
"We are seeing some caution over the next one year but long-term investment planning," said Vish, pointing to growth rates of more than 6 percent in many developing economies.
"Notwithstanding everything that is happening, investors are still seeing the potential for growth in emerging markets over the long term," he added.
The MIGA survey found that demand for political risk insurance had increased as perceptions of global risk have worsened.
The survey found that the principal worry of investors in developing countries was breach of contract by governments, regulatory changes and nationalization - a bigger concern than political violence or conflict.
MIGA said the potential for disputes between governments and foreign investors were increased by an economic shock and/or significant political shifts in a country.
Evidence also shows that investor disputes are more likely to be resolved by democratically elected governments than by non-democratic regimes.
MIGA said popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have hurt foreign direct investment plans in the region. A significant number of corporate investors surveyed said have adopted a "wait-and-see" approach to investment in the region.
"Stability is critical for persuading investors to resume investment," the report said.
Protests across the Middle East and North Africa this year toppled veteran rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and forced Yemen's president to sign away his powers. In Syria, the government is grappling with protests, and Bahrain is still dealing with the fallout from its crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in March.
The World Bank has forecast that foreign direct investment flows into the region will decline in 2011 and 2012, but expects growth to resume in 2013.
"With Europe under economic strain and uncertainties surrounding the political environment in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, FDI into North Africa is likely to slump for longer and rebound more slowly than the rest of the region," MIGA said.