Several recent publications have argued that the use of heuristics by financial investors can distort global capital flows, but scholars have paid little attention to the scope conditions that determine when heuristics become influential (and when they don’t). Building on work in economic sociology and behavioural finance we suggest that the degree to which investment heuristics can bias aggregate capital flows depends on the levels of uncertainty and self-referentiality that structure the environments under which investment decisions are being made. Applying these insights to the two principal global markets for corporate investment, we argue that the institutional structure of markets for short-term portfolio equity investments (PEI) is far more conducive to trigger the mimetic adoption of a specific heuristic than in markets for long-term foreign direct investments (FDI). To test this hypothesis, we leverage the high level of arbitrariness of the selection of Brazil, Russia, India and China into the BRIC acronym and empirically examine the impact of its remarkable rise to prominence among communities of financial investors in the mid-2000s on global capital flows to emerging economies. In line with the theoretical argument, we find robust evidence of a strong BRIC-bias in markets for PEI but not FDI.