The UK has adopted a relatively open market policy towards takeovers of domestic companies by ones from overseas. True, takeovers have to be in accordance with competition legislation, namely the 2002 Enterprise Act, or, in the case of takeovers affecting competition in the UK and at least one other EU country, the EU 2004 merger control measures and Article 102 of the Lisbon Treaty. The EU regulations disallow mergers if they result in ‘a concentration which would significantly impede effective competition, in particular by the creation or strengthening of a dominant position’ (see Economics (7th ed) pages 370–3 or Economics for Business (5th ed), pages 443–50). The UK legislation is similarly concerned with a substantial lessening of competition. But in both cases, competition policy is not concerned with whether the takeover is by a foreign company rather than a domestic one. So should we be concerned?
Interest in this question increased recently with the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft. Many saw it as yet one more example of British companies being taken over by foreign ones. Other examples include the takover in 2008 of Scottish and Newcastle (brewers of Courage, John Smith’s, Fosters and Kronenbourg) by the Carlsberg/Heineken consortium; the sale of the Rover group, with Minis now made by BMW, and Jaguar Land Rover now owned by Tata Motors of India; and the takeover in 2007 of Corus, the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker, by India’s Tata Steel. One of the key complaints about foreign takeovers is when they result in job losses. Although Kraft gave assurances that the Cadbury plant at Keynesham, near Bristol, would remain open, as soon as the takeover was completed, Kraft announced the closure of the Keynesham factory. Tata Steel earlier this year decided to mothball its steelworks at Redcar, on Teesside. It may never re-open.
But there are many arguments on either side about the desirability of takeovers by foreign companies. On the positive side, they may result in investment in new plant and new products and a faster growth of the company. This could result in more employment, not less. They may bring in foreign expertise and give access to new technology; they may be able to achieve various economies of scale through joint operations; productivity may increase. As the article from The Economist states:
For 30 years the consensus has been that Britain has more to gain than to lose from its open embrace of globalisation. … Britain has enjoyed a strong inflow of foreign direct investment. It has consistently attracted more than any other European country. A report on British manufacturing for Policy Exchange, a centre-right think-tank, notes that the openness of the economy “makes Britain a magnet for foreign companies looking for acquisitions on which they can build their manufacturing operations” for Britain and elsewhere.
On the negative side, there may indeed be job losses as ‘rationalisation’ takes place. Head office functions and key research facilities may move abroad. Hostile takovers may result in the stripping of assets for short-term gain, thereby undermining the loing-term viability of the company.
The article from The Economist explores these issues.
Small island for sale The Economist (25/3/10)
A summary of cross-border mergers, acquisitions and disposals by UK companies and foreign companies in the UK can be found at: Mergers & Acquisitions data Office for National Statistics
For statistical bulletins and press releases see: Mergers and Acquisitions involving UK companies Office for National Statistics
For international data on foreign inward and outward direct investment see: Interactive database on Enterprise and Investment UNCTAD
See also: World Investment Report UNCTAD