The UK Government is reviewing its Mergers and Acquisitions ( M&A ) policy. This is to try and ensure that companies that are strategically necessary to the countries defence are no bought by companies or countries that that we may find ourselves in conflict with.
There is a simpler way to ensure this is unlikely to happen, get the balance of trade into the black on a permanent basis. Japan is, and there are few Japanese companies owned by foreign firms. The track record for Japanese M&A is one of Japanese companies acquiring other Japanese companies, or Japanese Corporations, acquiring foreign assets. Like the recent Softbank takeover of ARM plc. Arm is UKs leading chip designer, it is now owned by the Japanese. This M&A came about because the UKs balance of payments is still well in the red.
It has been for the best part of 25 years. The much maligned Norman Lamont was the person who in 1992 floated the pound for the last time and it has been allowed to find its own level ever since. However it was Nigel Lawson who really ensured the topic of the Balance of payments disappeared from the Political agenda. He allowed the pound to find its own level for much of the time, and would then peg it, by adjusting the interest rates.
Whilst a low pound can lead to inflation, this inflation only lasts just over a year, in fact the actual inflationary effects happen over a short three to six months period.
What happens is this, let’s say Sterling drops 2% in a single month, this means anything being purchased from overseas by UK people, is now 2% more expensive. However this only happens the once, if say it is September and company A is just in the process of buying goods from a foreign company, those goods are now 2% more expensive, any adjustment in price will come into effect in October when the goods are received. However any further goods bought in the following months are already, being sold at the higher price, so there will be no further rises. The Government when it compiles its inflation rates, will note the 2% increase in October and these will stay there, but in the following October will drop out, because the inflation is only measured each month, and the comparison is with the previous year.
Back to the balance of payments, and M&A activity in the UK. Basically any country has to balance the value of its imports with the value of its exports, The UK has been importing a higher value of goods and services than it has been exporting, and this has been happening since the beginning of the 1960s. When Harold Wilson got on his hind legs back in November 1967, and declared that Britain was devaluing the Pound, he also added the disingenuous, this doesn’t mean the pound in your pocket or purse will be worth less. Well actually Harold as you knew full well, it did with regards to any imported goods.
The trouble was in 1967, the Unions were just getting up to full steam in helping to destroy British Industry. In fact it was largely due to the actions and stance of the Unions that Britain was not selling more goods abroad. Any company that wished to be efficient, and make a good fat profit, was vilified by idiot Union leaders with no understanding of where profits actually came from and why they happened. Namely efficiency, or in other words productivity.
The waters in the UK are muddied with respects to profits, because there is not a culture of savings and investment in efficiency and productivity. In Japan, they automatically save, it’s part of there culture built into their language. If one wishes to buy something today, you must first save, because any purchase tomorrow will be for the day after. IN UK (and US for that matter) we look for immediate returns. This can be all well and good. However the Japanese model obviously works even better than the UK/USA model, because it doesn’t just give quick returns, it also gives long term returns. This is why when it comes to M&A the Japanese are the ones doing the acquiring.
The Japanese have just been through over twenty years of stagnation with regards to their economy. And over the last six years have seen their efficiency decimated by the earthquake in 2011 which registered 9 on the Richter scale. And yet Japan still exports more than it imports, and is still being involved in M&A. The personal wealth of most Japanese is higher than the average in UK or USA. Quite simply put, they save more so can invest in better equipment, namely Robots. Because they employ so many robots, they actually employ more people, one goes hand in hand with the other.
UK needs to increase its savings ratio this in turn would increase investment in Industry. More robots would be used, creating more jobs to supply the less expensive goods, built to a higher quality. With higher productivity, there would be more robots and machinery employed, increasing the productivity. This in turn would reduce the balance of payments deficit, where at some point it should go back into surplus. Then UK would start the M&A of foreign companies, not the other way around.