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French buyers first within the queue on the UK’s rummage sale


Brexit was imagined to awaken a latent buccaneering spirit, unshackling entrepreneurs and corporations to roam the globe pillaging different international locations’ property. And so it has. For the French.

This week billionaire Xavier Niel grabbed a £750mn slice of Vodafone; the UK’s greatest telecom group. France’s Schneider Electrical introduced it will swallow one of many UK’s oldest tech firms, Aveva; and French utility Suez paid £2bn for a UK recycling firm.

The flurry of cross-Channel offers on a single day adopted telecoms entrepreneur Patrick Drahi shopping for 18 per cent of BT last year, whereas French satellite tv for pc group Eutelsat is preparing to acquire the UK’s OneWeb.

Is that this a dastardly plot orchestrated by former Rothschild banker Emmanuel Macron, the French president branded a frenemy of the British state? Bankers level as an alternative to the relative decline in valuations and foreign money because the 2016 Brexit vote.

The present burst of French inbound M&A to the UK is unusually giant. Information from Refinitiv suggests the best quantity in at the least a decade and the best worth since 2013.

However there have been a long time of such offers. Vodafone’s sale of cellular operator Orange to France Telecom in 2000 tops the league desk, in accordance with Bloomberg information, at £31bn. Advert group Publicis paid greater than £1bn for smaller rival Saatchi & Saatchi that very same 12 months. Each have been top-of-the-market offers in contrast with at present’s rummage sale.

Exercise within the different path is way much less widespread. UK-based non-public fairness companies similar to CVC, Permira and Bridgepoint have finished some offers. BT paid £12.5bn in 2014 for cellular operator EE, a three way partnership between France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom. However this can be a trickle versus the French wave.

France is at all times fast to fret about international takeovers, most notoriously branding yoghurt maker Danone a strategic asset to thwart a bid from Pepsi in 2005. In 1997 the president of the French Nationwide Meeting bought it backwards, complaining that “though it is vitally tough for French firms to purchase giant international firms, the reverse will not be true”. At that second, French cement group Lafarge was pulling off a hostile takeover of British constructing supplies firm Redlands.

Within the UK, there may be normally little angst as even iconic British manufacturers are flogged to France. Luxurious group LVMH, run by Niel’s father-in-law Bernard Arnault, is a repeat buyer, with offers starting from shirtmaker Thomas Pink in 1999 to distiller Glenmorangie in 2004. The Beatles’ file label EMI went to Vivendi in 2011. Gatwick airport went to Vinci in 2018.

However is the UK any extra rational? In 2016 then prime minister Theresa Could celebrated the takeover of the UK’s solely internationally vital tech firm, Arm, by Japan’s SoftBank. Successive Conservative governments have since launched into a badly acquired begging marketing campaign to steer SoftBank to relist the chip designer in London.

If Arm does find yourself being floated, SoftBank naturally prefers New York, which provides a deeper market and better earnings multiples. The US is the true supply of the risk to the UK — not simply as an inventory vacation spot however as the house of potential acquirers. With the ammunition of a powerful greenback, anticipate American firms to affix the French on the UK’s discount bin.

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