Why the chancellor may weep at Invensys takeover

  • 31 July 2013
  • From the section Business
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The takeover of Invensys by France's Schneider represents the closing of an important chapter in British industrial history.

Because Invensys is the rump of two once mighty British engineers and manufacturers, BTR and Seibe, which in their heyday were international giants.

Having gone through hard times and been broken up over many years, Invensys today, with annual sales of £1.8bn, is not a small company - but it is much smaller than its rivals in industrial systems, such as Emerson and Honeywell of America, and Schneider itself.

And because it lacks the range of products and ability to offer the comprehensive engineering solutions of bigger rivals, it feels at a competitive disadvantage - which is why it is selling itself.

Is this another nail in the coffin of the UK's aspirations to make more stuff that the world actually wants to buy?

Tax tears

Well today Invensys employs 1,100 typically high skilled people in the UK - and not all those jobs will be safe.

But that's only 7% of total employees, because Invensys is already much bigger pretty much everywhere else in the world than in Britain.

That said, a French company will gain control of valuable intellectual property.

And there will be a second loss to Britain. Invensys has generated massive tax losses worth hundreds of millions of pounds over years of poor performance and being reconstructed.

It has not recently been able to take full advantage of those losses because it isn't sufficiently profitable.

But thanks to the takeover of Invensys and those valuable historic losses, Schneider will be able to generate substantial profits in the UK and pay little tax on them.

So a chancellor who needs every penny of tax may weep at this deal.

Investor joy

As for Invensys's shareholders, they probably won't cry.

Over the past four years, since the arrival as chairman of Sir Nigel Rudd - the industrialist with a habit of selling the companies he chairs - they will have trebled their money, if the deal goes through.

And there is a chance they will do better: Invensys may have agreed to marry Schneider, but Rudd won't feel embarrassed to rush into the arms of an Emerson, for example, if it makes a higher offer before this deal is legally sewn up.