Rapacious Britain

By William Underhill

The $19.6 billion acquisition of Cadbury, Britain's favorite candy maker, by the U.S. food giant Kraft earlier this year prompted a round of hand-wringing. Pundits and politicians alike fret that Britain's devotion to an open economy means the country is doomed to be stripped of its finest assets by predatory foreign investors. In the wake of the deal, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has talked of rewriting Britain's takeover code to hinder foreign acquisitions.

But despite all the talk of takeovers from abroad, the figures tell a different story. British companies are just as rapacious in cross-border M&As as their overseas counterparts, according to a new report from the British think tank Policy Exchange. Data from Dealogic show that British businesses have snapped up over 9,300 foreign firms since 2000, compared with fewer than 7,000 national companies taken over by foreigners. Along the way, Britons acquired some iconic brands, including Greyhound from the U.S. Sure, the British lost Cadbury. But the British insurance company Prudential also just splurged $35 billion for the Asian arm of its U.S. rival AIG. Free trade is never a zero-sum game.