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Silver financial linings

The Wall Street Journal reports today that a number of British companies have been purchased by foreign companies, including ICI, Britain’s largest and most profitable; 150-year-old UK news and financial-data provider Reuters PLC; and Heathrow and Gatwick airports (bought by a Spanish construction firm). A 40% stake in the London Stock Exchange has just gone to groups from Dubai and Qatar.

For major investors, and for many people whose pensions depend on stock market growth, whether they receive them as former government or corporate employees, all this may be good news.

In what appears to be good news for the City, the paper also reports, “Britain’s financial regulator, the Financial Services Authority, says 20% of the world’s cross-border bank lending, more than twice that of the US, is arranged in London. One-third of global foreign-exchange trading comes through Britain, compared with 19% in the US.”

But silver linings come with clouds, as the WSJ observes -

In Cowley, BMW’s investment in Morris Minis means that the Cowley plant, doomed to closure seven years ago, “now employs 4,700 workers”. All well and good, but “BMW has hired many Eastern Europeans to keep plant costs down, and there are now more foreign-born employees here than British workers, BMW says.”

Supporters of free trade, who understand why the government setting prices and wages is a disaster, may still wonder why free trade benefits company owners, stock market investors and consumers, and is a negative for British-born workers.