The plunge in sterling has left British businesses vulnerable to being snapped up by foreign predators.
With the pound at its lowest level for more than two years, City insiders warned that overseas suitors were looking to buy UK firms on the cheap.
Sterling has fallen around 8 per cent against the dollar and 7 per cent against the euro since early May amid fears Britain will leave the European Union without an agreement.
Boris woe: Sterling has fallen around 8 per cent against the dollar and 7 per cent against the euro since early May amid fears Britain will leave the European Union without an agreement
And Bank of England governor Mark Carney this week warned a No Deal Brexit could send the currency even lower.
Activist investor Richard Bernstein, who manages the Crystal Amber fund, said: ‘With the pound slumping on Brexit fears, UK plc is now on sale.
‘US private equity buyers can borrow at incredibly low rates, while funding interest and repayments from the target’s cash flows.’
Richard Dunbar, head of macro investing research at Aberdeen Standard Investments, said: ‘I suspect around the world, and particularly in the US, anyone from a dollar base will be running the slide rule over UK companies.
There’s a lot of quality assets here, and the more sterling falls, the cheaper those assets become.’
Last week Cobham, one of Britain’s biggest defence businesses, announced it was being bought out by US private equity giant Advent International for £4billion.
Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments has caved in to a £6billion offer from the Danish family that owns toy maker Lego, US private equity titan Blackstone and Canadian pension fund CPPIB.
And just yesterday, US fishing equipment firm Lew’s Holdings bought Essex-based Fox International, Europe’s largest privately owned tackle company, for around £150million.
Daniel Sasaki, managing partner of UK private equity firm Mayfair Equity Partners, which sold Fox to Lew’s, said: ‘If you are a dollar-based investor, you are buying anything in the UK at a discount to what you would have done three-to-four years ago.’
It is thought several more companies are still in the sights of foreign buyers.
Bernstein believes stalwarts including pub companies Mitchells & Butlers and Greene King, broadcasters ITV and STV, banknote maker De La Rue and even drugs giant Glaxosmithkline could be at risk of moving to foreign ownership.
Earlier this year, satellite operator Inmarsat agreed to a £2.6billion buyout from a consortium including UK private equity firm Apax Partners and New York-headquartered Warburg Pincus.
Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said: ‘Bids for Cobham, Just Eat, Inmarsat, Amerisur, Acacia Mining, Merlin, BCA Marketplace, Sci Sys and Kcom in the past few weeks alone – plus as-yet unidentified interest in Accesso and Helical Bar – all suggest that overseas raiders think British companies may be going cheap, thanks to the plunging pound.’
He believes William Hill and housebuilders such as Persimmon, Bovis, Redrow and Barratt could also be in play, while Burberry may look tempting to other luxury rivals such as Louis Vuitton-owner LVMH.
Sasaki said that for some sellers, Brexit uncertainty has perversely bagged them more money.
Because many business owners are adopting a wait-and-see approach to selling their firms, few good assets are coming on to the market.
Buyers who have money to burn, such as private equity firms, are willing to splash a little more cash to grab the cream of the crop in Britain.
Mayfair, which bought Fox for £50million in 2015, has roughly trebled its money through the sale.
It is understood that a number of parties were interested in scooping up Fox, with at least two other US private equity firms among them.
…but the fall in sterling helps tourism take off
The slump in the pound may have pushed up the price of foreign holidays for Britons this summer.
But it is likely to boost the UK tourist industry as some families opt for ‘staycations’ and visitors flood in from overseas.
Figures from travel industry experts Forward Keys show summer flight bookings to the UK from China are up 21 per cent on last year, Indian bookings are up 20 per cent and Japanese 10 per cent.
Patricia Yates, director at Visit Britain, said: ‘If you think that China is the world’s biggest outbound market, it’s where we can see global growth, so it’s really good that British tourism – a very well established industry – is capturing its share of that new growth market.
‘Our traditional markets are Europe, where we’re seeing demand a bit softer, and America, where we’re actually seeing really good growth this year, but being able to capture growth markets is key to the future success of tourism.’
Noting the growth in Chinese and American visitors, she added: ‘We know they are our highest spending market. So we would anticipate a good year.’
Diane Howarth, who runs Cottage in the Dales, a self-catering holiday letting business in Yorkshire, said Britons choosing to holiday at home had boosted her firm.
Her three cottages are already 87 per cent full for this year, 33 per cent booked for 2020 and 10 per cent for 2021.
She said: ‘It’s been a record year for us. It’s never happened, being booked two years in advance. With the Brexit uncertainty, it’s already helped the UK staycation market.’