Sunday, April 09, 2006

BAE sale of stake in Airbus

Will Hutton has called for BAE's sale of their share of Airbus to be stopped. I can't really see what grounds could be used for that, daft and all as the decision might seem. BAE apparently want to expand further into the US defence industry. I agree with Hutton that it's not a very bright strategic move. You've only got to look at the recent furore over the transfer of major operations in six US ports to a company outside the US to see that. Despite all the rhetoric about free trade and letting the market sort it out, the US, like most Western countries, has always taken a fiercely protectionist approach to its own commercial interests on the international stage. They're smarter about hiding it e.g. their subsidies to Boeing outstrip those of the EU to Airbus but they get there through a harder to trace paper trail. Hutton says:

"The US defence and political establishments do not want to share American defence technology with foreigners and that includes us. And they will do all in their power to stop American defence contractors falling into foreign hands. The US has been refusing Britain permission to adapt US technology in the 150 F-35s it is buying, despite the fact Britain contributed $2bn to the development costs. The reason: we are foreign.

Yet the BAE plan is to sell a stake in a successful civil aircraft manufacturer, with all the risks that implies, to concentrate on becoming a surrogate American defence contractor in a market that does not want foreigners. In effect, it is betraying a crucial part of the British industrial base and Europe - for what? Chief executive Dick Turner and his colleagues are handsomely rewarded for a rising share price and probably this deal will mean more share options. But Britain needs to think in rather longer terms than the next financial year end."

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