Posts Tagged ‘foreign direct investment’

Bluing about brewing: Will SABMiller bring on an Aussie apocalypse?

September 22, 2011

I’m not sure which is less surprising: (a) the announcement that the Foster’s Board are now supporting SABMiller’s takeover offer; or (b) the ill-informed hysteria in the tabloid press about the ‘loss of an Aussie icon’.

But let’s have a look at The Hysteria.  The grounds for concern are shaky at best.  The three main complaints are: (i) jobs may be lost; (ii) iconic brands might be neglected, and (iii) profits will head offshore.

Let’s take each complaint. First, will jobs be lost?

I can’t see massive changes to the location of manufacturing . Beer is one of the least international-trade-worthy products due to its high weight-to-value ratio and perishability.  That’s why we see so much licensing of brands across borders, contract brewing, and takeovers just like this one. So brewing jobs won’t be heading offshore (nor packaging, labelling, distribution, engineering). Likewise, technology-wise there are no real gains or innovations that are likely to change labour-capital ratios in this extremely mature industry. So, the brewery jobs should stay.  In anything, if SABMiller can successfully launch and market their deep suite of brands (which will inevitably be brewed locally), then we could actually see some upswing in manufacturing.  Any job losses that might occur are most likely to be in the (old) head-office, with some scope to reduce duplication of tasks.  Even then, I’d predict more turnover than simple shedding of positions, as SABMiller attempts to rejuvenate a pretty moribund mob.

So, will these Anglo-South African-Yankee newcomers tear down long-adored Aussie beer brands?

This is a really curious set of concerns, and based on a number of falsehoods.  Foster’s (and it’s various previous incarnations) has itself been pretty free-willing and cannibalistic in its stewardship of brands for decades. One time icons like Abbotsford Lager/Stout have been demoted, labels have been dramatically altered, sleepy bit-players have been promoted (including VB and Crown Lager) and pushed beyond their Victorian homeland, and even the headline ‘brand’ of Fosters’ holds little-to-no local market relevance (as every Aussie traveller finds themselves having to explain to befuddled foreigners).  Indeed, Foster’s has been making much higher margins on licensed foreign brands such as Corona in recent years than on these supposed national treasures. Yet local ‘Aussie battlers’ haven’t been hitting the airwaves to protest that ‘treachery’.

It is in SABMiller’s interests to maintain and perhaps even revitalise the fortunes of many/all of the aforementioned product lines.  Given Foster’s retreat from foreign beer markets in the past decade, SABMiller taking ownership of these Aussie brands might indeed be the best chance of seeing more than a token blue and white can of Australian ale on overseas shelves.  My personal hope: that SABMiller promotes the much tastier Fat Yak as a higher end export (and maybe also Blue Tongue which I’m guessing comes with the suite of CCAmatil/Pacific Beverages assets that appear to be part of this deal).  That would be doing a lot more to improve Australia’s beer reputation than the currently bland product licensing.

Of course, SABMiller will presumably also increase the availability of its broader range of international brands.  That will test the ‘loyalty’ of died-in-the-wool Aussie drinkers.  But that isn’t SABMiller’s problem or fault.

Finally, won’t profits head offshore?

Firstly, it’s not clear how the average Australia benefitted from Foster’s profits up to now.  Sure, the firm paid taxes, but so will SABMiller.  Shareholders got returns (although pretty paltry ones in recent years given the wine debacle), but they are also getting a decent premium in the takeover.  And if they want to keep getting a piece of the action, SABMiller is listed on the London stock exchange (and in Johannesburg). Again, SABMiller is likely to be making more generous investments in revitalising the Foster’s business in the coming years than the incumbent management have been, so it remains unclear that this is a case where the business is going to be ‘taken offshore’.


So, in conclusion, I’m arguing that this particular foreign takeover is likely to be one the least harmful we see in Australia in the near future. The nature of the industry is one that doesn’t lend itself to offshoring of key functions, and we should be more interested in what it might do to resurrect a dull duopoly market.


The rise and fall of globalisation

December 22, 2010

I just stumbled across a nifty new Google tool called the Google Labs Books Ngram Viewer, which allows users to compare the occurence of particular words or phrases over time within the enormous repository of scanned books with Google land.

I thought an International Business readership might be interested in the rise and fall of some of our most important terms over recent decades (click on the graphs for larger versions and the full search parameters).

Here’s globalisation:

And with the US spelling, and also capitalised (i.e. globalization, Globalization, Globalisation):

The latter graph is for a longer timeframe (right back to 1900). Both figures show the steep rise in the use of the term from the late 1980s (coinciding with a surge in foreign direct investment and increasing numbers of newly multinational firms).  A plateau and then decline in usage around 2003 is certainly noticeable.  I’m guessing the phenomenon has become much less discussion-worthy as the various features (greater connectedness, trade, investment etc) became more commonplace (or perhaps less controversial).

Here are the various single word versions of multinationals (since 1960):

It is quite surprising that the term rose considerably earlier, but did not grown along with globalisation. The two-word versions look very similar:

International business, global strategy, multinational strategy, transnational strategy all peaked around 1990 too. Global strategy had the most substantial dropoff, reflecting perhaps the splintering of terminology and concepts to more fine-grained conceptualisations of competitive advantage:

Foreign direct investment rose up through the literature from the early 1970s, shot up in the mid-1980s, but fell in this millenium:

What other terms should we look at?

Why buy? Indian firms seeking partner who…

June 2, 2009

International business researchers have always been interested in the motivations for foreign direct investments. Pre-eminent IB scholar John Dunning argued that there were four core drivers:
– the quest for more customers (market-seeking)
– gaining access to inputs unavailable, or less palatable, at home (resource-seeking)
– looking to build a more efficient chain of value adding activities (efficiency-seeking)
Gone Shopping Sign – building up the knowledge-based resources of the firm and portfolio of brands (strategic-asset-seeking).

This recent Economist article gives a nice catalogue of recent international acquisitions by Indian firms, and offers decent examples of several fronts.

The acquisitions mentioned by Avantha (in engineering), Tata Steel and Tata Motors all can be lumped under the strategic-asset-seeking banner, as the firms sought to tap into technologies and brands unavailable in their home market and which are crucial to further international growth. This is comparable to Lenovo’s purchase of IBM’s PC business a few years back (and pretty typical for emerging market multinationals).

What is less clear in terms of motivation is what is driving Bharti Airtel’s pursuit of South African mobile giant MTN.

Are they chasing MTN’s (admittedly outstanding) competencies in rolling out networks in very poor countries (in terms of household incomes and also physical infrastructure)? These may well mesh in very well with Bharti’s own experiences in India, and set the firm up for a huge play in markets across the developing world (i.e. a strategic-asset-seeking approach).

Or they simply chasing the almost billion possible customers in Africa (to throw on top of a similar top of comparable target market in India)? This would clearly be market-seeking FDI…

Globalisation slows as FDI slides

February 9, 2009

I asked a couple of weeks back what multinationals might be doing in the current uncertain times.

New data from the United Nations answers the questions somewhat. We now know what they were doing last year – they were slowing down their expansion. As the figure below shows, foreign direct investment (FDI) flows dropped sharply in 2008.


Now these are flows, not stocks, so it doesn’t indicate a retreat per se, but rather a tapering off in expansion. Nevertheless, this is the first dropoff since the dot-com crash.

The figures make pretty gruesome reading for developed countries, as the declines are all happening there. FDI into developing nations has, in fact, grown slightly.

The report provides further insights into the make up of FDI. It seems mergers and acquisitions are on the decline. And as the report points out, even if there remains considerable activity on that front, the value of each transaction has dropped along with asset prices. The count on greenfield investments is up (but no value is given). Likewise, of the regulatory changes impacting upon FDI, a greater percentage of reforms were investment inhibiting than in previous years.

It is definitely a tougher time for multinationals generally, and this will impact (negatively) upon the speed of any economic recovery. It is not clear to me how any of the crisis responses from governments are reflecting this reality or acting to stem the tide. Are multinationals the forgotten component in the policy mix?