Jeremy Warner's Outlook: J-Power thwarts TCI's ambitions

J-Power thwarts TCI's ambitions; Is Britain heading for a hard landing?
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The Independent Online

The UK Government should have no truck with Chris Hohn's ridiculous demand that trade sanctions be imposed on Japan in support of his so far thwarted bid to raise his stake in J-Power to 20 per cent.

There are no doubt plenty of trade issues affecting Japan it is worth going to the barricades over, but Mr Hohn's unedifying attempt to asset-strip one of Japan's leading power utilities is not one of them.

Peter Mandelson, the European Trade Commissioner, has already inexplicably stepped up to the plate to argue Mr Hohn's case – doesn't he have better things to do with his time? – but the UK should not be joining him.

It seems notionally indefensible for Japan to be blocking foreign investment in the way proposed, when Japan is allowed to shop in Britain for assets with impunity. Yet there is a world of difference between the sort of industrial investment which Japanese companies make in Britain, to the manifest benefit of British jobs and the economy, and the hijacking proposed by Mr Hohn's Children's Investment Fund (TCI).

TCI wants to force J-Power to pay a bigger dividend. The Japanese Government reasonably argues that, in the interests of energy security, the money could be better spent on nuclear power stations. One of the reasons the British power industry is in such a mess, with extreme underinvestment in new power generation, is the persistent pursuit of short-term value extraction to the detriment of long-term investment by the likes of Mr Hohn's TCI.

Japan rightly takes one look at what's happened in Britain and says no thanks. Mr Hohn is said to be $150m (£75.6m) down on his existing 9.9 per cent investment in J-Power. That's his hard luck. He misjudged his target.

Mr Hohn paints himself as a financial crusader who can magically lift the Japanese economy out of its malaise by applying the disciplines of shareholder value to stuffy old utility stocks such as J-Power.

He's tried the same thing with the freight transport company CSX in the US, and has similarly been sent packing. Both in the US and Japan, the authorities have taken the view that utility companies are there to serve the interests of their customers, not Mr Hohn's investors. What a curiously sensible idea of things these foreigners seem to have.