Outlook: Lucas Varity

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The Independent Online
THE NEWS that LucasVarity is moving from Birmingham to Buffalo, New York, and taking its primary stock market listing with it, completes the Americanisation of what was once part of the British engineering establishment.

Almost from the day the group was forged out of the automotive businesses of Lucas and Varity, it has been clear that this was less a merger of equals, and more a backdoor US takeover in all but name.

Victor Rice, the hard-driving chief executive of Varity, quickly cleared out the remnants of the Lucas board and the bulk of the job losses and disposals that followed fell on the British end of the operation.

Along with the change in management came a payout policy more closely aligned to the US system with shareholders rewarded through buybacks rather than conventional dividends. So the decision to up sticks and decamp to the US, accompanied by the promise of a 20 per cent share buyback, looks like the natural continuation of the process.

The unions bellowed, as they would, fearful of what will happen to jobs when the decisions are being taken 3,000 miles away. There is a risk that the deal will not get through, since the change of domicile needs a 75 per cent vote in favour and UK funds still hold 47 per cent of the stock. On the other hand, British institutions have already allowed US mutuals to take creeping control since the merger, so it would ill become them to kick up a fuss now