Foreign investment into UK tech sector hits record high

Nick Wood
By Nick Wood

Aug 21, 2019

via Flickr © 401(K) 2012 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © 401(K) 2012 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • $6.7 billion poured into the sector during the first seven months of 2019
  • Apparently it's because of all that confidence that's knocking about...
  • ...and it may or may not have something to do with Brexit and the US-China spat

The UK technology sector has enjoyed record levels of foreign investment during the first seven months of 2019, according to figures published by Tech UK, the government-backed body tasked with promoting and growing the sector.

According to figures compiled for Tech UK by Dealroom, from January to July, $6.7 billion came pouring in, more than in the whole of 2018. Of that sum, $3.7 billion came from investors based in Asia and the US.

Noteworthy recipients include supply chain finance specialist Greensill, which welcomed an $800 million investment from Softbank. The Japanese telco was also one of the investors in SME-focused bank OakNorth, which received a $400 million investment.

"These fantastic figures show the confidence overseas investors have in UK tech with investment flows from the US and Asia at an all time high," said Nicky Morgan, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. "We have a longstanding reputation for innovation and the statistics endorse our reputation as one of the best places in the world to start and grow a digital business."

That's certainly one way of looking at it.

Another way of looking at it would be to suggest that record foreign investment in UK tech firms is also being driven by the weakness of the pound.

Before a certain referendum took place in June 2016, that $800 million Softbank stumped up for its OakNorth stake would have translated to £480 million. Today, that same $800 million gets you £660 million. It's the same story with the yen. On 3 June 2016, £1 was equal to ¥154. Now a quid is worth ¥129.

Let's also not forget that one of the first major M&As in the wake of the referendum was Softbank's $32 billion acquisition of ARM in July. Reports at the time noted that sterling had fallen by 23 percent versus the yen during the course of that year.

It is also worth considering whether the US-China trade war has had an effect.

According to Forbes, in the first two weeks of May this year, investors – worried about the spat – pulled more than $5 billion out of Chinese stocks. Before that, on 23 March, Reuters reported a 1,000-point drop in the Dow for the very same reason.

It would be wrong to claim that every dollar pulled out of the market earlier this year was subsequently ploughed into a promising UK tech start-up. However, it might have convinced some venture capitalists to look for investments that would limit or hedge their exposure to the trade war.

Whatever the reasons though, foreign investment in UK tech firms helps these companies stay in business, which in turn supports employment. According to Tech UK, the top 30 foreign-funded companies have created more than 5,000 UK jobs.

Natalie Black, HM Trade Commissioner, Asia Pacific said the investment shows the UK tech sector is going from strength to strength.

"By attracting a broader mix of investors, particularly from Asia, we are showing that the UK's tech sector is one of the most competitive in the world with a stable, bright future," she said.

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