Why it makes sense to buy British

There’s was encouraging little article in the Telegraph recently by Rachel Bridge on the slow return of some manufacturing to the UK. We learn that Robb Knight of Ecoegg has shifted all his production home, thanks to the fact that the difference in cost between here and China has “significantly narrowed”. It is still more expensive in the UK, but worth the cost for the upside – “control over quality”.

Trunki – the travelling parents’ saviour – has also moved home, from the Far East to Plymouth. Huge numbers of other companies (around 15% of British firms says the Engineering Employers Federation) have moved part of their production back to the UK.

There isn’t much in the way of absolute numbers here – and we have to assume that the total value is still relatively low – but the good news for SMEs looking to ‘reshore’, says Bridge, is that “there is still much manufacturing expertise in the UK” with “regional clusters” of expertise emerging in areas such as Warwickshire, where there are already “600 advanced manufacturing companies”. This is pleasing stuff.

The good news on UK firms continued, albeit with a slightly different slant. Tim Steer,  manager of the Artemis UK Growth Fund, picks up on a point we have been making here for a good few months now – that the big global mega companies everyone wants to be invested in at the moment might not actually be the best places to be.

Over the last few years there has been a huge swing away by our institutional shareholders from UK equities into the big international names– so much so that most now hold 30% in non UK names. That makes sense at first glance – holding international equities gives you diversification and exposes you to currencies that aren’t sterling (usually a good thing).

But, says Steer, it has been a lousy strategy since 2008, because the UK market is already highly diversified and global in itself. And for every global mega cap you can think of, there is generally a perfectly good and slightly overlooked UK equivalent. So for Apple, say ARM; for Inditex, say Next; for Porsche, say GKN; and so on. The result is that “A well informed stock-picking UK fund manager can very easily identify global trends and pick a UK stock that will capitalise” on them.

Steer has attempted to show this by picking a random group of global mega caps and then finding a basket of UK listed stocks following the same themes. Over the last five years the latter has risen by an average of 21% a year. The former is up 7% a year.

There is doubtless much to bicker about in the methodology. But nonetheless the point is made: whether firms are producing here or are just listed and based here, “made in Britain can still be best”.