Drop us a line...

Send Message

Insights

Accumulate to innovate: Staying ahead in the innovation arms race

Last year Siemens, the 170-year old industrial conglomerate, announced the creation of something that had a strong whiff of back to the future about it.

The innovative German company hasn’t yet, unfortunately, created the world’s first time travelling train. But on October 1 it did launch a business that speaks as much to its past as it does to its future.

Indeed  in founding next47, a new unit designed to foster innovation and accelerate the development of new technologies, Siemens is focusing even more than it has in the past on partnering and investing in innovative start-ups to enhance its future growth and development.

“Siemens itself was a start-up in 1847,” said Joe Kaeser, president and CEO of Siemens. “With next47, we’re living up to our company founder’s ideals and creating an important basis for fostering innovation.”

Siemens has been partnering and investing in start-ups for the past 20-years or more. But in next47 – a play on the year Siemens was founded – the company has consolidated all its existing start-up activities, empowering the unit and essentially giving this business greater strategic importance to the entire company than ever before.

What’s interesting is that Siemens is not alone.

For years many of its blue-chip company peers – from Intel and IBM to Unilever, Google and more recently GE – have been partnering with and investing in some of the brightest start-ups in much the same way.

Unilever Ventures, the consumer goods conglomerate’s venture capital and private equity arm, was founded, for instance, in 2002. Intel Capital, by comparison, has been going since 1991.

Back then the innovation arms race was only really just getting going. And yet in the last decade this race has accelerated phenomenally, transforming the global economy in ways few knew or perhaps thought were possible.

From AI and machine learning, to distributed ledger technology, augmented reality, robotics, cybersecurity, energy storage and 3D printing, large, mature companies are today seeking out some of the most innovative start-ups in an ever increasing array of profoundly impactful areas.

Consequently, corporate venture capital investment – the means through which these companies tend to invest in or acquire start-ups via their own dedicated divisions – has rocketed in recent years.

Last year, for instance, corporate venture capital investment touched $85bn globally – roughly double what it was in 2014, according to Global Corporate Venturing.

It looks set to keep soaring.

An increase in acquisitions of innovative start-ups by larger, more established competitors is seen as one of the top themes in M&A over the next 12 months, according to over 2,000 company CEOs, CFOs and other senior executives who participated in the recent Capital Confidence Barometer survey we conducted on behalf of EY.

1701_2166971_CCB16_GLOBAL_EUROMONEY_1

EY CCB: An rise in acquisitions of innovative start-ups a top theme

Ask the same executives the same question but our over a longer timeframe and the acquisition of start-ups may be nearer the top.

Part of the reason why is the recognition that internal research and development alone struggles to deliver the type of innovations companies want, when they want, and at a cost that they want to see.

Combine that with the fact that the type of environment that fosters innovation – one where staff can collaborate and operate under the freedom to create, experiment and ultimately fail – is not typically to be found flourishing in large, mature multi-billion dollar companies.

At least, not in most.

Part of Siemens’ objective for next47 is to provide existing group employees, entrepreneurs as well as external start-ups and established companies with the “freedom to experiment and grow” without the organisational restrictions so often symptomatic of a company its size.

In some sense, Siemens is just opening its doors to bring the innovations that can and do happen outside, in.

And while much of that focus is on attracting the ingenuity and flare that start-ups can bring, large mature companies are also getting in.

The first of next47’s projects is with European aircraft maker, Airbus. By 2020 they aim to show the technical feasibility of hybrid/electric propulsion systems for small to medium-sized passenger aircraft.

Innovations driven by and among large companies can of course be just as profound as any developed by start-ups, but to stay ahead in the innovations arms race, better ultimately to work together as one.

And who knows, anything might be possible – even time travel.

Who Owns Digital Currencies (and why it matters)

Digital currencies come in different shapes and forms, which in turn has important implications for their respective use and application.

A lot depends on the question who ultimately controls a specific currency. Bitcoin, for instance, is decentralised and operates outside of the oversight of a single institution. It is therefore not well suited to manage inflation.

ownership digital currencies snippetBut a central bank issued digital currency* – none exists so far, but central banks around the world are considering it – would be a powerful tool to control and manage inflation.

A third type are digital currencies issued by banks, such as the Utility Settlement Coin (USC), being worked on by a number of top tier banks.

Our infographic: Centralised versus Decentralised Digital Currencies compares the implications the characteristics of different digital currency types have.

The chart is the second iteration in our new series on cryptocurrencies, which we are publishing in collaboration with law firm Baker McKenzie.

We’d be delighted to hear your comments. You can get in touch using the contacts form. For social media, we recommend the hashtag #cryptocurrencies.

* For more on central bank issued digital currencies, check our recent article, “Life after Quantitative Easing

Deal or no deal: Protecting acquisitions amid manic market moves

Three to 12 months is a long time in global markets where so much can change in the blink of an eye.

And yet three to 12 months is the average time it takes to close a merger or acquisition – opening-up an acquirer to the risk markets may move against them.

In such unpredictable times as these this risk is increasingly real, potentially making any acquisition more expensive or, in extreme cases, unravel.

Take, for example, how markets reacted last year to the UK voting to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as US president. Sterling lost almost 20% of its pre-referendum value in the weeks after, while Trumps election sent bond yields soaring in anticipation US interest rates would rise.

While such market moves only really occur when unexpected events hit, the regularity of these seismic events is undoubtedly worrying.

Indeed, over the next 6-12 months, high volatility in currencies, commodities and other capital markets is considered the greatest economic risk to the core business of companies, according to over 2,000 CEOs, CFOs and other senior executives who participated in the recent Capital Confidence Barometer survey that we conducted on behalf of EY.

1701_2166971_CCB16_GLOBAL_EUROMONEY_3

At the same time, a near-record number of the companies that participated in the survey said that they plan to acquire in the next 12 months, with most of them believing that the main theme in M&A this year to be an increase in cross-border dealmaking.

1701_2166971_CCB16_GLOBAL_EUROMONEY_2

 

1701_2166971_CCB16_GLOBAL_EUROMONEY_1

So at a time when there is a resurgence in appetite for cross-border M&A and fear of higher currency and capital market volatility, what’s a deal-hungry CEO to do?

One option making something of a comeback is for companies to use derivatives to help mitigate the financial risk costs in an acquisition.

Foreign currency forwards – a derivative essentially enabling the buyer or acquiring company to purchase or sell a set amount of foreign currency at a specified price in the future, thereby protecting themselves against any wild market swings – is one such hedging solution. But it is so-called deal-contingent FX forwards, which offer buyers greater optionality, that are specifically re-emerging again.

Whereas a company must pay for a FX forward irrespective of whether or not the acquisition is completed. With a deal-contingent forward, the company can walk away – without paying to unwind the agreement – depending on how the acquisition actually progresses.

If that sounds too good to be true, the catch or downside is that deal-contingent forwards are expensive, costing between 2-5% of the notional value of the transaction – far more than a FX forward.

It’s a tough call to know whether it is worth it or not. But amid more volatile markets, what price does a company put on being protected?

Similarly, just as currencies can appreciate during the time it takes to close a deal, financing conditions can of course change rapidly too.

Most large-scale M&A transactions are financed initially using a bridge loan before being refinanced on the bond markets, but if interest rates rise during this time the cost of finance does too.

To manage this risk derivatives called forward-starting swaps offer something of a solution, essentially enabling the acquirer to lock-in current rates for an asset or liability and on a deal-contingent basis.

Similar to a deal-contingent FX forward, a company can walk away from the hedging agreement depending on how the deal progresses.

Such interest rate derivatives have been used for some time in infrastructure and project financing, where the long-dated nature of it means it is particularly susceptible to interest rate changes over time.

They haven’t, as yet, become as prevalent in the shorter-dated corporate bond markets. But interest is expected to grow. After all, interest rates can only go one way after being so low for so long.

GameChange_Social2
UK Aviation after Brexit

Serving almost 76 million passengers in 2016, London Heathrow is Europe’s busiest airport. The decision by the UK government in October last year to support a third runway to be built by 2025 — after eight years of political squabbling — should pave the way for further growth.

But does it?

While a third runway might address the crucial capacity issue that is currently holding back the airport from serving more customers, the future of aviation in the country will also depend on, like almost all other aspects of the British economy and life, the terms of Brexit. And those are yet unknown.

International aviation is based on terms agreed between different countries in so-called air service agreements (ASAs).

In the early 2000s the European Court of Justice had ruled that any ASA between an EU member state and a third country needs to be open to airlines from all EU states. On that basis member states renegotiated around 340 bilateral ASAs in the past fifteen years to make sure they comply with the court ruling.

More and more often, the European Commission (EC) also took over as direct negotiator with countries outside the Union. Instead of leaving it to each member state to amend their respective bilateral ASAs, the EC negotiated new agreements with third countries that would cover all EU members. To date, the EC has negotiated new horizontal agreements with 41 countries, representing 670 bilateral agreements.

The implications for aviation in the UK in a Brexit-context are twofold: firstly, the country will need to come up with a plan to deal with those arrangements the EU has in place in the name of its member states. Most likely the UK will have to negotiate its own bilateral agreements with third countries currently covered under EU-wide horizontal agreements. And secondly, the UK will need to negotiate an ASA with the EU to address their future relationship in the skies.

Replacing the US-EU Open Skies agreement

One — crucial — example for an ASA negotiated by the EC in the name of EU member states is the Open Skies agreement with the United States. From the UK perspective this ASA, which came into effect in 2008, replaced the bilateral US-UK Bermuda II agreement, which had limited transatlantic competition from London Heathrow to just two US and two UK airlines.

It was the EU-US Open Skies agreement that opened up the market for competition as it exists today. Without Open Skies, disrupters like Virgin Atlantic would not challenge incumbents for routes to New York and other US destinations.

That’s why not replacing Open Skies, or doing so with an agreement inferior to the current arrangement, could have serious consequences for Heathrow as the dominating international airport in Europe.

Open skies

To find out how aviation experts expect this to play out Euromoney Institutional Investor Thought Leadership teamed up with Deloitte to survey more than 400 aviation experts globally.

Specifically, we wanted to know whether experts expect the UK to negotiate agreements that are, in essence, similar to the existing US-EU Open Skies agreement. We asked this question with regard to a future UK-US agreement, and to a UK-EU agreement.

The good news is: most of the respondents to our global survey think such agreements will come in the foreseeable future. Only 23% believe reaching agreement with the US will take longer than four years or not happen at all.

Less optimism about a deal with the EU

Interestingly, our survey panel — more than two thirds of which are C-level, VPs and senior directors — takes a somewhat more pessimistic view when it comes to a deal with the EU. 5% think the UK won’t be able to negotiate a deal with the Union at all (only 2% think so for the US), and 18% believe it will take longer than four years.

This expectation, that it will be harder to negotiate a deal with the EU than with the US, is confirmed even by those who generally think deals can be struck within the foreseeable future: Only 37% expect a deal with the EU to come within two years, versus 40% for a deal with the US. And, in line with this finding, 42% believe a deal with the EU will take between two and four years, but only 37% think so for the US. In short: Our panel thinks it will be easier and faster to get a deal with the US than with the EU.

If panellists are correct in their predictions, this could be bad news for Heathrow and the wider UK aviation industry. Europe is by far the most important destination for flights from the UK. According to the latest available data from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (for the rolling year ending Q1 2016), 61% of UK flights originate from or go to Europe. Only 9% of routes connect the island with North America.

In addition to the impact of Brexit, our report “Game Changer not Game Over” also looks at the challenges facing aviation and aviation finance in particular in light of upcoming international tax reform. The report can be downloaded for free from the Euromoney Thought Leadership website.

About us

Thought Leadership Consulting creates thought-provoking content for global business leaders.

With a team of independent journalists, experienced editors and professional marketers, we create reports, surveys, blogs, articles, videos and infographics. All of our content is unbiased, original, research-driven and audience-led.

London (HQ)
Connect with us
New York
  • Hippodrome Building, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, USA
  • +1 212 224 3300
Hong Kong
  • 27/F, 248 Queen's Road East, Wanchai, Hong Kong
  • +852 2581 1981