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The Russians Are Coming? Is Heidelberg Kidding? No.

A story in Forbes quoted Heidelberg&

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: July 23, 2008

A story in Forbes quoted Heidelberg's Bernard Schreier that Russian investors could take over the company. He also stated “No competitor can take us, the market leader, over. That's impossible, for anti-trust issues.”

The idea of Russians taking over a company might strike some as strange. Indeed, it could bring up memories of the Cold War comedy “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” (which, by the way, was released in Germany as “Russen kommen! Die Russen kommen!, Die”).

While the comment may have seemed strange to some, Russia is actively attempting to invest its growing foreign currency reserves outside of its borders. It goes back to a relatively simple idea that for currencies to have value they need to be repatriated at some time to the country where that currency is native. It does not have to happen immediately, but can be years later. US Dollars and Euros have such a liquid market that they can be easily used outside their native borders for years. For a long time, the Russian consumers and businesspeople preferred US $100 bills, especially in personal transactions, because of problems in their monetary system. Since that time, the Russian economy has become one of the world's major exporters, and it's not just oil (where they are second to Saudi Arabia), but a wide range of agricultural and other goods. It's a thriving economy, still burdened by legacy regulations of the Communist era and its old guard and its corruption problems, but definitely on the rise.

What Schreier is talking about is direct foreign investment. Those currencies that are being stockpiled have to be put to work somewhere. While it is common to talk about “trade deficits” or “trade surpluses,” concepts that are nearly useless in understanding anything, those deficits or surpluses are balanced by investments. Buying companies or real estate or other types of acquisitions are not included in the trade data.

Russia has been active in the U.S. already. It is claimed that Russian companies now own 10% of U.S. steel production. The investors feel that they have had good experience turning around their home steel businesses, and believe that they can do the same in the U.S. Investments from overseas are votes of confidence in the U.S. economy, something that home-grown investors don't always have.

So Schreier was not making things up when he cited Russian investors, no matter how strange it may have sounded to some.

In his other comment about an in-country merger or acquisition not being allowed (such as with MAN Roland or KBA), that certainly is a shame. Offset is losing share to digital printing, desktop printing, electronic communications, new viewing technologies, and other social and technological trends. The case to allow such a merger is easy to make, just by looking at what has happened to industry shipments, especially in the U.S. This is a situation where what happens in the courts no longer has basis in real life. The company has been backed into a corner, much of it of its own making, and does not yet see a range of actions to decisively get out of it. Those Russians with the bags of Euros may start to look more attractive as the months go by.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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