British companies snapped up £76.6billion of foreign businesses in a spending spree last year – the highest figure since the start of the millennium.
The surge in deal-making was more than four times the value of overseas takeovers in 2016, fuelling hopes that UK firms are becoming less cautious a decade on from the financial crisis, and had put Brexit worries behind them.
It was the best year since 2000, when there were £181billion of deals.
The spree was fuelled by a clutch of mega-deals, including consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser’s £11.9billion swoop on US rival Mead Johnson and the £35.5billion acquisition of Reynolds American by cigarette supplier British American Tobacco.
But the country’s firms still managed a healthy £18.3billion of foreign takeovers even after the biggest tie-ups were stripped out, £1billion more than in 2016.
There were 150 deals in total, up from 141, and 93 per cent were in the Americas.
Meanwhile the value of swoops by foreign predators on British businesses slumped from a record £190billion to £35.3billion.
This is partly because overseas companies piled into impressive UK companies straight after the 2016 Brexit vote, using the weaker pound to grab a bargain.
One example was the £24.3billion raid by Japan’s Softbank on UK tech firm Arm Holdings.
The surge in deal-making last year was more than four times the value of overseas takeovers in 2016
But this string of foreign assaults tapered off last year as sterling stabilised and then regained some ground.
Major foreign investments into the UK last year included the £700million sale of payments technology firm Vocalink to Mastercard.
Deal-making solely involving British firms buying each other fell from £24.7billion to £18.6billion, although this is still higher than at any time between 2009 and 2015.
Brexit backers said the figures suggest UK firms are eyeing new horizons as they look to expand.
It is hoped that companies’ investments overseas will be further boosted by trade deals with fast-growing countries after we leave the EU.
Eurosceptic Conservative MP John Redwood said: ‘This is good news. It shows that British firms are confident, they’re global players and they understand that growth will be particularly strong in the Americas and Asia rather than Europe,’ he said.
Economists said the figures from the Office for National Statistics also suggest companies want to expand their options so they are well placed to thrive through any post-Brexit disruption.
Alan Clarke, head of European fixed income strategy at Scotia Bank, said: ‘Diversification is the most likely explanation for it, in the context of Brexit.’