ALEX BRUMER: Johnson Matthey, a UK company that plans to manufacture EV batteries fails to materialize… Will Britain be able to keep pace in green technology development?

Robert MacLeod is the chief executive officer of Johnson Matthey (JM). He has worked for a while to persuade shareholders that if its large earning catalytic convert falls over, then investment in a key compound for batteries would fill the gap.

Johnson Matthey, a Glasgow-based company, has admitted that it’s dumping its investments in complex compounds and EV fuel cell components as Cop 26 draws to a close.

It is believed that they are not connected. But everyone who has been indoctrinated with JM’s greenwash will have a contrary view.

Out of juice: As Cop-26 winds down in Glasgow, Johnson Matthey admits it is dumping its investment in complex compounds for EV fuel cells as well as MacLeod

Johnson Matthey concedes that it has retracted its investments in complex compounds to EV fuel cell and MacLeod components as Cop-26 draws down in Glasgow

In an update just six months ago, MacLeod was telling the world that an agreement with Norwegian counterpart Nornickel was an ‘important milestone on our journey to developing a sustainable battery ecosystem’. He might have called it a “journey to nowhere.”

The broader significance of JM’s decision to pull the plug on Elno, created from nickel, cobalt and lithium to be deployed in the cathodes for advanced batteries, is that it is extraordinarily hard for even a market leader in current car technology to get traction in electric vehicles. 

The Government can talk until it is green in the gills about the UK’s carbon-free future. The UK has not been able to turn great new technologies into international opportunities. 

The science may be brilliant, but if you are competing with behemoths such as China’s £190billion Contemporary Amperex Technology, which is focusing on European markets, UK companies will struggle to compete.

Johnson Matthey’s big question is: What comes next? MacLeod believes hydrogen is the next frontier. 

It is possible that JM noticed Ineos, a much larger British company has entered this area along with the major oil companies in Britain. 

Toyota, a car maker has operated a fleet experimental hydrogen cars in Tokyo since years. JM’s belief that it can compete in this market is beyond analysis.

JM is known for its ability to rebrand itself in the midst of a 204 year history that saw it engage in anything from banking (a catastrophe) to trading in gold and other metals. 

They still have core expertise in nickel, and other important rare metals. MacLeod’s replacement Liam Condon, transferred from rival Bayer, draws the short straw of weaning the group onto greener technologies.

It would be a tragedy if a valuable climate change experiment were to render one of Britain’s oldest industrial groups vulnerable to an overseas or private equity bid. However, the share price has been pushed up by 19 percent.

Extra special

Amanda Blanc moved with noteworthy speed to reshape Aviva after taking the helm at Britain’s largest insurer 15 months ago.

Cevian, a Swedish hedge fund, has been snapping at her heels to demand that she takes faster actions on cost reduction and disposals. Proceeds from the latest piece of the sales programme, the £1.7billion Polish transfer, have still to arrive.

Once it has all happened, there should be between £4billion to £5billion of excess funds of which some £750m has already been committed in share buybacks. 

What should you do with all that cash? For tax purposes, big battalion shareholders prefer to buy backs. You may not realize that Aviva is home to a large number of private investors. These are remnants from the 2000 merger with the demutualised Norwich Union. Although buybacks can be fine, they are not always worth the investment.

Aviva understands that smaller investors prefer to have cash on hand, so they offer a special dividend. 

Followers of the LV saga need to know that if the 1.2m insurance policyholders go into Bain Capital’s hands, it will be the private equity barons (and their investors) who will get the bulk of the value increase and not a wider range of stakeholders.

The savings stampede during the pandemic saw net flows into Aviva’s investment products soar by 21 per cent. 

Blanc will use some excess resources to expand his financial services practice. The possibility of transforming acquisitions isn’t in the cards. But never say never.

The electric force

Saietta, a newcomer to Beijing that has been quoted in the aim-quoted report, is changing the game. The maker of electric engines for scooters and the like has snapped up China’s e-Traction from the fast-dismembering Evergrande empire for a modest £1.7million. 

Two-way traffic speeds down cycle lanes at a nice pace.