Over the last twelve months there has been more stock exchange acquisition activity in the UK than the market has experienced for the last three to four years, according to accountants Ernst & Young.

And, says Matt Carter, corporate finance partner in the Birmingham office, this presents both opportunities and challenges for the region's economy.

He noted: "Money is cheap in Europe at the moment, with low interest rates making it attractive for investors on the mainland to borrow money.

"The acquisition trail offers businesses an opportunity for easier growth and a guaranteed earning stream."

Highlighting the takeover of plasterboard maker BPB, he said new owner, French group Saint Gobain, had made the move to increase growth in its manufacturing divisions, and to have a strong representation in the UK for its building products arm.

Another factor driving takeovers, particularly buildings products, was the perceived attractiveness for foreign investors.

Mr Carter said companies operating in the sector had been undervalued in the UK when compared to the fast growing technology companies, which was surprising given that many had generated excellent cash flows.

He went on: "We have seen increased activity over the last six months in the more traditional areas, such as buildings products, because shares in these companies offer a greater return and are a less risky investment.

"They offer a more stable investment opportunity - they generate substantial profits and are supported by solid management teams who know their sectors well."

An added incentive which increases the appetite for foreign investors is the UK's regulatory system.

Mr Carter commented: "There are rules and regulations to adhere to, like all countries, but compared to France for example where one market leading company in every sector is encouraged to remain French owned, this country offers easier access to its listed businesses.

"This makes it simple for foreign businesses to trade in the UK and allows foreign investors to cherry pick the companies they want."

So what is the long term impact of this trend towards foreign takeovers?

Mr Carter said it was positive for pension funds in the short term as they receive profit on the sale of shares, but could potentially be a stumbling block down the line.

"A considerable amount of listed shares are held by UK pension funds, and the inflated share premiums gained will help bolster these schemes significantly."

Increasing foreign takeover activity has fuelled the debate around the future of UK plcs, and what long term effects foreign ownership will have on the region's economy.

Mr Carter said: "Although there is the potential to shift jobs and money overseas, foreign investors are usually keen to retain a UK presence for their acquisition to be viable.

"The fact is, home grown plcs are also taking globalisation very seriously and there are recent high profile examples, such as Vodafone, which proves the UK is also on the acquisition trail."