British manufacturer Lucite International Group Ltd. recently was acquired by Japan’s Mitsubishi Rayon Co. Ltd. for $1.6 billion.

The deal, which was announced by company officials last month, is expected to be completed in January 2009, pending regulatory approval.

As of January 2008, Lucite had 2,000 employees in 14 manufacturing plants across North America, Europe and Asia. The Southampton, England-based company produces more than 50 percent of the world’s acrylic baths and makes spa shells for a variety of leading hot tub companies.

The acquisition strengthens Mitsubishi Rayon’s position in the market, expanding the firm’s capabilities into three continents. This, in turn, will allow the company to aggressively pursue business in emerging regions such as Eastern Europe, Russia and South America.

“I think it’s a positive for the industry,” said Mike Dunn, vice president of sales and marketing at Vista, Calif.-based Watkins Manufacturing . “From a macro-perspective, it brings stability to Lucite, which is a good thing, and I believe Mitsubishi Rayon is very focused on the monomer and acrylics businesses, so bringing Lucite in is probably a positive.

“Mitsubishi Rayon is obviously a very stable company,” he added, “so I can’t see this as being anything but good for [Lucite].”

The Lucite pickup is the latest in a string of overseas acquisitions in 2008 by Japanese companies, which are leveraging a strong yen to purchase international firms inexpensively amid a sagging global economy.

Already this year, Japanese firms have totaled $61 billion worth of acquisitions abroad, according to Thomson Reuters data. The previous record was $44.2 billion, set in 2006.

Lucite International, which was born from the acrylic businesses of DuPont and ICI dating back to the 1930s, has been majority-owned by private-equity firm Charterhouse Capital Partners, LLP, since 1999.

The company has long enjoyed a reputation for strong management and solid personnel.

“I think Chris Robinson and his team have done a fabulous job running this company over the years,” said Casey Lloyd, president of Cal Spas in Pomona, Calif. “I sincerely hope the acquisition team at Mitsubishi Rayon recognizes the value of the fine people they have on board because, ultimately, it’s the people who truly make the difference.”