- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The New York Stock Exchange yesterday ratcheted up its fight to become the world’s first trans-Atlantic stock trading center, making a $10.2 billion cash-and-stock bid for European exchange operator Euronext NV.

A combination of NYSE Group Inc. and Euronext would create a $21 billion company called NYSE Euronext with trading in stock, corporate bond, futures, options, derivatives and commodities on two continents. The move would extend the reach of each exchange and give the NYSE a dominance also sought by its rival, the Nasdaq Stock Market Inc., although the average investor probably would be little affected.

“NYSE Euronext will be the world’s most liquid and truly global financial marketplace, offering unparalleled benefits for investors and issuers in the United States, Europe and across the globe,” said NYSE Group Chief Executive Officer John A. Thain, who would be CEO of the combined company.

Euronext’s board was receptive to the bid, saying yesterday that it was the most attractive offer on the table, implicitly better than a bid from Deutsche Bourse AG made Friday. Euronext shareholders will meet today in Amsterdam to weigh the offers.

Meanwhile, the Nasdaq, which saw the London Stock Exchange rebuff its $4.5 billion bid March 30, has been buying LSE shares and now owns 25.1 percent of the London market. While it waits the six months required under British law to make another bid, the stake gives the Nasdaq some veto power over major changes at the LSE — though not enough to stop a competing acquisition bid.

Such mergers have the potential to create financial powerhouses — the NYSE could become a global market for a variety of investments, and the Nasdaq is poised to become a worldwide, round-the-clock trading platform for nearly any stock. But although a deal would be good for the exchanges, expanding their reach and lowering their costs, the rest of the investing public could see very little immediate effect should either acquisition, or both, be completed.

Both exchanges ultimately could trade U.S. and European shares on both sides of the Atlantic, resulting in an extended trading day and increased revenues for the combined companies. The Nasdaq could corner the British market in trading U.S. equities, while the NYSE could use Euronext’s technologies to more quickly upgrade its aging trading systems.

Yet there’s some danger of backlash from major Wall Street financial companies should the NYSE and Nasdaq succeed. Analysts say that if the NYSE becomes a critical trading center for stocks and myriad other investments, there’s a concern that the exchange could raise its transaction fees, because it has less competition from other exchanges.

Even a tenth of a penny adds up for a Wall Street firm making hundreds of thousands of transactions every day.

The Nasdaq’s efforts, which are more about becoming the world’s premier stock trading platform rather than offering a diverse line of investments, could raise similar concerns.

“This is what they fear, that kind of one-stop shop where there’s nowhere else left to go,” said David Easthope, an analyst with the securities and investments group at the consulting firm Celent Communications.

“That would give the NYSE a stranglehold on trading, all in one place.”

That’s why major Wall Street firms, including Citigroup and Merrill Lynch & Co., have taken stakes in smaller exchanges or created their own electronic trading platforms in the past six months, in hopes of ensuring brisk competition for the two potential global giants.


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