November 29, 2023

Preserving a Market Symbol

As the chief executive of the all-electronic Nasdaq exchange, Mr. Greifeld has questioned whether a physical place where human beings come together to buy and sell stocks is even necessary. He has dismissed the 219-year-old capitalist symbol of the New York exchange as “a stage prop” that ought to be taken apart “board by board.”

Now, though, with Nasdaq and the Intercontinental-Exchange in a fierce fight with the Deutsche Börse to buy the Big Board, and its parent company, NYSE Euronext, Mr. Greifeld insists that he will not only keep the floor open but reverse its long decline.

Although it might seem largely symbolic — only about 1,200 traders remain on the floor, down from more than 2,500 a decade and a half ago — both bidders are promising to keep it open, a rare point of agreement and a nod to the high-stakes public relations battle now under way.

Behind the scenes, however, starkly different strategic visions of the future of stock exchanges are being proposed. The tussle between the exchanges is a question about which model is going to compete most successfully in a global marketplace: one that straddles continents and product lines or one that stays local and focused.

“The question is, what is the exchange of the future?” said Richard Repetto, an analyst at Sandler O’Neill, an investment banking and brokerage firm. “Both want to compete globally but Nasdaq is saying, hey, we think the best way to compete globally is to stay as narrowly focused as possible. NYSE is saying, hey, you need to be diversified to compete and have global capabilities.”

The strategy of the Deutsche Börse calls for the combined company to trade stocks as well as higher-margin, faster-growing derivatives in both Europe and the United States.

“It is a bigger international play,” said Patrick J. Healy, chief executive of the Issuer Advisory Group.

Nasdaq’s vision is built on dominating stock trading in the United States. It would have some international equity trading, like its current OMX operations in the Nordic and Baltic countries, as well NYSE Euronext exchanges in European centers like Paris and Amsterdam.

But the merger would make the combined business the home of all the companies listed in the United States, responsible for 45 percent to 50 percent of domestic trading volume. Issuers, including overseas companies, might prefer a bigger, unified American capital market compared with the fragmented one now.

On Thursday the fate of the Big Board is likely to take center stage at the annual shareholder meeting of NYSE Euronext in Manhattan. But the final outcome may be decided only by a shareholder vote scheduled for July.

The deal with the Deutsche Börse — which went mainly electronic more than a decade ago and has only about 120 traders on its floor in Frankfurt — would give NYSE Euronext a much bigger share of the market for exchange-based derivatives trading in Europe, including interest rate derivatives as well as NYSE Euronext’s 27 percent share of cash stock market trading in the United States.

Under the Nasdaq-ICE bid, NYSE Euronext would be split into two. The NYSE Euronext’s stock-trading operations, including the NYSE floor, would go to Nasdaq, while ICE would pick up most of the derivatives businesses in the United States and Europe.

NYSE’s board has twice rebuffed the Nasdaq-ICE bid, even though Mr. Greifeld sweetened his offer last week with firmer bank financing and an offer to pay a $350 million break-up fee to NYSE Euronext if regulators veto the deal.

The NYSE Euronext board said it still prefers to merge with the Deutsche Börse, because that deal would keep the company intact, and emphasize the global cross-product strategy, while they argue an Nasdaq-ICE combination would run afoul of antitrust rules.

The Nasdaq-ICE bid is also a bet on the superiority of purely electronic trading. From its headquarters in Times Square, Nasdaq has done more than anyone else to draw business away and diminish the exchange, and in the shift to electronic trading the Big Board itself adopted ever more automation and set up its own electronic-only market, called Arca.

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