Doubt has been cast on the EUR29bn (£24.5bn) merger between London Stock Exchange Group plc and Deutsche Börse AG this week, after the European Commission demanded LSE must sell off its 60% stake in fixed-income trading platform MTS S.p.A. This is a part of LSE’s Italian business and an important clearing house for European government bonds, including Italian government debt.
The LSE says the EC is “unlikely to provide clearance” after it surprised the City and refused to comply with the demand. It said on Sunday that the request was “disproportionate”.
The deal had been announced a year ago as a “merger of equals” to create a mega-exchange capable of taking on the US exchanges. The European Commission could announce its verdict on 4 April.
LSE and Deutsche Börse had previously agreed to sell the French part of LSE’s clearing business, LCH, to satisfy competition concerns. Rival Euronext was the interested bidder. That may not go ahead.
LSE said that selling its stake in MTS would require approval from several European national regulators and hurt its wider Italian business, where MTS is classified as a “systemically important regulated business”. The LSE also owns Borsa Italiana, based in Milan.
In its statement, LSE said: “Taking all relevant factors into account, and acting in the best interests of shareholders, the LSE Board today concluded that it could not commit to the divestment of MTS.”
US exchanges, including Intercontinental Exchange, headquartered in Atlanta, may now start bidding for the LSE Group.
The 2 leading European exchanges had previously tried to merge in 2000 and 2005. In the current deal, Deutsche Börse, which operates Frankfurt Stock Exchange, will have a 54% stake in the enlarged business but the headquarters was forecast to stay in London. There were concerns post UK’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union that considerable volumes of clearing, especially securities denominated in euros, would move to Europe.
LSE and Deutsche Börse say the deal is still on, pending the European Commission verdict. Fees so far to City bankers, lawyers and public relations advisers have so far topped £300m, according to calculations on an announcement.
Deutsche Börse also operates the Luxembourg-based clearing house Clearstream and derivatives platform Eurex. It commented: “The parties will await the further assessment by the European commission and currently expect a decision by the European commission on the merger of Deutsche Börse and LSE by the end of March 2017.”