LSE merger with Deutsche Boerse now unlikely to go ahead

€29 billion deal stalls over exchange’s unwillingness to sell its stake in MTS

The LSE said on Sunday that the European Commission had asked it to sell its 60 per cent stake in fixed-income trading platform MTS to satisfy antitrust concerns over its proposed merger. Photograph: iStock

The LSE said on Sunday that the European Commission had asked it to sell its 60 per cent stake in fixed-income trading platform MTS to satisfy antitrust concerns over its proposed merger. Photograph: iStock

 

London Stock Exchange (LSE) has said that its proposed merger with Deutsche Boerse is unlikely to be approved by the European Commission, leaving the stock market operators’ third attempt at combining on the brink of failure.

The LSE said in a statement late on Sunday that the commission had asked it to sell its 60 per cent stake in fixed-income trading platform MTS to satisfy antitrust concerns over the merger of Europe’s two largest market operators. Calling the request “disproportionate”, the British exchange said it believed it would struggle to sell MTS and that such a sale would be detrimental to its ongoing business.

“Based on the commission’s current position, LSE believes that the commission is unlikely to provide clearance for the merger,” it said.

The exchange added that it would still work to make the merger with Deutsche Boerse succeed, but that would be impossible unless the commission changed its position.

In a separate statement, Deutsche Boerse attributed the decision to LSE alone. LSE had “resolved tonight to not commit to the required divestment of [its] majority stake in MTS”, Deutsche Boerse said on Sunday, adding that it expected a final decision from the commission by the end of March.

The commission declined to comment.

Trading powerhouse

The two exchanges announced plans to merge in a €29 billion deal just over a year ago, aiming to create a giant trading powerhouse which could compete better against US rivals that were starting to encroach on the pair’s turf.

The exchanges had already agreed to sell part of LSE’s clearing business, LCH SA, in order to satisfy antitrust requirements.

LSE said the commission had also raised concerns this month about the impact on the European market landscape of access to bond and repo trading feeds were the two exchanges to merge.

LSE said that it had offered certain proposals to address this but that the commission had requested it sell all of MTS instead. The commission had given the exchanges until Monday to come up with a proposal to meet that demand.

MTS is a relatively small part of LSE’s business, but it is a major platform for trading European government bonds, particularly in Italy, where it is classified as a “systemically important regulated business”.

LSE said that such a sale would need regulatory approval from several governments in Europe, and would be detrimental to its wider Italian business.

“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,” the exchange said.