ICE buys NYSE Euronext, stoking battle with CME

IntercontinentalExchange reasserted its challenge to CME Group for pre-eminence in commodity derivatives markets by buying NYSE Euronext for $8.2bn, fuelling a wave of consolidation among exchange operators.

IntercontinentalExchange, or ICE, the operator of contracts including world benchmark cotton, arabica coffee and raw sugar futures and options, said it would create "an unparalleled operator of global exchanges and clearing houses" through the acquisition.

The NYSE Euronext empire includes not only the "Big Board", as the New York stock exchange on Wall Street is called, but the London and Paris futures exchanges, offering Ice an entry into dealing in the world's largest asset class, interest rates.

In agricultural commodities, the deal would also give Ice control of contracts including sterling-traded cocoa, robusta coffee and white sugar and, signally, milling wheat, offering Ice for the first time control of a liquid grains contract.

Battle of the exchanges

Indeed, the deal revitalises Ice's status as a competitor to CME Group, the world's largest futures exchange operator, whose portfolio includes the benchmark Chicago corn, livestock soybean and wheat contracts.

Ice in May began offering near-round-the-clock trading futures for the likes of corn and wheat, settled against Chicago prices, a move which prompted CME to expand its dealing hours.

Ice has also begun offering barley and wheat trading in Canada, which has deregulated grain sales, and where it operates the benchmark canola contract.

CME in October unveiled the $126m takeover of the Kansas City Board of Trade, which trades hard red winter wheat, actually the major class grown in the US, as opposed to the soft red winter wheat listed in Chicago.

CME has also this year launched a Black Sea wheat futures contract, and in August revealed it had applied for consent for a London-based derivatives exchange.

Regulatory implications?

ICE said it intended to explore the flotation of the Euronext share exchange next year as a "Continental European-based entity", if it gets support from European politicians, highlighting the importance of derivatives in Thursday's merger.

Indeed, changes in global regulation on derivatives trading are seen providing new opportunities for exchange operators, in pushing dealing from over-the-counter markets to formal markets reversing the trend encouraged by the spread of the internet and easy electronic communications.

Despite a deal which would result in ICE owning benchmark soft commodities contracts on both sides of the Atlantic, the tie-up is not expected to attract the wrath of regulators.

While a joint $11.3bn bid by ICE and Nasdaq OMX for NYSE Euronext foundered last year amid competition concerns, there were based on fears for concentration of US share trading.

'Ideal partner'

Jeffrey Sprecher, the ICE chairman and chief executive, said its acquisition of NYSE Euronext was "responsive to the evolution of market infrastructure today, and offers a range of growth opportunities".

Jan-Michiel Hessels, the NYSE Euronext chairman, said the group had "considered a range of strategic alternatives" before accepting the proposal from ICE, which represented "the ideal partner in an evolving market landscape".

The deal - to be paid in a mixture of cash and stock, based on a price of $33.12 per NYSE Euronext share - is expected to release cost savings of $450m from measures such as stripping out duplicated overheads.

NYSE Euronext shares soared 34% to close at $32.25 in New York.

ICE stock added 1.4% to $130.10.

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