The big news in Exchangeworld is the likely merger of NYSE Euronext (NYX) and Deutsche Borse.
This reflects in some sense a return to financial normalcy in the aftermath of the crisis. The years leading up to the crisis saw a plethora of exchange mergers and combinations, but the pace of consolidation slowed noticeably in 2008-2010. Now it is picking up again.
Both NYSE-Euronext and DB operate cash equity and derivatives exchanges. The former operates NYSE, of course, and also European equity markets in the Netherlands, Portugal, France, and elsewhere, and the LIFFE derivatives exchange in London. The latter operates the German stock market, a US-based options market ISE (a purchase in the pre-crisis boom which turned out to be a rather bad deal for DB) and the Eurex derivatives exchange which trades equity options and a wide range of financial futures. DB is highly vertically integrated; most importantly, it operates its own execution and clearing platforms in both equities and derivatives. LIFFE historically outsourced its derivatives clearing to LCH.Clearnet, but is also vertically integrating into clearing (although it still contracts with LCH for some clearing services).
Cost savings are the major driver of this merger. There are substantial scale and scope economies in execution systems. In derivatives, moreover, there are substantial scale and scope economies in clearing. In particular, margining and netting efficiencies reduce customer capital costs.
The competitive effects are likely to be relatively small, even though that has been a focus of a lot of the commentary. Cash equities are already ruthlessly competitive, especially in the United States: RegNMS socialized order flow, eliminating any tipping effects, as demonstrated by the precipitous decline in NYSE market share from the mid-80s to the mid-20s in the years following RegNMS.
With respect to derivatives, the LIFFE and Eurex do not compete head to head in any major product. Cross-product competition is relatively tame in futures. And just as with the CME-CBT merger, putting LIFFE short term interest rate futures and UK government bond futures and Eurex European bond products on the same platform would facilitate spreading trades and enhance liquidity and reduce trading costs and execution risks for customers.
Nor do LIFFE and Eurex compete head-to-head with any CME product. Thus, the direct competitive effect of the merger on CME is also likely to be relatively mild. By reducing trading and clearing costs, a LIFFE-Eurex combination may attract some business from CME product groups to its product groups, but again, these inter-product class cross elasticities do not appear to be large. Order flow has not been socialized by regulatory fiat in derivatives on either side of the Atlantic, meaning that the order flow network effect is still in place. This means that LIFFE and Eurex could not credibly compete against CME on its home turf (each had conspicuous failures trying): it also means that a combined LIFFE-Eurex will face daunting obstacles in trying to do so. Indeed, I doubt they will seriously try; twice burned, thrice shy would be a reasonable motto.
Consistent with this, CME Group’s stock price has been up close to 2 percent since the news of the potential tie up became public.
The biggest uncertainty surrounding the deal involves European antitrust approval. As noted above, the merging exchanges are not direct competitors in any major product. In the US, in the mergers of CME and CBT and CME and NYMEX, that fact was decisive in avoiding Justice Department challenges. It should be in Europe too, but I’m not as familiar with European antitrust thinking or precedents so I’m not sure they’ll see it the same way.
The most interesting question involves clearing. European policymakers have been critical of vertical integration in clearing. (The USDOJ is too, but only disclosed its (economically nonsensical) objections after the CME-NYMEX merger closed.) They deem vertical integration as anticompetitive, and have failed to consider seriously the efficiencies that integration can generate (a subject I’ve written a lot about on SWP and my academic research).
Given this skepticism, the Euro antitrust folks may view this merger as an opportunity to open up access to clearing at Deutsche Borse and LIFFE. That is, I could see them conditioning approval of the merger on the parties’ agreement to open up access to their clearing services. It will be interesting to see whether they attempt to do so: I estimate that there is a non-trivial probability of this happening. If they try, it would likely be a deal killer. DB in particular has been adamant that integration is an essential part of its model and strategy, and LIFFE has adopted that view as well. A deal becomes much less attractive–and, in my opinion, unattractive–if it requires a fundamental transformation of the exchanges’ business models.
The news of the potential deal has sparked considerable speculation about other tie-ups. One commonly heard belief is that CBOE is the odd-man out, and that it should tie up with CME. Other than the fact that both have “Chicago” in their names, these entities don’t have a lot in common, or a lot to gain by combining. In particular, there are no benefits on the clearing side. There are no economies on the regulatory/compliance side. There are not really big advantages on the system side either. So, other than savings on letterhead and some management salaries, there is nothing to be gained by merging.
It is likely that many more possible combinations will be mooted and discussed in the coming days. I’ll be among those discussing them, but that will have to wait. For teaching calls. It’s rough work, but somebody has to do it.