Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd (HKEX) on Wednesday made an unexpected US$36.6 billion bid for London Stock Exchange (LSE) Group PLC, a bold move that would upend the UK bourse’s combination with Refinitiv.
LSE’s board “remains committed to” the acquisition of data provider Refinitiv, highlighting the hurdles facing an offer that it called unsolicited, preliminary and highly conditional.
The board said it would consider the proposal and make an announcement later.
LSE’s shares pared earlier gains, reflecting skepticism that a deal could be done in the face of unrest in Hong Kong and potential concern over Chinese ownership.
LSE executives and investors might also view the US$27 billion takeover of Refinitiv, aimed as a push into financial data, as a more secure future than a multi-continental combination of stock exchange operators.
For HKEX, the bet on London remaining a post-Brexit financial hub promises a base away from the fraught political climate at home.
Under the proposal, HKEX would offer ￡20.45, as well as 2.495 newly issued HKEX shares per LSE share.
That values each LSE share at ￡83.61, the Hong Kong bourse said in a statement.
The UK company’s stock on Wednesday closed 5.9 percent higher at ￡72.06 in London, after earlier surging as much as 16 percent.
The LSE is leaning toward rejecting the Hong Kong bid, the Financial Times reported, citing two people close to the board.
HKEX had considered the “ambitious and far-reaching” deal for one of Europe’s largest exchanges for many months, chief executive Charles Li (李小加) said in the statement.
The Refinitiv deal was a bet by LSE on a future dominated by data, as the three-century-old exchange looks for ways to extend its global reach.
Acquiring Refinitiv, the former financial and risk unit of Thomson Reuters, would help the London bourse expand further into data analysis.
An HKEX-LSE pact would put an end to the Refinitiv purchase, instead creating a global trading power that would have stock, derivatives and commodities exchanges, as well as clearinghouses across two continents.
In a media call after the bid was announced, Li said that HKEX’s offer was “something fundamentally different” to the Refinitiv tie-up for LSE and its shareholders.
“Superior growth, superior strategic prospects and tremendously different and enhanced value creation for shareholders,” he said. “Growth prospects for both companies, and strategic positioning for both cities.”
However, HKEX’s proposed move could fall at the same hurdle, said Ronald Wan (溫天納), chief executive at Partners Capital International Ltd in Hong Kong.
“A takeover from Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, could be seen as a takeover from China. It won’t be easy to clear all the regulatory hurdles — the deal is super politically sensitive,” he said.
British Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Andrea Leadsom, speaking on Bloomberg Television as news of the deal broke, said that the British government would scrutinize any tie-up between the exchanges.
The UK authorities would “look very carefully at anything that had security implications for the UK,” she added.