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London Stock Exchange shifts focus to Refinitiv buy as HKEX ends pursuit

The HKEX board, which met over a public holiday on Monday after a weekend of violence, was concerned by the lack of engagement from the LSE

Viren Vaghela & Kiuyan Wong | Bloomberg  |  London/Hong Kong 


Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing abruptly dropped its £29.6-billion ($36.2 billion) unsolicited takeover bid for Group, after opposition from the UK company and a cool reception from Beijing.

The HKEX board, which met over a public holiday on Monday after a weekend of violence, was concerned by the lack of engagement from the LSE, weeks after it initially approached the firm, people familiar with the matter said.

The proposal didn’t get support in China, where the official People’s Daily pointed to “persistent worries” about Hong Kong given the current unrest, and instead promoted LSE’s existing tie-up with the Shanghai Stock Exchange. HKEX declined to comment.

The decision is a rare setback for HKEX Chief Executive Officer Charles Li, who saw London at the center of trading between eastern and western

The withdrawal now leaves LSE, which viewed the HKEX bid as an unwelcome distraction, free to pursue its $27-billion takeover of Refinitiv. It will take the 300-year-old bourse away from a traditional exchange model, and deeper into Big Data.

LSE said in a statement it “remains committed to and continues to make good progress on” the Refinitiv deal, which faces a shareholder vote next month and is scheduled to close in the second half of 2020.

HKEX, the region’s largest bourse by revenue, struggled to regain momentum after last month’s stinging rebuke from LSE’s board.

HKEX executives met LSE shareholders in London and New York to try to gain their backing for the takeover. The bourse also was in talks to borrow as much as £8 billion to fund the purchase.

While the HKEX’s board continues to see a combination as “strategically compelling,” it’s “disappointed that it has been unable to engage with the management of LSEG in realising this vision, and as a consequence has decided it is not in the best interests of HKEX shareholders to pursue this proposal,” the exchange said in a filing on Tuesday.

Li’s LSE counterpart, David Schwimmer, has said he preferred direct access to China and didn’t need the former British colony as a conduit. LSE had last month rejected HKEX’s initial takeover proposal, citing complications ranging from political unrest to potential problems with regulators.

Hong Kong has seen four months of increasingly violent unrest, sparked by a since-scrapped Bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

HKEX shares have dropped close to 7 per cent since June, while LSE has declined more than 6.7 per cent after the HKEX announcement.

HKEX countered LSE’s cold response with a charm offensive, bringing in UBS Group and HSBC Holdings to try to persuade shareholders of the merits of its proposal, Bloomberg had reported.

“I don’t think the HKEX shareholders were keen for them to take on even more debt,” said Niki Beattie, founder of Market Structure Partners, in London.

“With the backdrop of unrest in Hong Kong, it probably would have been difficult for both sides to ignore it and that could be blown into something bigger on both sides. Therefore, better to save face earlier on.”

Exchanges have tried and failed to combine in recent years, as political, regulatory and economic considerations have foiled efforts. The LSE’s attempted merger with Germany’s Deutsche Boerse was ultimately abandoned, while Singapore Exchange’s bid for ASX was rejected by Australian regulators in 2011.

First Published: Tue, October 08 2019. 23:55 IST