Clash looming over second-line market: Stock Exchange and rival advance plans for USM successor

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The Independent Online
THE London Stock Exchange and the European Venture Capital Association are heading for a collision course over rival plans to launch markets for small-company shares.

The Exchange is preparing to announce the new name for its successor to the Unlisted Securities Market, which has been rendered obsolete by European Union legislation.

Meanwhile, EVCA members are meeting in Paris later this month to agree their plans.

In April, the London Exchange unveiled a seven-point plan for smaller companies, based on upgrading the facility for matching buyers and sellers under Rule 535.2 (soon to become 4.2 in the new rule book) and turning it into a workable mini-market with its own computer-screen pricing system and what is promised to be 'a suitable level of regulation'.

This is to be backed by enhancing the Stock Exchange Alternative Trading Service (Seats) for less liquid securities and creating a new stock market index to put the focus on smaller companies.

The Stock Exchange plan was announced in the teeth of opposition from the City Group for Smaller Companies (Cisco).

Katie Morris, Cisco's chief executive, said: 'There is wide support across Europe for the establishment of a pan-European Enterprise Market. The Stock Exchange proposal may not protect it from the competition that a properly focused European market might attract.'

The Exchange is now understood to be consulting the regulators to see how it can upgrade its 535.2 trading facility. This is complex, as it has to cover the likes of Weetabix at one end and some fairly flimsy ventures at the other end - to encourage fledglings to come to market but offer private investors reasonable protection.

The seven-point plan was produced after the Exchange scrapped its smaller-companies working party in December and asked Mori, the opinion pollsters, to find out what the customers - investors and companies - really wanted.

The new regime at the Exchange, led by chief executive Michael Lawrence, privately accepts that this was mishandled by its predecessors and lost them the initiative.

Consequently, venture capitalists, led by Ronald Cohen of Apax Partners, took up the torch, calling for a Europe-wide Enterprise market based on the Nasdaq computerised system.

Mr Cohen said: 'We are thinking on a broader European scale than the Stock Exchange. There's no reason why the Exchange should have a monopoly on share trading in the UK, but there's also no reason the two cannot co-exist.'

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