Andrew Murray-Watson: Americans love London: the land of the free market

Whatever the benefits for the LSE, Nasdaq will inevitably be top dog
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The Independent Online

Nasdaq, the US market, last week made what it termed its "final" takeover offer for the London Stock Exchange.

It was the latest episode in a battle that is captivating the City. The pro-Nasdaq camp insists that the takeover of the LSE would create an exchange with the ability to tap into pools of capital on both sides of the Atlantic for the benefit of London and New York. The Stars and Stripes-waving cowboys insist that, if the takeover goes ahead, London would retain its own "light-touch" regulatory environment while benefiting from a shared technology platform.

In some quarters, opposition to the Nasdaq bid has been portrayed as jingoistic and backward looking. It is always controversial when a British company gets taken out by an aggressive foreign rival, but in most instances there are few, if any, negative consequences for the plc in question or for the wider UK economy. Indeed, Britain has benefited greatly from inward investment over the past decade and should be rightly proud of having one of the most open markets in the world.

It is because the City benefits from a light regulatory touch that overseas companies are choosing to list in London, rather than in New York. The trend has been accelerated by the onerous Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in the US, which places burdensome regulatory costs on companies that list in New York.

And true to form in the US, Nasdaq has decided that if you can't beat them, then buy them.

But if the takeover goes through - and there is no certainty of that - will the bosses in the Nasdaq boardroom really continue to allow London to eat New York's lunch? Only the coldest of American corporate hearts could watch as jobs and profits continue to disappear from Wall Street to the Square Mile.

For all their manifold virtues, US leaders, be they politicians or businessmen, could perhaps, just maybe, be accused of having a slightly confrontational approach when it comes to foreign dalliances.

Anyway, it looks like the LSE, and its chief executive, Clara Furse, have lost the power to decide their own destinies. By not pursuing an effective takeover strategy itself, the LSE will almost certainly, sooner or later, become an offshoot of a foreign rival as stock exchanges in the US and Europe continue to consolidate.

This situation mirrors the wider London market in which plcs lack either the vision or the courage to pursue acquisition opportunities.

And if you doubt the truth of that last statement, see if you can remember the last time a major plc bought another large plc.

Hi-tech losers

The data supplied by Thomson Scientific on the technology that went into Sony's PlayStation 3 console gives a fascinating insight into the way in which the best brains from across the planet can now act in concert for the benefit of big business and the consumer.

But it shows, too, just how far Europe now lags behind the US and Japan when it comes to developing new semiconductor technologies.

A few British companies - Wolfson Microelectronics and CSR spring to mind - have succeeded on the global semiconductor stage, but they have been very much the exception rather than the rule.

Perhaps it is only fitting, then, that Europe will take delivery of the PS3 a whole four months after the US and Japan.

a.murray-watson@independent.co.uk

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