Investors embark on voyage of adventure

The merger of the London and Frankfurt exchanges will mean the end of the FT-SE 100 as we know it
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The Independent Online

For Marks & Spencer, Bass and Rio Tinto, this week's debate about whether their shares are eventually traded in euros does not really matter. The crucial question for United Kingdom investors is whether they become geläufigeren (household names) in Germany.

The currency debate created a thick smokescreen over last week's merger of the London Stock Exchange and the Frankfurt Börse. Everyone knows the fusion will have far-reaching effects, but the markets in the UK and Germany have yet to decide what they'll be. Some analysts are already speculating on the changes and agree that both the City and Frankfurt face a "lightning learning experience".

Big institutional investors hope for just a brief refresher course. Most investment banks now make investment decisions on UK stocks as part of a wider, pan-European strategy, and already make direct comparisons between British and euroland competitors.

But many investors remain parochially attached to the stocks in their own countries. The challenge for the companies themselves will be pitching their cases to a genuinely international audience.

But what's highly likely to change is the system of indexing. Exchanges produce their benchmark indices as a marketing tool, allowing their prosperity to be transparently measured and easily expressed.

Many experts believe it will not be long before the iX, the new merged exchange, produces an index combining members of the FT-SE 100, and Germany's 30-member DAX. One immediate effect of this iX table would be that private investors and smaller financial houses would have an instant exposure to stocks formerly locked into a foreign exchange.

Index-makers FTSE International and Dow Jones have not yet produced a benchmark for the iX, but the City is expecting something very soon.

Suddenly, investors who have finally got to grips with the issues plaguing Barclays and BAT, will have to get up to speed with the boardroom battles at Schering and Viag.

But all this is expected to raise the profile of UK and German firms further, specifically encouraging retail investors to look outside their usual universe of stocks.

Areas where there are currently few shares to choose from, such as the UK technology sector, will now be boosted by German players, and vice-versa. ABN Amro analysts forecast increased popularity of German growth stocks, such as Infineon and T-online, among UK investors.

But one major outcome, say analysts, will be a general rise in the profile of all European markets. If UK and German investors are looking outside their own countries, why not look at the whole continent?

Indices that already track a selection of large European stocks, such as the Eurotop 300 and the Stoxx 50, are expected to push to the forefront, and, therefore, easing restrictions on cross-exchange trading will mean that foreign household names will soar.

The likely merger of UK's Techmark and Germany's Neue Markt would create a European index to rival the US's Nasdaq, and further stimulate the "new-economy" fever that has inspired smaller investors.

Finally, analysts are looking for the new iX exchange to ease corporate activity between the UK and Germany. iX is expected to impose a unified set of regulations on mergers and acquisitions, encouraging more activity. So, perhaps, the UK investor should rethink his or her portfolio.