Thain looks at European acquisitions as NYSE stock debuts

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John Thain, the chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, signalled his intention yesterday to hunt for acquisitions in Europe, as the company made its historic stock market debut.

Mr Thain rang the bell of the Exchange to mark the start of trading in the company's shares, after its demutualisation and acquisition of its electronic rival Archipelago.

And he immediately set out a strategy to modernise and expand the Exchange, which he said would probably include acquisitions abroad. "We will be looking at geographic diversification, particularly in Europe," he said.

His comments will reignite speculation that he hopes to bid for the London Stock Exchange, and that he wants to find a way of surmounting the considerable legal and regulatory hurdles involved. The LSE recently fought off a private-equity bid from Macquarie of Australia. Mr Thain's other potential European targets, Deutsche Börse and Euronext, are rumoured to be discussing management issues that are blocking a merger. Reto Francioni, the chief executive of Deutsche Börse, was reported yesterday to be willing to step aside to allow his opposite number Jean-François Théodore to take the top job.

Wall Street traders gave the NYSE's debut a rousing reception, and the stock closed up 23 per cent, valuing the exchange at £12.6bn (£7.3bn). Mr Thain said, controversially, he would move the opening bell to an earlier time "during the course of this year".