Outlook: Stock exchanges

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The Independent Online
AT ANY normal wedding, for the groom to be eyeing up the talent in the front row while saying "I do" to his bride would merit a slap in the face. But in tying the knot yesterday with the handsome beau from the Paris Bourse, the Swiss stock exchange cannot complain if it spotted its partner's eyes wandering during the ceremony.

Jean-Francois Theodore, the head of the Paris bourse, has made no secret that his prime interest is in muscling in on the engagement between the London and Frankfurt stock exchanges and turning it into a menage a trois.

Tempting the Swiss up the aisle is just a step towards that inevitable goal. The big international bankers and brokers who trade on Europe's stock exchanges want one pan-European dealing system and one set of rules, and don't much care how they get there. The exchanges accept the arguments. But there are formidable obstacles in the way.

The French want everyone to get around a table and agree on one trading platform and one - presumably French - set of rules. But time is pressing on. After years of meetings and nothing but high-flown declarations to show for it, London and Frankfurt have opted to get on with it a deux, and leave the grand scheme for another day. It seems the French are taking the same view.

The way things are going London and Frankfurt may soon be adding a futures market deal to their existing stock exchange alliance. Officials at Liffe, the beleaguered London Futures and Options Exchange, were too polite to say so. But Chairman Brian Williamson will have been cheered no end to discover that the steamroller movement of Frankfurt's Eurex has come to a halt, for the time being at least, on the outskirts of Chicago.

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