The Gulf's influence on stock exchange takeovers

The UAE and Qatar could find themselves in the role of kingmakers in the global whirl of stock exchange takeovers.

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The UAE and Qatar could find themselves kingmakers in the global whirl of stock exchange takeovers.

Qatar holds a 15 per cent stake in the London Stock Exchange (LSE), while Borse Dubai, the operator of two of the three Emirates exchanges, has a 20 per cent stake.

"A 35 per cent stake is a powerful springboard for anybody wanting to mount a full takeover bid, and there is only one real candidate for that - Nasdaq OMX," said one industry insider, who did not want to be named.

The shareholdings go back to the summer of 2007, the last time there was a bout of merger fever among the world's stock exchanges. Dubai bought its holding from Nasdaq as part of the deal that saw the New York company acquire OMX. Qatar, seen by the LSE as a long-term ally, immediately carried out a "market raid", buying its own strategic stake, to partly balance out Dubai's holding.

Circumstances have changed dramatically since then, however. The Qatar and Dubai acquisitions were executed at about the £1,500 per share level; LSE shares were quoted at £927 last Friday.

But both Gulf states have continued to aim at the goal of being the leading financial marketplace in the region. Dubai's ambitions were affected by its financial crisis in 2009 and by the slowness of integrating the three UAE exchanges. There has been some progress towards consolidation in recent months.

Energy-rich Qatar did not suffer as much as Dubai and is believed to have maintained a good relationship with the LSE.

Dubai says it is a long-term supportive shareholder of the LSE, but Dubai exchange executives are known to have been sceptical of the London deal with TMX of Canada. Under the terms, Dubai's holding in the merged company would be reduced to about 11 per cent but could still face regulatory scrutiny in Canada.

Xavier Rolet, the LSE chief executive, recently travelled to Dubai to reassure and seek assurance from Borse Dubai.

Since the failure of Nasdaq's bid to scupper the planned NYSE-Deutsche Boerse merger, LSE shares have risen significantly. This has prompted speculation that Nasdaq could buy Dubai's stake in the LSE as a platform for a full-blown takeover bid for the LSE.

There have been no indications that the UAE and Qatar have discussed a joint approach for their 35 per cent stake. Qatar is hampered by being 25 per cent owned by NYSE, Nasdaq's bitter rival.