A version of this blog post was originally published by the Financial Times.
Recently, I traveled to Madrid. I booked a flight on British Airways and found myself flying… Iberia. Of course these days these two “national carriers” are part of the same company, listed primarily on the London Stock Exchange and Bolsa y Mercados Espanoles, the Madrid exchange.
The Madrid and London stock exchanges are both over 150 years old and fiercely independent. They used to be among scores of independent stock exchanges around the world, all existing to serve their local markets with listings of companies from their country or local area. But increasingly independence is the exception, not the norm, for stock markets.
Like airlines, when countries from Austria to Zimbabwe took pride in having “national carriers,” having your own stock market was a calling card for a nation, even a region. Just as the economics of airlines have prompted alliances no-one could have conceived of – Air France KLM, for example – the economics of stock markets are increasingly leading to a shake-out of the industry.
And just like with airlines, the traditional players are being challenged by low cost entrants who are shaking up the perceived business model by stripping it back to the basics of what traders want from a market. For every Easyjet or SouthWest Airlines, there are multilateral trading facilities (MTFs) such as BATS-Chi X or hungry new entrants, like the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE).
Hardly a week goes by without another deal or alliance being struck among exchanges. The partnerships change all the time creating the most unlikely bedfellows. But in reality all they are doing is following the money.
We are often told that we live in a global world. What happens in Sao Paulo can move markets in Shanghai. This means that traders can be in any location they choose – and these choices are dictated by the availability of skilled labor, the nature of the tax regime, regulations and probably where hedge fund managers want to send their kids to school. From that location they want to trade in any security anywhere in the world. Their choice of market is not predicated on any national loyalty – they will go where there is the best opportunity, the most liquidity, the lowest costs and the least hassle.
As a result you have seen an increasing flow of companies listing on stock markets outside their home territory – from Israeli technology companies on NASDAQ to Kazakh miners on the LSE and Manchester United, an English football club with a Scottish manager, listing in New York where “soccer” is at best a minority sport. Even when a company has its primary listing in its home country, you will often find that the investor community and the majority of trading happen in other places.
Like airlines, national exchanges have had to adapt from being near monopolies in their home markets to being relatively small players in an increasingly global marketplace. They have had to invest in systems and infrastructure to compete and yet still see a large amount of their business being taken by rivals. Against this background it is not surprising that they want to huddle together or face being picked off by global consolidators, worse- altogether forgotten and obsolete.
Over the last few years we have seen multiple alliances in other parts of the world come to fruition. Euronext in Western Europe should regain some autonomy following from the very likely takeover of its parent company by ICE, while NASDAQ OMX in the Nordics, ASEAN in South East Asia, CEESEG in Central & Eastern Europe, and MILA in Latin America have all emerged as important trading blocks, each operating with a subtly different market model.
A fresh crop of new entrants are emerging who reflect the financial strength of markets previously not considered to be worthy of consideration. Moscow shows how, with government backing and strong momentum, a fragmented market can be consolidated to create a credible emerging financial center, fighting for Russian stocks listings that previously would have gone to London or New York. Both the Warsaw and Istanbul exchanges are emerging with similar ambitions.
Where will it end? I can see a few major groupings of markets emerging over time. It is hard to see more than two or three exchange groups in Europe. The lessons from the airline industry are there to see.