By Terry Flanagan

China Opens Up to LME After Shareholder Vote

Barring an unexpected last-minute change of heart by U.K. regulators, the Hong Kong stock exchange will become the proud owner of the London Metal Exchange (LME) after the LME’s shareholders overwhelmingly backed the purchase.

The deal, worth $2.2 billion, will allow Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) to control the world’s largest metals market, as emerging market demand for commodities remains strong. This will likely see the center of power for commodities trading, namely Chicago and London, begin to shift eastwards towards China.

Over 99% of the LME’s shareholders, who are banks, brokers and physical processors who use the 135-year-old exchange, voted in favor of the decision.

“The deal with HKEx, Asia’s leading exchange, will secure the LME’s position as the world’s foremost metals trading venue,” said Martin Abbott, chief executive of the LME.

HKEx, which is part owned by the local Hong Kong government, had announced its all-cash offer last month, outbidding US-based rivals IntercontinentalExchange, CME Group and NYSE Euronext for control of the London exchange. Many in the market believe HKEx have paid a high price for the LME, which is one of the last bastions of open outcry trading.

“I’d like to thank the shareholders of the LME for their support in welcoming this acquisition,” said Charles Li, chief executive of HKEx. “Our shared vision for global leadership in the commodities market will allow us to respectfully build on the proud heritage of this unique institution. HKEx’s ability to help the LME grow its business in Asia and beyond provides significant opportunities for both parties and will deliver value for all of our stakeholders.”

Some market participants have questioned the role that the Beijing government could now play in the LME. However, HKEx says it is free from the influence of Beijing and operates under strict corporate governance rules. As the LME sets prices for industrial metals—with benchmark contracts for copper, aluminum and zinc—and also governs their trading, including the regulation of a global network of strategic warehouses, the LME plays a pivotal role in world trade and traders are fearful that the Chinese government will interfere in this process.

Following on from the failed super-exchange mergers between transatlantic exchange operator NYSE Euronext and its German rival Deutsche Börse in February, as well as last year’s failed merger attempts between the London Stock Exchange and Toronto’s TMX Group, operator of Canada’s two national stock exchanges, and the Singapore Exchange’s failed bid for the Australian Stock Exchange, which were all scuppered by either the regulators or shareholders, market sources say that, despite some concerns over political interference, the HKEx-LME tie-up is far more likely to get the green light, especially as the LME will remain under U.K. oversight.

The takeover, if approved by the Financial Services Authority, the U.K. regulator, is expected to close by the end of the year.

“It’s an end of one era and start of a new one,” said Michael Overlander, chief executive of major LME shareholder and trading house Sucden Financial, after the vote.

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