The past 11 months have been a tumultuous period for many British businesses. But the London Stock Exchange Group has probably had a rockier ride than most.
In addition to the uncertainty around Brexit that all firms have had to deal with, the LSE has also endured UK businesses being frightened off stock exchange flotations, the breakdown of its mega-merger with Deutsche Boerse and the politicisation of one of the largest part of its business, with European Union politicians seemingly intent on dismantling London’s dominance over the euro clearing market.
Despite its troubles, the LSE has had a few things to shout about in recent months. And, perhaps surprisingly after last year’s Brexit vote, they have centred around international businesses showing an interest in London and the stock exchange. This is set to continue.
The LSE’s most high-profile win this year has probably come from billionaire US hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who listed Pershing Square Holdings in London earlier this month.
Bank of Cyprus also listed on the LSE earlier this year, while Ireland’s government is planning to float Allied Irish Banks (AIB) in London, as well as Dublin, in the coming months.
Elsewhere, Kuwait Energy has this month announced plans for a London float, while Dubai’s ADES International, an oil services company, entered the market last Friday, and the National Highways Authority of India became the latest Indian company to list masala bonds on the LSE last week.
“We’ve always been a very global market,” says Nikhil Rathi, chief executive of the London Stock Exchange Plc, the LSE group’s UK business, who is in charge of international development for the company as a whole.
“The reason people come to London is the rule of law, regulatory integrity, timezone, depth of investor base, liquidity, fairness of the legal system... Nothing that’s happened in the last year has changed that, or will change this fundamentally. This is a tradition in London that goes back hundreds of years.”
These are no doubt some of the arguments the LSE and its executives are using in a bid to lure Saudi Aramco to list part of its business in London next year. The LSE is thought to be in competition with New York, Tokyo, Toronto, Singapore and Hong Kong for what is expected to be the biggest float in history.
“You’re not going to draw me on that one, I’m afraid,” says Rathi, asked about progress on Saudi Aramco. “That’s going to be a no comment.”
The LSE has not publicly acknowledged it is chasing Aramco. But it became hard to deny when group chief executive Xavier Rolet joined Prime Minister Theresa May on a trip to Saudi Arabia in early April.
Rathi, who joined the LSE from the Treasury, acknowledges that the company and the government “work very closely together” to lure investment into London.
“I think that listings on the London Stock Exchange are a very powerful symbol of the global nature of the UK’s trading relationships and ambitions,” he says. “Companies often first interact with the UK, in its broadest sense, through our capital markets.”
In the run-up to last year’s EU referendum, Rathi’s boss, Rolet, told City A.M. that Brexit would be “far worse than not good” for the City of London. “It’s my humble opinion, based on my experience of what I do every day, that the impact on the City of London would be substantial, and almost immediate,” he said at the time.
Although there has been a lot of noise around financial services firms moving jobs into the EU, it would be a stretch now to claim that there was a substantial impact yet. And Rathi and the LSE do not appear too concerned at present.
“The fundamental strength that we have hasn’t changed,” he says. “There are clearly a set of discussions going on that we will all monitor. But, from our perspective as the exchange, we are a very global organisation and have global orientation, and I think that stands us in very good stead for whatever might happen.”
A big part of the LSE’s future plans, until recently, was its merger with Deutsche Boerse. The companies said last June that the vote outcome did not “impact the compelling strategic rationale of the merger”. However, the vote is widely thought to have played a role in the breakdown of the deal.
How much of a blow was the deal breakdown to the LSE, and to Rathi as the man in charge of international development?
“I don’t think that our strategy is fundamentally changed,” he says. “We have got businesses that are performing pretty well right across the board: our capital markets businesses, our information services businesses, our clearing businesses all doing pretty well, across the London Stock Exchange Group. That is reflected in our most recent results. Investors are responding well, if you look at our share price.
“So, yes, this could have been a significant transaction. It hasn’t happened, we’ve moved on.”