Clara Furse to leave the LSE in solid shape

THE CITY&rsquo;S most powerful woman, London Stock Exchange (LSE) boss Dame Clara Furse, is expected to issue &ldquo;solid&rdquo; full year results for the group as she steps down this Wednesday.<br /><br />The notorious &ldquo;ice queen&rdquo; is expected to report sharp declines in trading volumes, with the exchange suffering from the recession.<br /><br />But the declines will be&nbsp;less severe than expected, according to Bernstein Research analyst Dirk Hoffmann-Becking, who claims the LSE still has &ldquo;truly impressive balance sheets&rdquo;.<br /><br />He expects Furse to unveil trading volume falls of up to 55 per cent in equities and 20 per cent in derivatives contracts when she unveils the numbers for the half year to the end of March.<br /><br />He upped his earnings-per-share expectation in a research note last week from 72.3p to 72.6p, believing that the recent tide of share offerings from cash-strapped blue chips will have been helpful.<br /><br />He rates LSE with a target price of &pound;7 a share, compared with its market close on Friday at &pound;6.75.<br /><br />Furse is stepping down after eight years as chief executive of the group, in which time she fought off five takeover bids.<br /><br />She oversaw the demutualisation and listing of the group after taking over in 2001 and during her tenure its share price rose from &pound;2.60 to over &pound;20 a share, although it has fallen back during the credit crunch.<br /><br />Her decision to fight off two bids from US rival Nasdaq was controversial &ndash; the group was offering &pound;12.43 a share for the LSE in 2006 compared to the current share price at half that level.<br /><br />But she points out during her tenure revenues have tripled, operating profits quintupled and the dividend has increased by almost seven times.<br /><br />She is handing over on Wednesday to&nbsp;Xavier Rolet, who ran Lehman&rsquo;s French division,&nbsp;although she will remain on the board to ensure a smooth handover.