TSE President Atsushi Saito speaks with reporters in Tokyo on Thursday. (Hiroki Endo)
The Tokyo Stock Exchange building in Tokyo’s Kabutocho district (Hiroki Endo)
Spurred by intense competition for investors and similar tie-ups worldwide, the Tokyo and Osaka stock exchanges are set to enter exploratory merger talks, officials said Thursday.
The heads of Japan’s two major stock exchanges will meet later this month to set the stage for negotiations on the possible deal, officials said. The two exchanges could form a single holding company as early as autumn 2012, they said.
“I believe direction-wise, such a move is a good one,” Tokyo Stock Exchange President Atsushi Saito said Thursday morning. “For Japan to compete in Asian and global markets, I believe it necessary to cooperate in a positive manner.”
Osaka Securities Exchange President Michio Yoneda said he hoped to shoot for a merger agreement “within three months, if they (negotiations) are to be held.”
The move reflects a growing sense of urgency at Japan’s two main exchanges, which have traditionally been at odds with each other.
The newfound urge to merge is being driven by a revolution in information technology that allows traders to instantly move their money from one market to another and an ongoing realignment of stock markets triggered by the global financial crisis.
In February, Deutsche Boerse of Germany agreed to merge with NYSE Euronext, which operates the New York Stock Exchange, while the London Stock Exchange agreed on a merger with Canada’s TMX Group.
The clout of Japan’s markets has diminished considerably over the last few decades. The TSE long prided itself on being the financial heart of Asia and during the asset-inflated bubble economy of the late 1980s dreamed of becoming the top exchange in the world.
However, in recent years, the TSE has seen markets in high-growth Asian economies catch up and even pass it.
In 2009, China’s largest exchange, the Shanghai Stock Exchange, overtook the TSE in trading value, dropping the Tokyo market to fourth place in world trading. Now, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange is hot on the TSE’s heels.
The merger plan will likely involve setting up a holding company under which exchanges will be placed.
The operating companies will likely be reorganized by markets they deal in, such as a spot exchange, a derivatives, including futures, exchange, and a self-regulation entity that will be vested with evaluating applications for listing.
By merging, the two exchanges will be able to leverage each other’s respective strengths, officials said.
Meantime, the OSE is also negotiating a possible merger with the Tokyo Commodity Exchange Inc. (TOCOM). If realized, the TSE-OSE merger would likely include TOCOM.
The TSE currently handles more than 90 percent of domestic stock trades while the OSE ranks 15th in the world in trading of derivatives.
However, the TSE’s own shares are currently not listed, a point that could become an obstacle in forging a merger as it will be difficult to ascertain the company’s value.
The OSE’s Yoneda told reporters that he did not see any reason to wait until the listing of the TSE’s shares to merge, suggesting that the deal could take place earlier.
Established in 1949, the TSE handles trades in excess of 300 trillion yen ($3.6 trillion) a year.
A total 2,290 companies are listed on the TSE’s First, Second and Mothers sections. The current value of all shares listed on TSE totals about 329 trillion yen, placing it at the top of Asian exchanges and third in the world, following NYSE Euronext and Nasdaq OMX.
The OSE finds its roots in a rice futures market set up in the 18th century. In the 1980s, it started futures trading ahead of other exchanges in Japan.
In 2004, the OSE became the first Japanese exchange to list its own shares.
The exchange has 1,741 listed companies, and while it accounts for roughly only 4 percent of domestic stock trades, it handles about seven times the derivatives trading in terms of value when compared with the TSE.