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After LSE's sharp rebuff, HKEX begins investor charm offensive

After LSE's sharp rebuff, HKEX begins investor charm offensive
FILE PHOTO - The name of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited is displayed at the entrance in Hong Kong, China January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip -
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BOBBY YIP(Reuters)
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By Clara Denina

LONDON (Reuters) – Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing <0388.HK> is embarking on a three-week charm offensive with London Stock Exchange <LSE.L> investors as the Asian trading house tries to salvage its proposed $39 billion (31.19 billion pounds) takeover offer.

LSE’s board is refusing to engage with HKEX after emphatically rejecting its approach on Friday. The LSE described HKEX’s offer as fundamentally flawed, saying it would not meet its strategic objectives and came with a high risk of being blocked by regulators.

LSE has said it wants to stick with its plan of buying data and trading company Refinitiv for $27 billion.

But HKEX has vowed to press on, and has set up meetings with a series of LSE’s top investors over the next few weeks, according to two people familiar with the matter, raising the chances that it could make a hostile offer.

One top-25 investor told Reuters they had a meeting booked with HKEX later this month and that there could be a hostile approach. Others said they were keen to hear more rather than dismissing the deal immediately in favour of the Refinitiv tie-up.

“We would expect there to be some synergy (in the HKEX deal) both in terms of corporate overheads and technology,” said James Bevan, chief investment officer at CCLA. He added that while he was broadly supportive of the Refinitiv deal, he had some concerns about the data firm’s growth strategy.

HKEX has until Oct. 9 to make a firm offer or walk away.

HKEX declined to comment on the deal beyond its statement on Friday that it would continue to engage with LSE shareholders and that its offer was in their best interests.

LSE did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

REGULATORYRISK

A source close to HKEX said the Asian trading house was confident some LSE investors were interested in their offer and that it had a chance of success. They pointed out that around 15 of the top 20 LSE shareholders also had stakes in HKEX.

But the past decade has seen a series of attempts at cross-border exchange deals fail, thwarted by regulators and politicians even when both companies have favoured the deal.

HKEX says it has had “constructive” initial discussions with regulators and policymakers. However, regulatory sources in Britain and Italy – where LSE owns Borsa Italiana – said they had yet to hold substantive talks with HKEX on the deal.

HKEX will be counting on its lead banker – Moelis’s Caroline Silver – to help it pull off what would be a major coup if it succeeds.

One of the most prominent exchange bankers, Silver worked on LSE’s takeover of Borsa Italiana in 2007 when at Morgan Stanley, and represented London Metal Exchange when HKEX bought it in 2012.

“Her modus is quite simple: she knows everybody in the exchange and financial infrastructure world, she understands the markets … and she runs a very disciplined process,” said Martin Abbott, London Metal Exchange’s former chief executive.

(Additional reporting by Sinead Cruise, Carolyn Cohn and Huw Jones; Writing by Rachel Armstrong; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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