NEWSMAKER-SGX CEO merger ambitions thwarted by Australian national pride

By Saeed Azhar

SINGAPORE, April 5 (Reuters) – Singapore Exchange
CEO Magnus Bocker is likely to survive with his job and merger
ambitions intact after his efforts to orchestrate Asia-Pacific’s
first exchanges consolidation fell victim to national pride in
Australia.

The man who stitched together seven Nordic bourses to create
OMX, later sold to NASDAQ , now has to find new ways to
overcome tough opposition to mergers among Asian bourses, which
are still seen as prized national treasures.

Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan on Tuesday said he intends to
reject SGX’s proposed $7.8 billion bid for Australia’s ASX Ltd
on national interest grounds. [ID:nL3E7F50PP]

Despite the likely failure of this deal, most analysts
believe Bocker will stay on at SGX and pursue other deals,
perhaps through partnerships and joint ventures.

“It was a bold move on his (Bocker’s) part to have pursued
this. It was a strategy that was definitely worth doing and I
don’t see why it should affect him in any way,” said Manu
Bhaskaran, CEO of consultancy Centennial Asia Advisors.

“It’s not his fault, it’s a fault of how the political
system works.”

OTHER FISH TO FRY?

Bocker launched the audacious cash-and-shares bid for ASX in
October just 10 months into the top job at SGX.

Speaking after the news broke that the Australian government
will oppose the deal, Bocker said the deal was in the interest
of both Singapore and Australia.

“As a combined entity, SGX and ASX would have been the best
placed to have leveraged on Asia’s growth and attract more
global participation and listed companies,” he said.

Bocker said he will not aggressively pursue partners for
another merger if the ASX deal fails, but analysts think
otherwise.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing , Asia’s most
valuable bourse operator and a gateway to the massive China
market is seen as a possible partner, while a tie-up with a
Western exchange operator at risk of missing the industry-wide
consolidation underway is also possible.

“The regulators voted this down because of nationalistic
concerns, I don’t think that reflects badly on Magnus. He’ll
probably try to do something else again,” said Kenneth Ng, head
of research at CIMB in Singapore.

The slim 49-year-old Swede, who is a long distance runner,
had crafted the ASX bid after a hectic few months at SGX. Bocker
had already helped launch trading in American Depository
Receipts of Asian firms and the established Chi-East, a “dark
pool” joint venture with Nomura’s Chi-X.

“He is fiercely driven, very ambitious,” says a colleague at
SGX, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He is not the kind to
sit around.”

Bocker, who joined SGX from NASDAQ-OMX in December 2009, has
long had a reputation as a deal-maker.

Fluent in English, with only a faint hint of a Scandinavian
accent, Bocker is married and has three children. In 2007, he
ran the New York City marathon in just over 3 hours 53 minutes.

He joined Swedish exchange operator OMX in 1986 and made his
mark bringing together seven Nordic bourses to form OMX AB,
which he led between 2003 and 2008, before selling out to
NASDAQ.

After moving to Singapore later that year, Bocker initially
said he was looking to drive growth in a slow, more patient
manner.

Besides the ADR and dark pool ventures, he has driven
investment in technology improvements at SGX, including $250
million in a new trading system.

“I don’t see myself as a dealmaker. I see myself as an
operator. I like building, changing and growing exchanges,” he
told Reuters last month in an interview.

(Additional reporting by Eveline Danubrata and Charmian Kok;
Editing by Lincoln Feast)

NEWSMAKER-SGX CEO merger ambitions thwarted by Australian national pride