SGX CEO merger ambitions thwarted by Australian national pride

By Saeed Azhar

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore Exchange (SGXL.SI: Quote, Profile, Research) 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 (NDAQ.O: Quote, Profile, Research), 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 (ASX.AX: Quote, Profile, Research) on national interest grounds.

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 (0388.HK: Quote, Profile, Research), 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 (8604.T: Quote, Profile, Research) 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)

SGX CEO merger ambitions thwarted by Australian national pride