Asked what he did in the French Revolution, the Abbé Sieyes explained that he survived it. Against all the odds, this has been the London Stock Exchange’s achievement. It is still there. Its dreary old building looks better as a hole in the ground, but the Exchange has found itself a new perch in Paternoster Square, and remains an independent British entity. You could have bet against it. Not long ago its only choice seemed to be whether to surrender to the Germans or the French: ‘Levez les mains’ or ‘Hande hoch’? Not so long before that it agreed to join up with the Frankfurt exchange, Deutsche Börse, whose Swiss surpremo, Werner Seifert, would come in and run the merged business. This half-baked dish — I labelled it a horse-and-rabbit pie — was too much for the shareholders to swallow. They voted it down, the chief executive lost his job and the chairman did not last much longer. Since then the Exchange has recovered its corporate nerve. It has also been lucky. When Mr Seifert tried to prompt Deutsche Börse into bidding, his own shareholders revolted and he, too, was ousted. Euronext (Paris-based) never quite got so far. Both now find their own customers complaining to the European Commission that integration is another word for oligopoly. In London, the bidder of the month was Macquarie, an ambitious Australian conglomerate which operates a toll road in the English Midlands. The Exchange tried to laugh its advances out of court and, this week, succeeded — but, as the old Abbé knew, before you can relax, you need to be sure that the revolution is over.
The sole survivor
The Exchange can fairly claim that its own business is brisk. From far and near — from Russia, in droves — little-known companies are hurrying to bring their shares to market.