It may not be too late for me to bid for the Stock Exchange. Open season has now been declared, Deutsche Borse (Frankfurt) and Euronext (Paris and Amsterdam) are manoeuvring for position, and there must be room for one more contender. I could even offer to save the Exchange for the nation, though not exactly in its present form. When it was a club it belonged to its members, who used its services for exchanging stock. In those days it had a monopoly, but competition has broken in and the Exchange has lost ground. I would offer to sell its stock-exchanging business to a consortium of its customers. No one, so far, has asked them what they want, but they might know at least as well as the Exchange’s highly paid management, large board and fly-by-night shareholders. Once again, the users would be in command. I would leave them to it and look for the assets. The best of them, that prime site on Throgmorton Street, has already been sold for £68 million, which looks like a snip to me. Hammerson, the new owners, have asked Nicholas Grimshaw to transform the Exchange’s dreary tower into a thing of beauty and utility. The surviving assets must include a well-stocked wine cellar and — so I am assured — a king’s ransom in silver, which was stored in the basement of the old building and had been piling up for centuries. I see no reason why it should pass to the French or the Germans.
Realities of power
I cannot discern any sign that the Stock Exchange is ready to fight for its independent existence. A history of rebuffs and misjudgments may well have weakened its nerve. Instead its board now seems happier to play its suitors off against each other — not enough, tell me more, wait and see — until the auction reaches its climax with a recommended bid, and the directors can lie back and look happy.