PLUS review

PLUS crosses swords on two fronts with the London Stock Exchange, writes Leslie Copeland

PLUS Markets Group has renewed its bid to trade all of AIM’s 1,700 companies before the year is out by means of its agreement with the Munich Stock Exchange to create a new Pan-European capital market, PLUS Europe.

The London Stock Exchange has already dismissed the agreement as “an elaborate attempt at regulatory arbitrage”, but Simon Brickles, chief executive of PLUS Markets and former head of AIM, has declared that “PLUS intends to be trading all AIM stocks by the beginning of 2009”.

The agreement is as yet non-binding, but Munich’s Bayerische Borse AG has the authority under the EU’s Mifid rules to provide an acceptable regulatory environment to trade AIM companies. Brickles says, “a formal agreement with Munich will give PLUS the opportunity to introduce trading in all AIM stocks at a stroke”.

“It will replace the current need for PLUS to secure the individual agreement of AIM firms and will provide new competition.” At present, PLUS trades many fully listed LSE companies, but only a minority of AIM counters, because of the cumbersome process of obtaining an AIM company’s prior approval, which is not needed for fully listed LSE companies.

The UK authorities have grasped this point, and a process is under way to change the rules, but it is proving a distinctly protracted process. The LSE suggests the Munich agreement “tries to circumvent the wishes of AIM companies” and says, “LSE members trading in AIM securities are required to report AIM trades to the Exchange, under our rules and regulatory oversight”.

Clara Furse, LSE chief executive of the LSE, has also accused PLUS of “bluster” in its claims that it has been increasing its market share of trading in small- and mid-cap stocks that are traded jointly on the London Stock Exchange and the PLUS-Traded platform. PLUS maintains that it is serving up serious competition.

St Helen’s on the rocks

Moves are afoot behind the scenes at St Helen’s Capital, the small company broker and corporate finance house that helped raise £115 million last year for the bombed-out electric vehicle hopeful Tanfield and is now also in the doldrums after its own shares plunged on AIM.

In one case, a group of City players close to the situation is understood to be plotting a possible £1 million bid for parts of the business of St Helen’s.

Other groups are also believed to be taking a look at the operations of St Helen’s, whose chairman Mark Warde-Norbury replaced PLUS Markets investment enthusiast Tony Drury in that post last year.

Ruari McGirr, St Helen’s chief executive, says no proposal has been put forward as yet and discounts suggestions that one St Helen’s director is also scouting a deal.

He suggests present comings and goings are “no more than chats,” while one company rumoured to be considering backing a deal, AIM-quoted China Eastsea Business Software, says it has no such plans.

McGirr, who joined St Helen’s last year from investment firm Daniel Stewart and has seen its shares fall from more than 15p to 8.12p, describes the current market as “enormously frustrating. There is no shortage of interesting deals, but getting investors enthused is very hard.”

Leslie Copeland

Leslie Copeland

Leslie was made Editor for Growth Company Investor magazine in 2000, then headed up the launch of Business XL magazine, and then became Editorial Director in 2007 for the online and print publication portfolio...

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