NYSE To Change Hands In $8.2 Billion Deal

The New York Stock Exchange, known officially as NYSE Euronext, traces its roots back to 1792. For most of its history it has been an independent company. But not anymore — on Friday NYSE Euronext announced that it is being acquired by Atlanta-based IntercontinentalExchange, in a deal valued at $8.2 billion. Executives at both companies said they believe regulators will approve the proposed merger.

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After more than two centuries as an independent company, the New York Stock Exchange is about to change hands. It's being acquired by Atlanta-based IntercontinentalExchange, or ICE, as part of a deal valued at $8.2 billion. In recent years, ICE has exploded in growth.

And as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, today's announcement is the latest in a series of rapid-fire changes that have transformed the world of stock trading.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: People may still associate Wall Street with the iconic New York Stock Exchange trading floor, but the future very much belongs to companies like ICE.

Roy Smith is a professor of finance at NYU's Stern School.

ROY SMITH: They come from a commodities derivatives background and have been very fast-growing. And, indeed, have achieved a market capitalization greater than that of the New York Stock Exchange.

ZARROLI: To put it another way, ICE is an electronic exchange where commodities are traded. And it's gotten so big that its stock is worth more than that of NYSE Euronext, which owns the New York Stock Exchange. And now, ICE is in a position to buy its venerable rival.

From ICE's standpoint the deal is something of a head-scratcher. NYSE Euronext makes a lot of its money through commissions on stock trading, and that's become a lot less profitable. But ICE's chairman, Jeffrey Sprecher, said today that there are a lot of investment dollars sitting on the sidelines; and once the economy picks up, people will trade more and the New York Stock Exchange, with its powerful brand name, will reap the rewards.

JEFFREY SPRECHER: These companies are going to have tremendous upside leverage, and I think we can have that like no other company in our industry.

ZARROLI: Sprecher also says that by merging, the two exchanges will save a lot of money through economies of scale.

SPRECHER: We really believe that we can operate this combined business with a lower cost - much lower cost base than the two of us have independently.

ZARROLI: If nothing else, the deal spells the end of the latest chapter in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. In recent years, it's expanded into electronic trading and merged with exchanges in France, the Netherlands and other countries. It does a lot of over-the-counter derivatives trading and owns a profitable futures and options market in London.

The company still has old-fashioned floor traders buying and selling stocks, but not nearly as many as they used to. And NYU's Roy Smith says they probably will disappear once the merger with ICE takes place.

SMITH: Sooner or later, the speed and efficiency of electronic trading is simply going to displace it.

ZARROLI: The big question now is whether the deal will pass muster with regulators. European officials shot down a merger between NYSE Euronext and the parent company of Germany's biggest exchange because of concerns the deal would have hurt competition. But officials at ICE said today they've spoken to regulators. And they said they're confident this deal is different and will win approval.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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