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China slapdown deals further blow to HKEX in its bid for LSE

London

THE Hong Kong bourse's unsolicited takeover bid for the London Stock Exchange Group Plc suffered a further setback after China praised the British firm's scathing rebuff.

The official People's Daily wrote on Saturday that there are "persistent worries" about Hong Kong given the current unrest, and lauded the LSE for citing its existing tie-up with the Shanghai Stock Exchange as its preferred way to access China.

With almost half the pursuing bourse's board nominated by Hong Kong's Beijing-backed chief executive, the slapdown from the mouthpiece of the communist party signals growing resistance to the bid.

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"The LSE rejection alone would probably have derailed HKEX's ambitions, but the People's Daily article surely represents the end of any acquisition hopes," said Brock Silvers, managing director at Kaiyuan Capital.

The People's Daily piled on following LSE chairman Don Robert's strong rejection of the bid, issuing on Friday a laundry list of geopolitical and business reasons why the LSE finds the US$36.8 billion proposal wanting.

The offer had problems with "strategy, deliverability, form of consideration and value", he said.

The People's Daily also took a swipe at the popular resistance to China's increasing control over the city. "Some people in Hong Kong still have a negative view toward integrating into the development of the nation, as they don't see what opportunities it brings to Hong Kong," according to the commentary.

"This doesn't only show how short-sighted it is from an economic perspective, but also how narrow-minded from a political perspective."

A spokesman for HKEX on Saturday said the bourse had no immediate comment on the People's Daily's article. HKEX shares were down 2.2 per cent on Monday. LSE shares fell 2.1 per cent in early trading in London.

Charles Li, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd, appears undeterred by the LSE's rejection and is preparing to make his case for the takeover directly to LSE investors. Beyond the political, regulatory and commercial hurdles HKEX faces, the Hong Kong bourse is also demanding that LSE walk away from its own US$27 billion deal for data provider Refinitiv.

With the purchase of Refinitiv, the former Thomson Reuters financial and risk business, LSE is seeking to transform itself into a global force in data and trading platforms. The deal is central to its strategy and has proved popular with investors, sending LSE shares surging even before HKEX came knocking.

Ron Arculli, a former HKEX chairman, said he thought LSE's rejection letter offered HKEX a glimmer of hope. By saying that the initial bid undervalued the UK company, the London exchange may have left "a little crack in the door that may still be open", Mr Arculli said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Monday.

The Hong Kong stock exchange is planning to undermine LSE's case for buying Refinitiv and characterised the company as a low-growth utility weighed down with debt.

The dealmaking for LSE involves some of the world's highest profile financiers. Stephen Schwarzman's Blackstone Group is on one side, as lead investor in Refinitiv; on the other, Ken Moelis's firm is advising HKEX.

The winning side will have to persuade the US$320 billion Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund and the LSE's biggest shareholder, which has so far declined to comment on the HKEX proposal. BLOOMBERG