Anthony Hilton: LSE sale is no-win for the consultants

Don Cruickshank, a former chairman of the London Stock Exchange, once famously dismissed the business as a ‘bog-standard technology company’.

Up to a point this is true, because being the fastest, cheapest and most reliable is one way the LSE competes. But the exchange's history and its place at the centre of London's securities markets are intangible assets and the reason why the LSE is so prized. 

Buying  the exchange is back in vogue, with the conditional clearance of an earlier approach by the French-dominated Euronext, following the withdrawal of an attempt by Deutsche Boerse. In addition, Australian group Macquarie Bank is said to be a potential buyer and there are hints of interest from Scandinavia and the US.

Most of these organisations have PR consultants. Finsbury handles the LSE; Brunswick does Euronext; Maitland has Deutsche Boerse on its books; Macquarie has signed up Financial Dynamics. And never has there been so much activity around dissembling dis-information and downright confusion, for rarely have such exalted PR firms had so little control over their clients.

The leaders of the exchanges all have a capacity for intrigue, honed by their need to tread a path through various political and commercial constituencies at home and abroad. Some tell their PR consultants half of what is going on, others half of what is not. Each has directors  with their own agendas. And then there are the clearing and settlement firms, all of which can spin with the best.

Most consultants have negotiated a flat fee with their clients. This may well not cover their costs, because the LSE saga has been running far longer than anticipated. The year's most high-profile deal is a double nightmare: being led a merry dance by the client, and perhaps not making any money.

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