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Singapore exchange best bet for London tie in

Jeremy Grant is the FT's financial regulation correspondent

The past week of action around the London Stock Exchange, LCH.Clearnet and the London Metal Exchange point to one thing: what began as a wave of global M&A in exchanges has settled on London.

The world's biggest financial centre -- by most measures -- is now the epicentre of it all.

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Even the proposed Deutsche Borse/NYSE Euronext combination has a huge London element to it. The planned shift of NYSE Liffe's London-based clearing to Frankfurt is one of the most eye-catching -- and to some, controversial -- features of the deal.

But to understand how all this may play out it helps to look east, to SGX, the Singapore exchange.

SGX has been getting on with its knitting since its failed bid for ASX in Australia. But it is now looking at London.

A source with knowledge of SGX's strategic thinking told me two weeks ago that SGX is not interested in buying one of London's exchanges or LCH.Clearnet outright. But it would be interested in going in with someone else, jointly.

Another person familiar with the situation tells me that SGX is a minority partner in the LSE's bid for LCH.Clearnet.

SGX is the key Asian player in OTC derivatives clearing, and has been clearing Singapore dollar interest rate swaps for some time; U.S. dollar rates are to follow.

LCH.Clearnet has SwapClear, the largest clearer of interest rate swaps. With fears in western financial capitals that regulatory differences between the U.S. and Europe may hand Asian jurisdictions a regulatory arbitrage play, a London-Singapore clearing axis sounds interesting.

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SGX also has a strong balance sheet, sitting there doing very little.

Another target for SGX is the LME -- possibly in partnership with the LSE.

SGX has been cosying up to the LME this year and in February launched trading of mini-metals contracts in aluminium, copper and zinc. The products are co-branded LME-SGX.

The aim is "to provide retail investors in Asia and beyond easy access to global metals markets", the two exchanges said at the time. SGX also clears over-the-counter (OTC) iron ore swaps.

Metals trading in Asia is growing fast, and SGX wants to position itself - as part of its "Asian gateway" strategy -- as a centre for that, as well as other commodities.

The "network effect" gained by acquiring the LME and its markets are obvious.

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SGX is also politically fairly neutral. You can't imagine HM Treasury and the City's finest getting worked up -- as Australia did -- over Singapore owning part of London's key market structures. On the contrary.

London's openness and commercially neutral stance is one of its weaknesses. It risks being undermined as rivals flex their muscles on euro zone regulations like the financial transactions tax and the issue of injecting competition in listed derivatives that we see playing out in "Emir" (and now "Mifir").

But this is also one of its strengths. Singapore Slings, anyone?

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