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The European Committee (EC) last Tuesday approved Austrian financial institutions’ acquisition of a majority stake in Hungary’s Budapest Stock Exchange (BÉT).

The deal came under a competition review by authorities in Brussels due to the market size of the Austrian investors. The five-member consortium, led by HVB Bank Hungary Rt., bought a 68.8% stake in BÉT from financial investors in May 2004. HVB last year also bought a 75% stake in Budapest Commodities Exchange (BÁT), but immediately sold 68.8% in order to avoid a compulsory takeover bid required by law.

The EC’s decision paves the way for a planned merger between BÉT and BÁT. “BÉT’s management will seek the owners approval for this move at the April 26 general meeting,” BÉT president Attila Szalay-Berzeviczy told HVG. Using its preemption right, BÉT also plans to bid for Keler Rt., the central clearinghouse, if the National Bank of Hungary decides to offer some of its 53.4% stake in Keler, he added.

However, Szalay-Berzeviczy objects to a merger between the stock exchanges in Budapest and Vienna. Instead, he advocates a Central East European alliance of stock exchanges – based on a common trading and clearing system – in which each bourse can maintain its national identity and integrity, while a key role is preserved for the Warsaw Stock Exchange, scheduled to be privatized next year.

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