IPOs for leading Indian exchanges?

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3 July 2015
Anshuman Jaswal
The recent discussion of the possible pressure on the Indian government to list the leading Indian bourses can be considered in many ways including as a clash of civilizational management cultures. With a history of foreign rule, Asian countries that became independent relatively recently are generally suspicious of foreign interference and see control of the large domestic institutions such as exchanges (often termed national jewels) as vital. This is an important reason for the monopolistic or duopolistic vertical exchange market structure in these countries. It makes it easier for the government and the capital market regulator to control the activity of the exchange. Ironically, in the west, after the financial crisis, the need for control and stronger regulation has become an important focus of the respective governments and leading financial regulators, for obvious reasons. Listing the Indian exchanges would make their performance not only transparent, usually a desirable trait, but also more amenable to market forces and pressures from both the domestic and the international investment community, which can sometimes run counter to the respective national interests of the exchanges in which the countries are based. The Indian government and the capital market regulator SEBI would have to take a call on whether they see listings as the best way of making these exchanges transparent. The firms that have invested in the exchanges by taking minority stakes should be in a position to sell these stakes at any point in time, and hence an IPO is not the only way for them to realize their gains on past investments. If the exchanges are indeed listed, it has to be in order to make them more efficient, transparent and globally competitive. Of the two exchanges, probably the BSE which has tried to list in the past would be the most favorable to the process since this might put it in a better competitive position vis-a-vis the leading competitor in the NSE. The NSE would probably not want to disturb the status quo, or do it in a very controlled fashion if at all. But these are internal market dynamics the regulator would not bother much about, and it would mainly focus on issues such as systemic risk management in a post-listing scenario. The final decision, while not a 'make or break' one some vested interests are making it to be, would still be of interest to the casual observer of India's journey as an important emerging global capital market.

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