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Move over NYSE

Ashley Milne-Tyte Oct 23, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Halliburton’s changed its mind about changing its mind. Back in April the oil services company said it would sell off a chunk of its subsidiary KBR. KBR’s the unit that’s kept Halliburton in hot water over its Pentagon contracts in Iraq. The public-offering talk disappeared over the summer as the IPO market cooled down.

But this morning Halliburton’s CEO said an IPO was still very much on the table. Even though New York’s IPO market has been a bit skinnier than usual. A lot of business has been going to an Old World rival. Last year, London was home to four international IPOs worth more than a billion dollars. New York had just one. More from Ashley Milne-Tyte.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: At the center of a trading empire, London was the world’s financial capital long before Big Ben started to chime in the 1850s.

But as America expanded in the 19th century, its economy surged. In the early 20th century, London lost its financial preeminence to New York.

But these days, some businesspeople say London is sneaking up on its old rival.

Many believe a big part of the reason is the cost of complying with America’s post-Enron Sarbanes-Oxley law. To prove their financial systems are sound, companies listing on U.S. exchanges must invest in software and hire auditors to vet their business processes.

James Grant of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer spoke from the corner of Wall Street:

JAMES GRANT:“Many people, not just in America but elsewhere, regard this Sarbanes-Oxley law as cumbersome to the point that they would rather not be registered in this country for securities law purposes.”

The evidence is already apparent, says Michael Charlton of Think London, London’s foreign investment agency:

MICHAEL CHARLTON:“In the first eight months of this year there were just 17 international public offerings on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq combined, whereas in London there were 59 worth some 16 billion U.S. dollars. So you can see the impact of Sarbanes-Oxley very clearly.”

But the possible benefits may not be so apparent.

Fund-of-funds manager Paul Isaac says there could come a time when New York is grateful for the law.

PAUL ISAAC:“If, for example, you were to have a major financial scandal arising out of, for example, Russian or Chinese IPO activity in London, you’ll have lots of people in the United States who’ll say, You know, our system prevented that from happening.

But that’s cold comfort to Laure Aubuchon of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. She says if the flight of international public offerings away from New York continues, it’ll be bad news for the city’s economy:

LAURE AUBUCHON:“That lovely four-letter word “jobs.” In New York City, 9 percent of the workforce is in financial services, and 27 percent of last year’s tax base.”

So rocky times for Wall Street mean the same for New York. But Robert Teitelman, editor-in-chief of The Deal, isn’t convinced the current transatlantic tug-of-war amounts to much.

ROBERT TEITELMAN:“IPOS are just a little piece of a much larger landscape. And the rise and fall of a financial capital like New York City or London is not gonna depend on IPOS.”

Ultimately, Teitelman says there’s much more at stake than London nabbing a little business from New York:

TEITELMAN:“The longer, more serious question here is how successful will Europe be as an economic entity, and will London succeed because of Europe. Will the U.S. with its deficits and some of its issues decline as an economic power.”

Not to mention, he says, whether London and New York will lose out in the long run to growing capital markets in India and China.

In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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