A British exit from the European Union may not be an immediate shock to Londonâ€™s standing as a global financial hub.
The City, after all, just got a vote of confidence from Europeâ€™s biggest exchange operators, who are considering a 20 billion pound tie-up that would place its holding company in London. Deutsche Boerse AG and London Stock Exchange Group Plc have said the merger makes sense whether or not Britain votes for an EU â€œBrexit.â€
Stuart Gulliver, chief executive officer of HSBC Holdings Plc, said a June 23 vote by Britain to leave the EU would affect a â€œvery small percentageâ€ of the bankâ€™s U.K. employees and wouldnâ€™t force the bank to move its headquarters from London.
Londonâ€™s position as a financial capital was bolstered for decades by U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcherâ€™s so-called Big Bang in 1986 that deregulated financial markets and attracted capital and talent to the City.
While Londonâ€™s power wonâ€™t suddenly be diminished, much may hinge on the length and outcome of negotiations with the EU over exit terms and whether U.K. firms have a â€œpassportâ€ to access continental markets. For markets less affected by rules coming out of Brussels, such as foreign-exchange, London would likely retain its power. More than $1 trillion of euros trade there every day, almost half the global total. Part of Londonâ€™s advantage in currencies comes from its location: The Cityâ€™s time zone makes it a logical middle ground between markets in Asia and the U.S.
In foreign-exchange, there are no benefits for London should there be a Brexit, according to Kit Juckes, global strategist at Societe Generale SA. The question is whether the â€œdownside is nothing, a little or significant,â€ he said.
The U.K. has been the main center for trading over-the-counter interest-rate swaps since the Bank for International Settlements began measuring the market two decades ago.
London is home not only to buyers and sellers in the bilateral market, but also to the largest inter-dealer brokers, clearinghouses and law firms that have grown up to support the industry, making it difficult for the market to easily move. â€œIâ€™m not sure youâ€™d get a huge shift in the swap market,â€ said Peter Cox, a consultant at Bourse Consult and a former executive at OM London Exchange. â€œYou see London arranging a lot of swaps that are outside Europe as well as a lot that are inside Europe and itâ€™s doing that with relative ease.â€
Clearinghouses, the financial plumbing behind many of the worldâ€™s biggest markets, could face regulatory uncertainty. LCH.Clearnet Group Ltd. is majority owned by the LSE, and is the worldâ€™s largest clearinghouse to settle interest-rate swaps. The firm won a reprieve last year from a European Central Bank decision that would have banned key parts of the business if it remained in the British capital. The clearinghouses might have decided to move euro-denominated clearing operations out of London had the ECB won the court case.
There are already signs that EU officials would revisit how euro transactions are conducted if Britain exits.
â€œIf Britain left the EU, the euro area authorities could no longer tolerate such a high proportion of financial activities involving their currency taking place abroad,â€ said Christian Noyer, former Bank of France governor.
Jonathan Hill, the EU financial-services chief, told that clearinghouses could move part of their business to the Netherlands, France or Germany if Britain leaves. â€œSome people in the clearing business are, as you might expect, hedging their bets by thinking about making acquisitions in other European countries so that theyâ€™ve got a base,â€ Hill said.