ICE CEO blasts NYSE's board, woos shareholders

Reuters

By Jonathan Spicer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - IntercontinentalExchange Inc CEO Jeffrey Sprecher said on Wednesday NYSE Euronext's directors have effectively handed over the fate of the Big Board to its shareholders.

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In a feisty defense of his joint offer with Nasdaq OMX Group , the chief executive said NYSE's board "is the only obstacle to NYSE shareholders" getting the superior deal, adding he is not making the unsolicited bid simply to be the "spoiler."

All eyes are on whether ICE and Nasdaq can succeed in wresting control of the Big Board parent from Germany's Deutsche Boerse AG , which agreed to a lower, friendly takeover of NYSE in February.

NYSE's board twice rejected the $11.2 billion bid citing risks that regulators would block it, arguing it runs against company strategy, and backing the $9.8 billion Deutsche Boerse tie-up that would create the world's largest market operator.

Sprecher, whose company reported a stronger-than-expected 26 percent profit rise on Wednesday, suggested shareholders could sue the New York Stock Exchange parent once ICE and Nasdaq take their offer straight to investors.

"I would suspect that the board would get very realistic when it sees a vast majority of shareholders not supporting the board's deal, and supporting another deal," said the CEO, a shrewd dealmaker over the last decade, in a conference call with analysts and media.

ICE and Nasdaq said on Monday they plan to go hostile with a tender offer later this month, but several key conditions require that NYSE's board agrees to waive an ownership and voting cap, seriously threatening to derail the plan.

"The board has to approve anything in this transaction, so they cannot go hostile," said Diego Perfumo, analyst at Equity Research Desk. "The reason they're doing this is that it puts a lot of pressure on the board, from the shareholders."

EPS BEATS STREET

ICE's first quarter earnings, meanwhile, rose on the back of hot energy futures trading.

Revenue jumped 18 percent in the period that included unrest in oil-rich North Africa and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, thanks to higher Brent and WTI oil trading.

ICE earned $130.2 million, or $1.74 per share, in the first quarter, up from $103.5 million, or $1.36 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, the profit was $1.77 per share, better than the $1.69 expected on average by analysts, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue was $334.3 million, compared to the $329.6 million expectation.

Revenue from the trading and clearing of futures rose 28 percent from last year. Revenues from ICE's two-year old credit derivatives clearing business was $13 million, which if continued would fall short of 2011 projections.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer, editing by Maureen Bavdek, Dave Zimmerman)