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Flat first half for NZX as Clearing House sets to launch

Wednesday 18th August 2010

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New Zealand securities market operator NZX turned in flat earnings of $5.7 million for the six months to June 30, once one-off gains from asset sales in the previous period are stripped out.

Chief executive Mark Weldon pronounced the result "good", being achieved in challenging capital market conditions while NZX was completing the foundations for its expansion into derivatives trading. 

Operating revenue for the period was up 28% to $23.9 million, while operational spending rose 61% to $15.4 million, reflecting a burst of contractor and other activity related to establishment of NZX's new Clearing House facility, which will go live in September. 

NZX is backing its subsidiary, the New Zealand Clearing Company, with $10 million of risk capital and a promise of another $5 million if needed, as well as an operating float of $2 million. 

The exchange will launch its first derivative market product, a While Milk Powder Future, once the platform is live, with encouraging interest reported from domestic and global participants. 

"Taken together, these are the last building blocks in NZX's strategic restructure", which has taken shape over the last three years, Weldon said.

"NZX is confident of the prospects of its entire business, including the NZX capital markets franchise." 

NZX shares have not traded since the announcement was posted after close of trading last night. Weldon said the focus of the business would now shift to sales and marketing new services, and to "making the base work harder." 

Direct comparisons with the first half of 2009 were difficult, in part because of large one-off gains from the sale of NZX's interests in the TZ-1 carbon exchange platform, and the Bond Exchange of South Africa, which boosted declared profit for that period to $55.1 million. 

The second half of 2009 was more comparable, and showed essentially flat revenue and earnings. Revenue from its agricultural publishing and data, Clear Grain Exchange and energy businesses showed aggregate growth of 6% between the last half of last year and the first half of the current year. 

A fall in capital market activity saw total listings revenue fall to $4.8 million ($5.17 million in the first half last year). Total capital raisings for the half fell to $1.8 billion, compared with unusually strong capital and debt-raising in the first half last year of $4.6 billion.

Looking ahead, revenue is forecast to grow by up to 10% in the second half, with growth in listing revenue accounting for around a fifth to a quarter of that growth, reflecting increased fees from July 1 and expectations of firming market conditions and increased capital-raising from the fourth quarter and into 2011. 

"When capital markets rebound ... the operating leverage achievable from NZX's platforms will see profit grow significantly faster than revenues," Weldon said, anticipating a 10% to 15% increase in initial public offerings and secondary listings, compared with the first half. 

NZX also expects derivatives trading to help it arrest the medium term decline in data terminal sales, although earnings from the derivatives venture will not be significant in the second half of the current financial year, and costs such as market maker rebates for derivatives trading will have a negative bottom line impact. 

"However, a successful launch will be of substantial strategic and financial value", with derivatives trading continuing to grow globally while equities activity has slowed, said Weldon. 

The company booked termination benefits of $747,000 during the half, a period when it lost long-serving senior executive Geoff Brown. 

Directors declared a dividend of 3.75 cents per share, fully imputed, payable on October 29.

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