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Borsa Istanbul - A Bridge Too Far?

Turkey may be going through some political turmoil at the moment, but its economy and its stock market, Borsa İstanbul, have remained relatively resilient -- though not immune -- given the stress affecting emerging markets over the last few months. Dr. Mustafa İbrahim Turhan, chairman of the fast-growing stock exchange, is said to be destined to higher duties in Turkish official circles as he embarks on an ambitious mission to make İstanbul a “global financial center.”

Similarly, Borsa İstanbul has ambitious goals of becoming the centerpiece of this global financial center, acting as a bridge between continents and the link between East and West.

In 2013, we saw the dawn of a new world for Turkish capital markets. Events included the implementation of a new all-encompassing law combining financial markets under the same umbrella, the end of the line for the Turkish Derivatives Exchange (TurkDEX), the choice of a strategic partner in NASDAQ OMX, the blueprint for a Central Counterparty Clearing (CCC) and the launch of the long-awaited Financial Information exchange (FIX) access point. Borsa İstanbul has proved that it is as à la mode as the country itself, but it needs to be careful it does not overextend itself.

While it is important to set stretching targets in order to reach new heights, the aim to celebrate the Turkish Republic's 100th anniversary in 2023 by reaching 1,000 listings could just prove to be the "bridge too far." Given that it has secured fewer than 20 new listings in 2013, serious questions must be asked about whether Borsa İstanbul can deliver on its ambitious goals.

Exchange has strong future, but…

There is no question the exchange has a very strong future, but attracting new listings and building an international financial center does not happen overnight. Competition is rife, and İstanbul is not the only city vying for first place.

Borsa İstanbul will be subjected to ever-more intensive competition from other stock exchanges, whether old hands (such as the London Stock Exchange, Euronext or Deutsche Boerse) that offer the security of a large constituent base, captive investor interest and the potential for strong liquidity, or new ones (e.g., Warsaw or BATS Chi-X). And there is more competition closer to home with the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) and the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) pushing for power in the Gulf, Moscow eager to cement its renewal by winning listings from its regional area of influence and Warsaw and the CEE Stock Exchange Group (CEESEG) consortium attempting to stop Central and Eastern European Initial Public Offerings (IPO) from slipping to İstanbul.

While globally IPOs and listings seem to be back in fashion, Borsa İstanbul will need to see major changes in Turkish attitudes towards bringing companies to the exchange for funding, brand recognition and pricing at a time when crowdfunding is poised to start causing exchanges around the world some major competition for the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) listings they all crave.

So how does İstanbul compete in a globalized world? Becoming a participant in that world is the required first step, which Borsa İstanbul has embraced fully. The next will be competing against Moscow and Warsaw to attract global interest. And the final step is setting realistic ambitions so it doesn't overplay its hand.

Turkey and Borsa İstanbul have the eyes of the world on them. But you can't be all things to all men, and the stock market is learning that it is difficult to never burn bridges.


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