By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Terje Solsvik
PARIS/OSLO (Reuters) - Euronext won approval from Norway's Ministry of Finance to buy up to 100% of Oslo Bors on Monday, effectively ending a five-month battle with Nasdaq for one of the last independent stock market operators in Europe.
While Euronext has already secured a stake of more than 50% in Oslo Bors, Nasdaq had argued that no takeover should be allowed unless a two-thirds stake was obtained in order to ensure that a buyer would have complete control.
Both had offered 158 Norwegian crowns per share for Oslo Bors, valuing it at around 6.8 billion Norwegian crowns (598.6 million pounds), but the view of the Norwegian government was crucial.
"Euronext welcomes the ministry's clearance to acquire up to 100% of Oslo Bors VPS's capital and looks forward to completing the next steps to close the transaction by the end of June," its Chief Executive Stephane Boujnah said on Monday.
"We are extremely satisfied the process is carried out in full respect of Norwegian law," Boujnah told Reuters.
Both Euronext, which runs exchanges in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Dublin, and Nasdaq are looking to expand their portfolios but opportunities are scarce as market operators either already belong to international groups or because their shareholders want to remain independent.
Given technological changes, size has become an important feature as big data allows larger market operators to squeeze costs and reduce transaction fees.
Oslo Bors was one of the last potential target for Euronext in the region where Nasdaq and London Stock Exchange already control several platforms.
Shares in Paris-based Euronext, which is due to release first quarter results this week, traded 1.6% higher at 61 euros.
Nasdaq had won the support of more than a third of Oslo Bors shareholders including the Norwegian market operator's major shareholders DNB and KLP. The U.S.-based firm had been hoping to block Euronext's bid.
No such minimum ownership requirement will be imposed however, the Norwegian ministry said in a statement.
DISAPPOINTMENT FOR NASDAQ
Euronext's CEO said the offer filed by Euronext is open for the shareholders who supported the Nasdaq bid.
He expects them to tender their shares to Euronext now since the offer filed by Nasdaq is unlikely to proceed. "I don't think Nasdaq intends to be an minority shareholder in Oslo Bors," Boujnah said.
Nasdaq expressed its disappointment at the decision by the government, and said it would assess its options.
"The decision not to require a two-thirds majority of the shares to be obtained by any person seeking to acquire control of Oslo Bors VPS is disappointing," Lauri Rosendahl, president of Nasdaq Nordic, said.
Oslo Bors would diversify Euronext’s revenue from shares and derivative trading, given Oslo Bors’ leading position in seafood derivatives as well as oil services and shipping.
Euronext plans to appoint the CEO of Oslo Bors to its managing board, and set up a hub that would supervise all commodities transactions in the Norwegian capital.
"Euronext looks forward to supporting the Norwegian financial and business community, to working constructively with all key constituents and stakeholders to further drive the success of Oslo Bors VPS," Boujnah said.
The board of Oslo Bors, which had supported Nasdaq over Euronext, said it would work with the new owner.
"The board of Oslo Bors VPS takes note of the (ministry's) decision and will work closely with the new majority owner to maintain the company, its business and the employees in the best possible way," it said in a statement.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris and Terje Solsvik in Oslo; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Alexander Smith)