Chicago Stock Exchange tries to ease fears over China deal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chicago Stock Exchange Inc (CHX) has released new information related to its proposed takeover by an investor group led by China’s Chongqing Casin Enterprise Group, in part to make clear that the Chinese government is not involved in the deal.

The planned sale of CHX came under fire almost immediately after it was announced in February, with a group of 46 U.S. lawmakers voicing concerns about the level of influence the Chinese state might have over one of the oldest U.S. exchanges.

Worries over China’s growing economic influence were highlighted during the U.S. election campaign with now-President-elect Donald Trump pledging to impose 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods and to label the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office.

In the proposed CHX deal, none of the potential investors or companies involved directly, or indirectly, are controlled by the Chinese government, CHX said in a 280-page regulatory filing made public on Monday but dated Nov. 25.

The rules of the deal also safeguard against future government interference, James Ongena, general counsel at CHX, said in an interview.

“If the government did acquire one of these companies or even became an investor in one of these companies, that investment could be called back to the holding company and whoever that investor or company was, would be kicked out of the group,” he said.

If the deal goes through, CHX has said it would revamp its listings program to attract medium-sized businesses that do not qualify to be listed on the Nasdaq NDAQ.O or Intercontinental Exchange Inc's ICE.N New York Stock Exchange.

Other deals involving Chinese buyers are facing greater scrutiny. On Monday, Reuters reported previously unknown links between the Chinese government and an investor group planning to buy U.S.-based chip maker Lattice Semiconductor Corp LSCC.O, which may pose new risks for the transaction.

The 134-year-old CHX, which has less than 0.5 percent market share in U.S. equities, would also woo companies in China looking to list in the United States, giving Chinese investors more access to the U.S. market.

There are around 1.4 billion people in China, 120 million brokerage accounts, and a massive backlog of companies wanting to go public, said John Kerin, CHX’s CEO.

“To the extent that we could even get a percentage of that to participate, it would be a tremendous benefit to both of our economies,” Ongena said. “We are talking about enabling trading between the two largest economies in the world.”

CHX management would remain in place following a deal.

Non-U.S. investor firms in the proposed deal include NA Casin Group, owned by Chongqing Casin, the filing showed.

U.S. firms included Castle YAC Enterprises, an investment vehicle for Jay Lu, a U.S. citizen who is also vice president of NA Casin Group, and is the son of Shengju Lu, the chairman of Chongqing Casin.

Together, the two firms would control 39 percent of CHX, but their voting rights would be capped at 20 percent, Ongena said.

The deal is under review by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a government panel that scrutinizes deals over national security concerns. Kerin said he expects to hear back from CFIUS around the end of December.

Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra, Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker