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Big ambitions for smaller companies

Visionaries have long dreamed of trading European equities with equal ease across the continent in a single super-exchange. They picture a market for the continent's biggest blue chips. London's SEAQ International might once have claimed to be that market. Continental exchanges have made ambitious plans to link up. But it now seems a smaller companies exchange will be Europe's first unified market.

The ambition of the European Association of Securities Dealers came closer to being realized last month. Its vision of a liquid pan-European stock market for smaller companies, Easdaq, looks increasingly viable. Easdaq now has 43 shareholders, which together have invested over £4 million ($5.9 million) in the venture. This represents over half Easdaq's intended starting capital. Just as important though, it also means Easdaq has raised enough to satisfy the recognition requirements of the Belgian authorities, with which the company is registered. Backers include UK insurer and pension fund Equitable Life, which has put up $250,000, ING Bank and UBS Securities.

"The trading patterns, regulatory bodies and settlement systems are either in place, or will be soon," says Tony Preece, Easdaq's head of market development. "We hope to open trading by late September - but it will be tight."

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