John Thain, chief executive of the NYSE Group, said on Thursday that he expected “within days” to sign a definitive agreement clearing the way for his proposed merger with Euronext, the Paris based pan-European exchange.

He added that he could not rule out the risk of a counter-bid by a rival exchange – presumably Germany’s Deutsche Börse. The NYSE Group last week launched its $10.2bn (€7.9bn) cash and stock bid for Euronext, which would create the first trans-Atlantic stock exchange.

Mr Thain was speaking at the NYSE’s first annual shareholder meeting since it went public in March, in which he also faced stiff questioning about the way in which former seat-holders were able to cash out of their investments, and about the future of its traditional floor-trading model.

A substantial body of shareholders was also obviously sceptical about the Euronext tie-up.

Mr Thain said that discussions with Euronext were still at an early stage, although he hoped a definitive agreement, the first step in a possible merger, would be reached in a matter of days.

He also emphasised that the bid was part of a “competitive situation” and that even once a definitive agreement had been signed, it could take as long as six months to gain the appropriate regulatory approvals on both sides of the Atlantic.

The initial definitive proposal must be approved by the boards of both exchanges but not by shareholders.

He said that should a competing bid with better terms be put on the table the exchange was not protected under the terms of the definitive agreement.

Mr Thain all but ruled out the NYSE pursuing another merger if a Euronext deal became a reality, saying it was “unlikely” to do anything of similar magnitude before a Euronext deal was completed.

A combined NYSE-Euronext would be worth $21.2bn, with combined listings of companies worth $27,000bn.

Responding to shareholder questions about how a merged trans-Atlantic exchange would be regulated, Mr Thain said that two separately regulated entities would still exist on either side of the Atlantic.

Just two items, both of which were passed with over 90 per cent of the vote, were on the agenda at Thursday’s meeting: the election of directors and the appointment of PwC as the exchange’s auditor.

Thain also deflected criticism from shareholders about the company’s recent secondary stock offering, since when the NYSE’s stock price has fallen.

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