Irish stock market departures are symptom of wider EU malaise
Irish people have a rich history of looking to the US for a better life.
That appears to be the thinking of Dublin-listed paper packaging company, Smurfit Kappa, which is joining a growing number of large Irish firms eyeing share trading in the US.
But far from just being just a problem for tiny Ireland, the exodus is a symptom of a wider European challenge.
CRH ceased trading in Dublin last week.
In August, €28bn Paddy Power owner Flutter said it would keep stock trading in London but could not “guarantee” keeping its Irish listing.
Earlier this month, €8bn Smurfit Kappa said it will delist from Dublin as part of an $11 billion swoop on the US’s WestRock.
Meanwhile, Kingspan, a €13bn building materials company, has been shopping around for a large US takeover target, which could lead to it delisting from Dublin.
Losing all four companies would erode over half the $172 billion market capitalisation of the Irish Stock Exchange, according to Reuters Breakingviews calculations.
In principle, the Irish Stock Exchange should be able to convince companies to stay.
After all, its owner Euronext controls a vast network of exchanges including Milan, Amsterdam, Oslo and Paris with a combined value of $6.3 trillion.
This should allow a company like Smurfit Kappa to access a wide pool of investors.
But the reality is these venues are fragmented and operate under different national rules.
Hence, if an investor wants to take a big position in a listed European company or sell a large number of shares, the lack of liquidity can trigger wild swings in share prices.
That may explain why $190bn chemicals company Linde, in a blow to Euronext-rival Deutsche Boerse, abandoned its Frankfurt listing and is now listed solely in the US.
Both Flutter and CRH also reckon the deep pools of US investors will value them more richly.
The 10% bump in CRH’s share price following its listing change reinforces that view.
Changing that mindset will require radical thinking.
EU member states would have to sacrifice their own domestic rules and agree on creating a single market to allow companies to access investors across the 27 member states.
Spending big is a more immediate solution.
Ireland’s defectors believe a US listing may help them win government contracts born from the Inflation Reduction Act.
Europe opted to reallocate existing funds and relax anti-state aid rules instead of unveiling a new spending plan.
Companies that are considering a US listing say they are lured by the concentration of active investors.
Before the 2008 financial crisis, British shareholders made up large chunks of the share register of Ireland’s largest companies like AIB.
But now these firms are mainly owned by US investors.
Unless Ireland, and Europe more widely, can re-engage domestic investors or show it is in companies’ economic interest to retain listings in Europe, the rot will continue.