(The first time something like this happened John was away. This time, John is away on a trip. This goes to show that the world turns, even when John is away or as I see it, it turns more meaningfully when Jon Matte and I are running the newsletter.)

I doubled checked with ICE to make sure this wasn’t some kind of elaborate Jeff Sprecher April Fools joke.

If this bid from ICE and Nasdaq for NYSE Euronext succeeds, ICE could pull off the biggest deal and perhaps one of the best deals in exchange history. ICE’s portion would mean that it gets NYSE Euronext’s derivatives business while Nasdaq OMX would get the NYSE Euronext stocks and US options business. While much of the mass media coverage of this deal will focus on the stock market part and that ever important issue of the name, the real diamond is the derivatives side. This is where Mr. Sprecher can make the deal of his life and he knows it.

NYSE Euronext’s derivatives business, which includes both US and European markets, ranked as the fourth largest derivatives exchange by volume in 2010, according the recently released FIA volume figures. It posted volume, which also includes its equity options, of 2.15 billion contracts, up 24 percent from a year earlier, which is more than CME’s Group’s growth rate of 19 percent and Eurex’s (which includes the ISE) 0.2 percent. ICE, which ranked 14th on the FIA volume chart, posted 328.9 million contracts and an astounding growth rate of guess what, 24 percent. That should have been our first clue that Sprecher was up to something.

What is a bit curious is that ICE and Nasdaq, rather than CME and Nasdaq partnered up on this deal, especially given the split of derivatives and securities businesses. But that’s a column for another day.

While it is clear NYSE is ready, willing and able to bring some serious competition to the US interest rates space with CME, one could argue that ICE will bring a new intensity to the this new fight with its old rival. In addition, ICE would get a nice suite of European interest rate contracts from NYSE LIFFE such as the Euribor and Short Sterling as well the NYSE LIFFE U.S.’s business which includes the compelling New York Portfolio Clearing component.

“My sense is that ICE does not have a natural way into the interest rate business,” Sprecher told me this morning in a call with reporters. “That’s why you’ve seen us try to do creative things including our bid for the Chicago Board of Trade years ago.”

ICE also would get the European equity options platform, forging another new entry for them.

And what would this mean for Deutsche Boerse and Eurex if Nasdaq and ICE prevailed? Honestly, at first glance, not a whole lot. That may sound flippant as the NYSE Euronext deal is a great opportunity for the exchange to grow into super-mega-global status. Barring a counteroffer, the exchange has a solid plan going forward, which is rolling out its new options platform at ISE and new platform technology for Eurex products later this year. And after all, there’s always the London Stock Exchange and the $350 million break-up fee.

Sprecher is a guy who likes to tell it like it is. He said he learned a lot from the last time he rocked the exchange world in Boca with a bid to buy the CBOT. He said ICE came out a much better company as a result of that.

“We’re not the young upstart anymore,” he said. “We’re not the underdog. We’re somebody that has a proven track record. Ultimately, it comes down to what the shareholders want to do. We will make sure all of our shareholders collectively really understand the offer so they can make an informed choice because ultimately it’s their choice.”

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