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Nymex in Catbird Seat

It looks like a buyer as consolidation picks up.

Officials at the New York Mercantile Exchange (NMX) have good reason to keep celebrating.

Three days after the 134-year-old exchange's newly minted stock made a

smashing debut, Nymex Holding executives are sitting pretty. The Nymex's roaring debut has made the commodities and energy futures trading platform a major player in the worldwide march to exchange consolidation.

And as the



rang the opening bell Monday on another round of deals with a $5 billion bid for the London Stock Exchange, the Nymex is looking stronger than ever.

The Nymex, which went into its much-anticipated IPO valuing itself at about $5.3 billion, now has a market cap a little off $12 billion. By that measurement, the only bigger U.S. exchanges are the

Chicago Mercantile Exchange

(CME) - Get CME Group Inc. Class A Report


New York Stock Exchange

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The Nymex's market cap dwarfs that of its upstart all-electronic rival the

InterContinental Exchange

(ICE) - Get Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. (ICE) Report

, which is valued at $5.9 billion. Nymex's market valuation is three times that of Nasdaq.

This means the Nymex may now find itself in the position of being an acquirer rather than a target for another exchange. Ironically, before the IPO, most on Wall Street had seen the Nymex as an acquisition target. But it appears that calculus has changed in light of the valuation traders and investors were willing to award to the Nymex.

Of course, some traders may now look to unload their shares, especially if they snapped them up mainly in the belief the Nymex might be bought out down the road. But a sharp selloff is unlikely given the ability of futures exchanges such as the Nymex to print money.

A futures contract, an agreement to buy or sell a commodity at a predetermined price, is becoming a popular investment vehicle for institutional investors.

In the first nine months of this year, the Nymex earned $112.5 million, up 123% from the same period a year ago. Revenue in the same period was up 51% to $382 million. Meanwhile, trading in futures contracts rose 13.4% over the past year on the Nymex.

But investors looking to buy more shares of Nymex at this level should be wary. The stock trades at a frothy multiple -- a little under 100 times trailing earnings, based on a rough calculation.

By comparison, the trailing price/earnings ratio for the CME is half that figure. The Nymex's multiple is even higher than that of the ICE, which boasts a trailing P/E of 85.

But given the strong performance of exchange stocks in the U.S, it's hard to see the Nymex running into much headwind in the near future.