The New York Stock Exchange ( NYX) is getting married -- again.

The world's largest equity exchange formed a "strategic alliance" by signing a "letter of intent" with the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Wednesday. The agreement is the first step to an eventual merger between the two exchanges.

"We believe that this strategic alliance will bring greater liquidity and improve access for our investors to our markets," said NYSE's CEO John Thain at a joint press conference in New York. "We're also setting the stage for a potential capital linkage between the New York Stock Exchange and Tokyo Stock Exchange in the future."

The agreement calls for the exchanges to cooperate on joint developments, such as financial products, mutual listings, technology, regulation and corporate governance.

It is the latest example of consolidation rippling through equity and derivatives exchanges, furthering Thain's vision that global consolidation will continue until there are a small number of large, multiproduct global exchanges.

NYSE is already moving closer to that goal. It is set to close its $14 billion deal for Euronext, which operates five European exchanges, at the end of March. New York has also recently taken a small stake in the National Stock Exchange of India.

The Tokyo exchange, which is the world's second largest equity exchange, provides both cash equities and derivatives products. Last year, TSE's average daily trading volume reached 2 billion shares, with 2,400 listed companies.

While the exchange has not yet demutualized, it is hopeful that it will become a public company by 2009. Once public, NYSE will be free to purchase a stake in the exchange or buy it outright.

The timing will also be beneficial for NYSE because the exchange should be finished with the integration of Euronext by then.

"I strongly believe that this agreement will be a good starting point for a much stronger tie up," said CEO Taizo Nishimuro.

The friendly agreement is in stark contrast with the Nasdaq Stock Market's ( NDAQ) hostile overtures for the London Stock Exchange ( LSE.L). Last week, Nasdaq extended its 1,243 pence-per-share offer for the London bourse until Feb. 10.

Thain said linking up with a Chinese exchange is also on his wishlist.

Shares of NYSE rose 5 cents, to $100.80.

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