Singapore Exchange's (SGX) chief executive said yesterday he is looking to emulate the much-heralded stocks through-train scheme between Hong Kong and Shanghai by formally linking Southeast Asian bourses. With a plan already in the works to form a stock trading link with Taiwan later this year, Magnus Bocker said that establishing direct connections between exchanges had replaced mergers and acquisitions as the industry's main growth strategy, particularly in Asia. He wants a fledgling link between stock broking houses in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Trading Link, to evolve into a formal connection between the region's exchanges. "I'm optimistic that out of that Asean Trading Link, with what's going on in linking up markets, that hopefully within a couple of years we can link Asean closer together between the exchanges, the clearing houses," he said. The November launch of the landmark stocks through train trading platform between Hong Kong and Shanghai has been hailed as a major step forward in the opening up of the mainland's capital markets. The launch has spurred other exchanges including Taiwan and Shenzhen to look at such connections, hoping to make cross-border share trading easier and improve market liquidity. Developing such a link in Southeast Asia will be tough. Asean is notorious for its slow progress on joint initiatives, and the current trading link between broking houses, established in 2012, has so far seen low volumes. "We are not there yet but with the other links coming, I think it will enable us to do it in an Asean context," Bocker said. While Singapore is the No1 venue in Asia for foreign exchange and has seen strong growth in derivatives trading, the average value of shares traded on its exchange each day is less than that of Thailand's and trails far behind Hong Kong and Tokyo. The bourse has launched a series of initiatives over the past year to boost liquidity such as providing incentives for brokers to act as market makers and cutting the minimum number of shares that need to be purchased in a trade from 1,000 units to 100. Bocker says while it is still early days, initial signs are that those moves are starting to boost volumes, which were hit by a penny stock scandal in late 2013. "The first three weeks of this year are coming up much stronger than the same three weeks a year ago," he said. Speculation mounted late last year that Bocker, 53, might not have his contract renewed when it expires this June, after two technical glitches in less than a month caused stock trading to be halted. He said his contract renewal was a matter for SGX's board. "I am enjoying what I am doing. There is no doubt about it." Investors say while Bocker is taking the right steps, until it can attract bigger companies to list on its market, SGX is likely to remain in the shadow of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing. "It doesn't have the big brother hinterland that Hong Kong has. So that's a structural issue for them," said David Smith, head of corporate governance at Aberdeen Asset Management Asia.