June 16 (Reuters) - TMX Group Ltd, operator of Canada's main stock exchange, hopes to rope a piece of the $90 billion North America cattle sector, and said on Tuesday that it would offer the continent's first online sales platform of its kind.
The expansion into a new business comes weeks after the TMX completed a six-month operations review, which analysts read as focusing on streamlining its business. TMX shares were down 2.3 percent at C$52.77 in afternoon trade.
TMX touts AgriClear as a better way to facilitate the exchange of cattle, in which prospective U.S. or Canadian buyers and sellers could use a mobile phone to view video of live product, enter negotiations, transact and arrange delivery.
Cattle sales are currently handled through auctions or directly between buyers and sellers.
TMX Chief Executive Officer Lou Eccleston, who plans to push further into commodity sales, said the service could cut 30 percent off cattle trading costs.
"Cattle is for us simply the first foray into what we think is a pretty long list of opportunities," he said in a phone interview.
TMX said AgriClear is currently signing up ranchers and feedlots as members, as the U.S. herd rebuilds from years of drought.
AgriClear could cut costs and remove some risk in dealing with an unknown buyer, said Brian Perillat, manager of CanFax, the market research division of Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
But it may take time for some to get used to a new way of marketing, he said. "Many producers are set in traditional ways, or already have marketing channels."
Other platforms, mainly auctions, exist for electronic sales of cattle between ranchers, feedlots, and those who buy cattle for grazing programs, said Jim Robb, director of Colorado-based Livestock Marketing Information Center.
With most of the U.S. cow herd in the hands of smaller producers, the number of cattle than can be bought and sold per transaction is limited, he said.
"I think people are often overly optimistic about how much volume will actually go through these things based on past track records," Robb said.
Eccleston said AgriClear is focused on physical cattle sales and would not compete with CME Group's live cattle contracts, which trade for future delivery.
It will charge $6 per head of cattle to the buyer and seller in each transaction.
AgriClear was developed over 14 months, running alongside a strategic review that Eccleston launched soon after he was hired late last year.
Reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Additional reporting by Theopolis Waters in Chicago; Editing by Marguerita Choy