The Montreal Stock Exchange announced today that it will join with the European Options Exchange in Amsterdam to establish a continuous and common gold options market on the two continents. Trading is scheduled to start Feb. 1.

The action is seen as an attempt by Montreal to regain some of the stature it has lost to Toronto over the past decade. The strategy is to carve out a new and unique place in the international world of finance by becoming the first North American exchange to trade gold options.

"We must create a specialized niche for Montreal," said stock exchange President Pierre Lortie.

Montreal will be the only exchange in Canada to trade gold options. Several U.S. exchanges, however, including the American stock exchange, have applied to the Securities and Exchange Commission to do so as well.

A gold option on the Montreal Stock Exchange gives the holder the right to purchase or to sell 10 troy ounces of gold at a predetermined price at any time up to the expiration date of the option.

The Dutch and Canadian exchanges plan to set up a market that will function about 12 hours a day, beginning at 10:30 a.m., Netherlands time (4:30 a.m., Montreal time). Eventually, the two marts intend to make it an around-the-clock operation by tying in with exchanges in Hong Kong or Singapore.

Gold options have been listed on the European Options Exchange since April of this year. As part of that venture, the Montreal exchange has bought a half interest in the European Gold Options Clearing Corporation.

Montreal's start-up cost amounts to $225,000. Lortie said he hopes to break even within a year. He predicted a volume of 30,000-plus contracts a month. Eventually, he hopes to trade options on other commodities, such as silver, or even foreign currency.

This city was once Canada's financial hub, but in the past decade, normal westward expansion has been accelerated by the separatist movement in Quebec. Three years ago, for example, the Montreal Stock Exchange had only 8 percent of the volume of Canadian trading. Since the defeat last year of the referendum on sovereignty-association for this province, there has been a new spirit of cooperation between the English- and French-speaking business communities.