Your Investments: Ingenuity vs. the economy

For many investors, investing in local stocks is one alternative way of gaining exposure to the Israeli economy.

By AARON KATSMAN
October 21, 2011 05:27
3 minute read.
Investment house chiefs

Invest 311. (photo credit: Niv Kantor)

 
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The very successful book Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle certainly made the case for why Israel has flourished, against all odds, economically.

I can’t tell you how many emails and phone calls I have received from people who have read the book and are now all revved up to invest in Israel.

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They all want to know how they can invest in Israel.

Before looking at various investment alternatives, I think that it’s important to make a distinction vis-à-vis investing in Israel. I would like to distinguish between the Israeli economy and Israeli ingenuity. The story of the Israeli economy is well documented. The country survived the recent financial crisis with flying colors. With the US reporting an unemployment rate over 9% (the real jobless rate is closer to 15-16%), the situation in the Holy Land is much better.

Unemployment around 5.7% and dropping, GDP growing at a 4.7% clip (est.) for 2011, and a strong currency all are major factors in the strong economy.

Compared to the global economic scene, things in Israel are great, but there are some clouds on the horizon.

The Bank of Israel recently ratcheted down Israel growth numbers for 2012, to 3.2% because of the continued global slowdown.



The local real estate market appears to be cooling and while it has taken a back seat, no one knows exactly how the large tent protests will impact the economy.

For many investors, investing in local stocks is one alternative way of gaining exposure to the Israeli economy.

If you want exposure to the strong domestic growth, you could buy, for example, a local food company like Strauss or phone company like Bezeq. In order to do so, you need to open up a local Israeli brokerage account, invest in Shekels and speak in Hebrew to a local advisor.

While this may be fine for some investors, for many native English speakers in Israel and abroad, this is a big step.

It’s also important to note that Israel’s economy, while strong, is not the only investment destination in the world with similar strong economic fundamentals. A tour through emerging markets (Brazil, Chile, South Korea, etc.) will find many countries with over 4% growth. Local food companies and telecommunication companies are a dime a dozen.

To me, that’s not the reason people get excited about investing in Israel.

Those excited after reading Start-up Nation weren’t running to invest in a small company that invests in canned food. Rather, they want to be part of all the ingenuity and creativity that Israel exports. Investors want to invest in companies that power the world. It’s no secret that the largest multinational companies in the world are active in Israel. Whether it be Microsoft or Johnson and Johnson or IBM or any of a multitude of other well known companies, they all come to Israel to acquire or invest in today’s cutting edge technologies. From companies that can put a camera in a pill to help alleviate the need for invasive gastro procedures (Given Imaging), to companies that lead the world in computer security (Checkpoint) to companies that are leading the shift into cloud computing (Radware), what Israel does very well is power the world based on technology and that’s what becomes exciting as an investment.

The easiest way to access these companies is via the Israeli stocks that trade in the US. As has been widely reported, Israel has more companies trading on major US exchanges than any other foreign country in the world. Not all Israeli companies are created equal, though, and investors should do in-depth research before investing.

It’s very important to note that these types of investments carry an element of risk. As some of these companies are not very large, the smallest piece of news can send their stocks either soaring or tumbling. It’s therefore important to speak with your investment adviser to see how, if at all, investing in up-and-coming Israeli companies fits into your overall investment portfolio.

Aaron Katsman is a licensed financial professional both in the United States and Israel, and helps people who open investment accounts in the United States. Securities are offered through Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. a registered broker dealer, Member FINRA, SIPC, MSRB, NFA, SIFMA. For more information, call (02) 624-0995, visit www.aaronkatsman.com or email aaron@lighthousecapital.co.il.

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