Dollar’s nosedive has exporters worried

The US currency’s nosedive is causing exporters and manufacturers to become increasingly concerned and frustrated.

By NADAV SHEMER
May 5, 2011 22:15
3 minute read.
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While many Israelis will be watching the shekel’s rise against the dollar with delight as they eye their next trip abroad, the US currency’s nosedive is causing exporters and manufacturers to become increasingly concerned and frustrated.

Their anger was particularly obvious at a press conference hosted by the Manufacturers Association of Israel on Wednesday in Tel Aviv.

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With a seat reserved for Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz conspicuously empty, the association’s president, Shraga Brosh, used the opportunity to accuse the government of not caring about the plight of its exporters.

He said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu so far had ignored a request made in January to hold a roundtable discussion on the exchange rate.

“If this doesn’t interest the finance minister, and if the prime minister doesn’t think this is important enough, then we have a problem,” Brosh said. “Instead of making it easier for exports following the deterioration of the dollar, they increased the expenses. In the budget they imposed on us new taxes to the value of NIS 6 billion, including the fuel excise, municipal rates, water and others.

“We expect them to stop ignoring us in Jerusalem, for the Israeli government to shoulder the burden of export growth – because [exporters] are the main engine that move the wheels of the Israeli economy.”

Israel Export Institute chairman Ami Arel, who sat alongside Brosh, echoed his remarks, saying the government needed to raise taxation of foreign currency, to harm speculators rather than exporters.

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Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, the only member of the government to appear at the press conference, said he had come to listen but “not to be a punching bag.”

“I came to show solidarity and to say that we are situated in a period of crisis,” Simhon said. “This crisis is known; the question is what do we do about it, given that we are talking about an ongoing crisis. The expectation is that there will be a sharing of responsibilities between the government and the exporters. I feel that this is a just demand.”

“There is no doubt that exportation is the engine of the Israeli economy,” Simhon said, adding that he would approach Netanyahu about meeting with manufacturers, and that he was also ready to create a program under his ministry’s auspices that would ease short-term pain for exporters.

The dollar-shekel representative exchange rate fell to NIS 3.392 per dollar on Wednesday, for a fall of about 12 percent since last July.

According to data given to the press by the manufacturers association, the dollar’s 26% devaluation against the shekel since 2006 has been more severe than its fall against other currencies.

Only the dollar’s 31% drop against the yen has been sharper, while in the same period it has fallen 20% against the euro, 20% against the Chinese yuan, 19% against the Canadian dollar and risen 3% against the British pound, the data showed.

However, USG Capital senior analyst Eli Ben-David told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that the government’s critics fail to understand that the fiscal measures they are suggesting to tackle the shekel’s rise would have little effect in the face of a continuing global trend, which sees the dollar falling against all its major counterparts.

“If the government take steps that are too strong, it will harm the attractiveness of Israel for the continuation of economic growth,” he said, “because what will happen is that foreign investors will flee the country.”

Ben-David suggested that exporters follow the advice of the government and look to other markets in Asia and Europe to sell their wares, rather than relying too heavily on the United States.

“If they expose themselves to markets such as Canada or Europe, then the gaps in the exchange rate won’t harm them as dramatically as is the case with the dollar,” he said, “because today, most of the limitations on exporters come from the dollar.”

Ben-David also predicted that the Bank of Israel would raise the interest rate by a quarter-point to 3.25% in June as it fights forecasts of high inflation. He said he expects the benchmark rate to rise to 4% by the end of the year.

Ben-David said the increasing interest- rate differential between Israel and the US, which is not expected to raise rates until 2012, will see “the exchange rate fall to 3.30-3.35 during the coming months, even though we expect that in the next few weeks there will be a slight

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