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Israeli stocks finished on a steady note Wednesday, hurt by weakness in banks and helped a bit by technology plus a rebound in Makhteshim-Agan.
The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange's benchmark TA-25 index edged up 0.08 percent to 934.05, while the TA-100 added 0.1% to 943.19 and the Tel-Tech index of 15 top tech shares rose 0.44% to 378.68.
The most-active issue was Bank Hapoalim, trading down 0.6% at NIS 20.30.
The Tel Aviv Banking index fell 0.8% to 1,299.12. All five individual member banks finished lower along with Hapoalim: Discount was off 1.8% at NIS 8.87, First International Issue 5 fell 1.1% to NIS 55.12, Bank Leumi dropped 0.5% to NIS 16.88, and Mizrahi-Tefahot shed 1.2% to NIS 30.82.
Discount also reported to the TASE that its workers committee declared a work dispute over what the union called management's unilateral plan to extend the hours at a number of branches. The workers threatened to strike if the two sides can't reach an agreement on the plan by the end of the month.
Union Bank, which is part of the Tel Aviv Financials index, traded up 1.5% at NIS 21.47. The financials index itself lost 0.71% to stand at 1,181.14.
Makhteshim, the world's No. 1 producer of generic agrochemicals, recouped 0.9% to NIS 25.33, a reversal after losing 1.1% on Tuesday, when the company unexpectedly estimated that it would post a loss of $35 million to $40m. following charges of $50m. to $55m.
The one-time items, which include a provision for an adverse arbitration ruling and funding for the retirement of several dozen employees, are"housecleaning," indicating that new Chairman and Chief Executive Avraham Bigger "wants to start 2007 on a clean slate," said Richard Gussow, senior analyst at Excellence Nessuah, in a note.
"Rising commodity prices, a strong euro, declining oil prices, improved climate conditions and a leaner [company] all point to 2007 as being a recovery year," Gussow told clients.
Separately, UBS analyst Joseph Wolf called the company's announcement "a positive sign" indicating that Bigger "is taking initial steps toward streamlining the company to start 2007. We had expected a difficult Q4, and these results are in line with our expectations."
Also in the sector, fertilizer maker Israel Chemicals slipped 0.2% to NIS 25.95.
In the TA-25, shares of Ormat Industries gave back 0.7% to NIS 48.11, retreating after gaining 1.6% on Tuesday. The company is parent to Ormat Technologies, a producer of geothermal-power plants.
On Tuesday, Ormat Technologies said it expanded a partnership under which it sells power to Basin Electric Power Cooperative of Bismarck, N.D.
IDB Holdings, with interests in communications, finance, technology, industry, real estate and retail, added 3.2% to NIS 113.4.
Gazit-Globe rose 2.3% to NIS 56.66. The company early on Wednesday said it offered a final proposal, valued at as much as $1.1 billion, to invest in Mills Corp., the Arlington, Va., real-estate investment trust. Later Wednesday, Mills said it agreed to be acquired for $21 a share, or $1.35b., by Brookfield Asset Management.
Drugmaker Perrigo rose 1.5% to NIS 71.22. Merrill Lynch analyst Gregg Gilbert initiated coverage of Perrigo with a "buy" rating and a $21 price target on its US-listed shares.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries saw its shares rise 1.1% to NIS 139.3.
In technology, the most actives were defense contractor Elbit Systems, up 1.2% to NIS 143.8, and Verifone, producer of electronic-payment solutions, up 2.4% at NIS 155.6.
The big percentage gainer was Camtek, producer of optical inspection systems, up 5.3% to NIS 18.58. The company said it received a $2.3m. order for inspection systems from Tripod Technology, a Taiwan-based producer of printed-circuit boards.
Given Imaging rose 0.4% to NIS 87.9, gaining for a fifth trading day and for the sixth day in the past seven. The company said on Wednesday that it was cleared by a European Commission panel to lead a group that will develop an imaging system to screen for gastrointestinal cancer.
Internet Gold, provider of Internet-access and long-distance-phone services, rose 1.8% to NIS 53.84.
US stocks were lower late Wednesday after the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting an all-time high earlier in the session. The Dow industrials were down 8 points, or 0.1%, at 12,574.90. The index reached an all-time high of 10,614.00 in trading. The S&P 500 index was off 2 points, or 0.1%, to 1,430, while the technology-rich Nasdaq Composite dropped 19 points, or 0.8%, to 2,479.
European shares ended lower Wednesday. The pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 index slipped 0.1% at 371.73, the German DAX Xetra 30 index fell 0.2% to 6,701.70, the French CAC-40 index declined 0.5% to 5,561.78, and the UK FTSE 100 index fell 0.2% to 6,204.50.
Japanese markets ended higher as investors bought export-related shares like Nikon Corp. after the yen softened against the dollar as expectations faded for a hike in borrowing rates this week.
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