Leading indicators rise 0.5% in April [pg. 17]

Israel's index of leading economic indicators rose 0.5 percent in April as a result of increased imports and exports that reflect an environment of accelerated economic activity and expansion, the Bank of Israel said Wednesday. The increase in merchandise exports and imports and in sales of retail goods and services pushed the index higher but was partly offset by a decrease in industrial output and services exports, the central bank said. The retail sales and service sub-index rose 0.9% in April up from 0.3% in March, while industrial output fell 1.1% after an increase of 0.6% in March. The merchandise exports sub-index gained 1.1% in May, after a 2% rise in April, while imports only rose 2%, compared with 4% in the previous month. The services export sub-index dropped 5% in May after rising 2.9% in April. Expansion of economic activity and growth also pushed up chain stores sales. Between March and May sales in chain stores rose an annual 5.7%, according to data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Chain stores sales had risen 6.9% over the previous three months. Food sales in chain stores rose 2.9% in annual terms, following a 2.5% rise from December 2005 through to February 2006. According to CBS data, revenues in the commerce and services sector also rose 8.9% in the first four months of this year, compared with the same period last year. Between February and April 2006, revenues rose 10% in food and hospitality services following an increase of 12.7% in the November 2005 to January 2006 period. Revenues rose 10.3% in real estate and business services, 4% in educational services, 7.6% in healthcare, caregiving and welfare services and 5.1% in personal and other services Separately, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce reported that exports of services in the first quarter of 2006 increased 15% from the last quarter of 2005, reaching a level of $4.9 billion from $4.54b. previously. Tourism services exports grew 7% to $830m.; transportation services exports dropped 2% to $900m; and exports of all other services grew 11% to $2.82b., according to the FICC.