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Despite the Israeli government's running measures to encourage foreign investors, investment bank Bear Stearns called on the government, regulatory agencies and financial companies to do more to facilitate the environment for the entry of foreign investors.
"The Israeli market is still a very different market to Europe and the US and foreign entry is obstructed by a limited environment," said Robert C. Adler, senior managing director and director of product management at Bear Stearns Asset Management at the Globes conference on finance, banking, insurance and capital markets in Tel Aviv this week.
Bear Stearns, one of the most prominent investment banks in the world, decided to invest in Israel in 2004 by acquiring 50 percent of Migdal Capital Markets, even before the country's capital market reform, which required the banks to sell their provident and mutual fund holdings. Bear Stearns positioned itself well in advance to buy provident and mutual funds from Israel's banks and become a significant player in the market. Since then, Migdal Capital Markets bought Dikla Mutual Funds from First International Bank of Israel and Afikim Mutual Funds Management.
According to Adler there were still a number of barriers for foreign investors or firms to step into the Israeli marketplace, in particular for the acquisition of mutual and provident funds. One was the security situation in Israel, which he believes still deters foreign investors, as well as the relative small size of opportunity in the local market. Another problem for foreign players is the language barrier.
"Most Israeli businesses, authorities and regulators are not properly equipped to present themselves in the English language. If they have Web sites in English, they mostly provide limited access to the information needed and often they are not updated," Adler said.
Furthermore, Adler called for Israelis to adopt advanced reporting procedures that would correspond to those required in the US and European markets.
Looking ahead, Adler predicted that although the global economy was poised to continue to grow, investors would have to lower their expectations as yields in the world were falling.
"It will be harder to find opportunities, and achieving a double-digit return will involve greater risks and investment in developing markets and hedge funds, which the average investor is usually wary about," he said.
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