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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange fell sharply in their heaviest trading day ever Thursday as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remained in critical condition after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage.
The TA-25 index lost 3.90 percent to close at 816.09 recovering slightly after losing as much as 5.9% in morning trade to below the psychological 800 point barrier. All shares on the TA-25 dropped for the day led by Banks Hapoalim and Leumi and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, as the exchange was the biggest slider of the international markets. The TA-25 had reached its third successive record high on Wednesday.
The TA-100 dropped 3.93% to close at 822.76
Bonds also fell sharply and the shekel depreciated by 1% against the dollar to NIS 4.6163
At NIS 4.12 billion, the market saw it's highest ever volumes, surpassing the previous high set last week.
"Usually the expiration of options sparks high volumes, but the day's events were extraordinary," said Ronit Harel Ben-Zeev.
Benny Sharvit, head of research at Gaon Investment House said that Sharon's incapacitation created doubt over the elections and who would succeed him.
"The market is moved by uncertainty and realizes that this is the end of Sharon's political career," Sharvit said. "He was the most likely winner in the coming elections and now all that has changed."
The politically sensitive market's most recent big one day loss came in August 2005 with the resignation of Sharon's political rival Benjamin Netanyahu from the Finance Ministry, bringing the TA-25 5.2% down from its previous close. Its worst day came in October 2000 with the outbreak of the Intifada when the index lost over 8% causing a temporary closing of the market.
By law, the TASE suspends trade for 45 minutes when losses reach 8% in a day and close completely when they hit 12%. Analysts were confident that this would not be necessary in the coming days of uncertainty.
The heavy volumes were dominated by private investors selling mutual funds as foreign investors played a more cautionary game.
While the biggest losses occurred in morning trade, investors were calmed after Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met and agreed to continue with macroeconomic policy.
"In light of the circumstances, the markets are functioning well, and the Bank of Israel will continue to monitor their developments," Fisher said. "The strength of Israel's economy enables it to continue to show stability."
Calm was also restored after Sharon's doctor gave an update on his condition, dispelling rumors that the Prime Minister had died and that an official announcement was being withheld for after the close of trade.
Gaon Investment's Sharvit added that the market showed no panic and that some international companies issued statements expressing their confidence in the economy.
"The weekend will also give investors good time to think things over and assess if it will have a long term effect on the market," he said.