Tel Aviv Stock Exchange members approve privatization

JERUSALEM - The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) secured its members' approval on Thursday to turn into a for-profit body, a move aimed at boosting trading volumes and reversing a tide of delistings.
Amnon Neubach, chairman of Israel's only stock exchange, said that privatization would be an important step in "a process which is highly significant for TASE's development and the development of Israel's capital market."
Under the plan, first announced last year, member brokerages and Israeli and foreign banks including Citigroup, UBS and HSBC, would become shareholders, TASE said.
Many other stock exchanges around the world are profit-making bodies. Israel's securities regulator said last month that privatization was key to the exchange's revival and that a sharp increase in trading volumes could be expected in 2017 after the process is completed.
Share volumes have picked up this year to average 1.43 billion shekels ($378 million) a day in the first half, from 1.21 billion in 2014, but still lag an average 2 billion shekels a day seen in 2010.
Similarly, the number of companies listed in Tel Aviv has fallen to 467 from 654 in 2007, although some delistings stemmed from mergers and acquisitions. A recent survey showed nearly 30 percent of companies wanted to delist from the Tel Aviv bourse, due to low trading volumes, regulatory hurdles and other issues.
Declining volumes cost the jobs of the exchange's chief executive and chairman in 2013.
The current management is looking at top to bottom changes to revive the exchange. Along with privatization, the bourse aims to attract more of Israel's small and mid-sized technology companies - which have typically sought funding from private equity firms or listed on the US Nasdaq exchange rather than the Tel Aviv bourse.
It is also considering moving to Monday to Friday trading rather than Sunday to Thursday to attract more foreign investors, and allowing the trading of shares of very large non-Israeli companies.
The Israel Securities Authority is drafting a law to amend the Securities Law to complete the demutualization process.
Under demutualization, Israel's top six banks - including Hapoalim, Leumi and First International - would hold 56 percent of the exchange, down from 64 percent under the current member-owned structure.
The rest would be owned by brokerages, and smaller Israeli and foreign banks, which would also include Merrill Lynch International, Deutsche Bank and Barclays, TASE said.
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