8 pension funds merge, create largest investment institution

Amitim's investments largely escaped the subprime mortgage crisis that affected world financial markets.

Eight veteran pension funds have merged to form a single organization, called Amitim, CEO Yael Andoran announced Tuesday at a press conference in Tel Aviv. The merger was carried out in accordance with a 2003 legal reform aimed at saving the veteran pension funds. In 2005, Andoran was appointed as sole manager of the funds. During the merger process, 30 percent of employees were laid off and the funds' offices were reduced by a quarter, resulting in an annual saving of NIS 40 million-NIS 50m., according to Amitim's promotional literature. Over the next three decades, the government will give Amitim $70 billion as part of the rescue reforms, Amitim said. With 175,000 active members and 920,000 "frozen" members (people who have paid some money into the fund), Amitim is set to become the country's largest state investment institution, managing NIS 134b., with NIS 49b. of that available for free investment this year, the pension fund's executives said. Another NIS 85b. is invested in designated bonds. By contrast, in 2006, the eight pension funds collectively had NIS 37.4b. available for free investment. Currently, NIS 4b. of Amitim's available funds are invested in shares abroad, some NIS 20b. is invested in company bonds, NIS 15.5b. in government bonds, NIS 7.6b. in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, and NIS 1.7b. in currencies and other investments, Amitim investment manager Gil Geshler said at the press conference. Employees who pay into the funds can rest assured knowing that "those who manage their money are doing so efficiently," he said. Geshler, who has been managing the pension funds' investments since before the official merger, said a conservative low-risk investment policy had resulted in a 9.4% yield on investments in 2007, a figure he described as "very competitive." Amitim's investments largely escaped the subprime mortgage crisis that affected world financial markets, Geshler said, thanks to a series of cautionary measures. The plummeting value of the dollar had not affected Amitim's investments much, he said, due to a low exposure to the currency. In 2007, Andoran expanded shares in private equity funds, investing NIS 277m. in them, as part of a policy of exposing 1%-2% of Amitim's assets to the funds, she said. During the coming year, Andoran said she hoped to undo a Finance Ministry restriction allowing Amitim to invest no more than 10% of its funds in other assets.