Stocks decline, led by Makhteshim Agan, Africa Israel

Investors traded about NIS 2.49b. in shares and convertible securities.

SHARES TEL AVIV The Tel Aviv-25 Index retreated on Wednesday, led by Makhteshim Agan Industries and Africa Israel Investments. The TA-25 Index lost 9.30, or 0.8 percent, to 1,180.22 at the close in Tel Aviv as 19 members fell and six gained. Investors traded about NIS 2.49 billion in shares and convertible securities. Makhteshim, the world's largest maker of generic agrochemicals, dropped NIS 0.77, or 2.1%, to NIS 35.50. Africa Israel, the holding company controlled by diamond billionaire Lev Leviev, fell NIS 12.20, or 3.9%, to NIS 300. VeriFone Holdings plunged NIS 6.86, or 10%, to NIS 60.44. The biggest maker of electronic-payment equipment has dropped more than 34% since announcing on January 1 that it will miss a US Securities and Exchange Commission deadline for filing results. WALL STREET Wall Street fought to hold onto early gains Wednesday amid questions about the strength of the economy and the soundness of upcoming corporate earnings reports. In midday trading, the Dow was up 30.07, or 0.24%, at 12,619.14. The blue chip index had been up nearly 100 points early in the session, dropped briefly into negative territory, and then rebounded again. Broader stock indicators were also up modestly. Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 1.98, or 0.14%, to 1,392.17, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 3.47, or 0.14%, to 2,443.98. EUROPE European stocks dropped, sending the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index to its lowest in more than a year, after sales at Marks & Spencer Group Plc missed analysts' estimates and Merrill Lynch & Co. cut its profit outlook for BP Plc. Marks & Spencer, the UK's largest clothing retailer, plunged 19%. The Stoxx 600 fell 1.3% to 348.77, the lowest level since October 11, 2006. The gauge has lost 4.4% so far this year on concern credit-market losses and an economic slowdown will damp profit growth. The risk of European companies defaulting climbed to the highest in more than five months on slowing sales by retailers. National benchmarks dropped in all 18 western European markets except Switzerland. The UK's FTSE 100 was down 1.3% to 6,272.70, while Germany's DAX fell 0.9% and France's CAC 40 lost 1.1%. ASIA Asian stocks rose the most in six weeks, led by Newcrest Mining and Jiangxi Copper, after gold paced metals prices higher. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index climbed 1.3% to 155.12 as of 7.10 p.m. in Tokyo, its biggest gain since November 29. The benchmark earlier fell as much as 0.7%. Japan's Nikkei 225 Stock Average increased 0.5% to 14,599.16. Most Asian stock indexes gained, rebounding from earlier losses, after The Wall Street Journal reported the US is contemplating a $500 tax rebate for all Americans and incentives for companies to invest in machinery. Currencies The shekel gained for a second day, rising to the highest since August 1998 before trading at 3.7887 per dollar, from 3.8047 Tuesday. It was the best-performer among 11 emerging-market currencies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa in the past month. The euro fell versus the dollar as German industrial production, exports and retail sales unexpectedly declined, suggesting growth in Europe's largest economy is slowing. The euro weakened against 12 of 16 most traded currencies as the reports raised speculation the European Central Bank won't raise interest rates this year. The euro fell to $1.4671 at 12:23 p.m. in New York, from $1.4707 on Tuesday. The dollar rose to 109.39 yen, from 108.90. The euro gained to 160.51 yen, from 160.15. COMMODITIES Crude oil rose more than $1 a barrel in New York after a government report showed that US stockpiles fell an eighth week as refineries increased fuel production. Crude oil for February delivery rose $1.04, or 1.1%, to $97.37 a barrel at 12:41 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures reached a record $100.09 a barrel on January 3. Prices are up 75% from a year ago. Gold futures for February delivery rose 10 cents to $880.40 an ounce at 12:22 p.m. on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier, the price reached $894.40, the highest ever for a most-active contract.