TA-25 breaks 800 for first time

Analysts credit political stability and strong economy.

Stocks closed at record highs Monday, as the Tel Aviv-25 index of the country's most valuable companies broke the 800 barrier for the first time, boosted by political stability and the strong economy. The TA-25 rose 1.1 percent to close at 806.75, having edged closer and closer to the 800 mark over the past week before finally reaching the milestone a day after the wider TA-100 passed the same barrier on Sunday. On Monday, the TA-100 climbed 0.8% to 811.37. (See full stock report, P. 19) Shares have been on a consistent upward trend, rising and hitting new highs for over a year. Since the start of 2005, the TA-25 has rocketed 30%, fueled by foreign investors attracted by the growing economy, strong corporate results and hopes of an improvement in relations between Israel and the Palestinians. The charge higher has even survived a number of shocks, such as corporate scandals, the resignation of Binyamin Netanyahu as finance minister, the lead up to the disengagement process, and the occasional terrorist attack. In contrast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is around the same level it was in January, while the Nasdaq Composite Index has increased a mere 4%. The FTSE 100 has risen strongly, but its growth of about 15% is still half that of the TA-25. Analysts explained the phenomenon by saying that while the movements of foreign exchanges affect Tel Aviv shares, internal factors are just as important. "Positive things happened here that have pushed the stock exchange higher," said Leader analyst Alon Glazer. Among those factors, according to market players, was the stabilization of Israeli politics following the double earthquake of Amir Peretz unseating Shimon Peres as Labor Party leader and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon resigning from Likud. Concerns settled because Sharon's new Kadima party appears to be in a good position to win the general election, which is due to take place in March. "There is now greater political clarity, with Sharon looking like he's established himself very well. People are confident about economic stability going forward and that the shekel is steady," said Avi Weinreb, a broker at Clal Finance Batucha Investment Management. He also pointed to strong company news, such as improved earnings reports and new contract wins, as having helped push shares higher. "All the leading shares in Tel Aviv are powering ahead, as they are having a good solid period now, which underpins the record levels we keep breaking," said Weinreb. These shares include bank stocks, which have benefited from record third-quarter results and the recent sale of their interests in mutual and provident funds in accordance with the Bachar reforms. Positive news from heavyweights such as Teva Pharmaceuticals, Makhteshim Agan and Israel Chemicals has also contributed to the rise. Israel's strong political, economic and business conditions have attracted international players, whose investment in Israel grew 63% in the first 10 months of the year.