Technology shares lead Israeli stocks higher

Israeli stocks crept back up toward their records on Monday, led by strength in the tech sector, real estate and the chemicals companies.

MarketWatch: In-depth global business coverage SHARES TEL AVIV Israeli stocks crept back up toward their records on Monday, led by strength in the tech sector, real estate and the chemicals companies. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange's benchmark TA-25 index rose 0.92 percent to 925.72, the TA-100 index added 0.98% to 932.9 and the Tel-Tech 15 index of top technology stocks finished 1.64% higher at 379.49. The TA-25 and TA-100 indexes set their records, 931.29 and 936.82, respectively, on November 29. The Tel-Tech topped out at 482.78 on January 20, 2004. The most-active issue was fertilizer producer Israel Chemicals, which advanced 3.6% to NIS 26.1. Agrichemicals producer Makhteshim Agan added 1.3% to NIS 22.9. Teva Pharmaceutical rose 0.4% to NIS 136.3. Bank Hapoalim dropped 0.5% to NIS 20.11 and Bank Leumi was unchanged at NIS 16.8. Bezeq rose 1.2% to NIS 6.79. The telecommunications provider said it would pay a dividend of NIS 0.69 a share, or NIS 1.8 billion, upon approval by holders at the annual meeting on December 20, and it also reached an agreement with its labor union under which it will cut about 1,000 workers by 2008. Four within the Tel-Tech that made news: Nice Systems, the producer of digital recording and archiving solutions, tacked on 3.8% to NIS 137.3. Nice received an order from Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain's rail infrastructure, for systems that reconstruct, analyze and distribute voice communications. Nice called it a seven-figure order but didn't specify a value. Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. advanced 0.3% to NIS 38.11. It expanded its efforts with the Mexican Ministry of Education, receiving a contract from Alef Soluciones Integrales and Corporative Lanix to provide a 4,400-site network to provide more than 7,700 Mexican public-school classrooms with Internet and telephony services. Alef is a Mexican information-technology integrator; Lanix is a Latin American computer maker. Alvarion, a provider of wireless broadband solutions and specialized mobile networks, climbed 2.1% to NIS 30.1. The company said Fiji International Communications Ltd., the country's international telecom provider, adopted Alvarion's BreezeMAX to offer data services to businesses and residents of the Fiji islands. Terms weren't disclosed. Elron rose 1.8% to NIS 53.03. The tech-investment firm said it was assessing how to account for its Galil Medical Ltd. affiliate's, plan to sell its interest in Oncura Inc. and Galil's acquisition of Oncura's urology-related cryo business. Under US generally accepted accounting principles, Elron said, it would probably post a fourth-quarter loss on the deal of $1m. to $3m. But at the annual meeting December 28, it is asking its shareholders to approve a switch to Israeli GAAP, under which it might be able to post a gain of $2m. to $4m. The Tel Aviv Real Estate index climbed 1.62% to 675.8, recouping much of Sunday's 2.27% drubbing. All 15 members of the index rose, led by increases of 5.3% in GTC to NIS 48.64, and 4% in Industrial Buildings to NIS 10.3. WALL STREET US stocks were trading higher Monday afternoon, as positive momentum from a flurry of mergers, including a mega deal in the banking sector, offset bad news for Pfizer Inc. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 107 points, or 0.9%, at 12,301.08. Pfizer fell 12% after news it halted development of a once-promising cholesterol drug. But the impact on the blue-chip average was offset by a spate of mergers, especially news that Bank of New York Co. agreed to buy Mellon Financial Corp. to create a $43b. giant ranked as the world's largest custodian of financial assets. The S&P 500 rose 13 points, or 1%, to 1,410, and the Nasdaq Composite gained 40 points, or 1.6%, to 2,453. The technology sector also received a boost from merger news after LSI Logic Corp. said it would buy Agere for $4 billion. EUROPE European shares advanced, fueled by some late-session buying on relief that Pfizer's warning it would stop developing a key drug didn't spread to other US stocks and on deal-making news and rumors around Premier Foods and RWE. The German DAX Xetra 30 closed 0.9% higher at 6,295.23, led by gains for utilities RWE and E.On as well as airline Deutsche Lufthansa. The French CAC 40 rose 0.8% at 5,296.08, the UK FTSE 100 rose 0.5% to 6,050.40 and the pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 rose 0.7% to 351.59. Shares in foods group RHM surged 31.5% after rival Premier Foods said it agreed to buy RHM for 1.23 billion pounds ($2.4 billion), a deal that will create the UK's biggest food producer. ASIA Asian stocks were mixed Monday, with Japan's Nikkei 225 falling as export-related shares such as Canon Inc. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. declined on concerns over the US economic outlook. Losses were capped as the US dollar stabilized against major currencies. The Shanghai Composite Index ended higher, however, as investors sought China shares after the yuan rose to a post-revaluation high against the dollar. Japan's Nikkei 225 Average ended 0.1% lower at 11,6303.59. The broader Topix index rose 0.2% to 1,607.74. Elsewhere in the region, Shanghai's Composite Index rose 2.8% and Taiwan's Weighted Price Index reversed early loses to trade 0.4% higher. Singapore's Straits Times Index rose 0.5%, Malaysia's KLSE Composite fell 0.3% and South Korea's Kospi fell 0.6%. New Zealand's NZX-50 index ended down 0.5% and Indonesia's Jakarta Composite fell 0.2%. Bombay's Sensex rose 0.2% in late afternoon trading. Australia's S&P ASX/200 fell 0.1% after data released Monday showed Australian new home building approvals fell 7.4% in October, exceeding the 2% decline economists had expected. CURRENCY The dollar edged slightly higher against major rival currencies Monday, consolidating after steep losses last week as traders await a key US employment report due later in the week. In New York trading, the dollar was quoted at 115.34 yen, compared with 115.41 yen late Friday. The euro changed hands at $1.3326, from $1.3333. The British pound traded at $1.9784, compared with $1.9793. The dollar changed hands at 1.1940 Swiss francs, compared with 1.1929 francs. The euro fetched 153.77 yen, compared with 153.89 yen, after rising to 154.17, a record high. COMMODITIES Crude oil futures fell 81 cents to $62.62, after the president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said supplies continue to outpace demand, despite recent efforts by the oil cartel to cut production. The February contract for gold futures turned lower late Monday morning to fall under the $650-an-ounce level, pressured by some strength in the US dollar as well as broad gains in the stock market as traders looked ahead to this week's upcoming economic data. Against this backdrop, gold for February delivery was down $1.50 at $649.10 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange after trading as high as $651.70. Most of the trading volume has moved to the February contract, but the December contract remained as the official benchmark for gold futures trading. That contract was last down $1.20 at $643.50 an ounce. MarketWatch: In-depth global business coverage