'We still need to prepare for the worst,' warns bank regulator

Israel's Supervisor of Banks called upon the banks to continue to secure a high level of capital and to maintain the sector's stability.

Rony Hizkiyahu 88  224 (photo credit: Koby Kantor/Courtesy Globes)
Rony Hizkiyahu 88 224
(photo credit: Koby Kantor/Courtesy Globes)
The Bank of Israel's Supervisor of Banks warned Monday that the financial crisis was far from over and that the worst could still be ahead of us, as he called on the country's banks to be prepared. "The Israeli banking sector is stable but we still need to prepare for the worst and therefore I am in favor of conservative conduct," Hizkiyahu told the Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv. "The central bank is getting ready by preparing emergency plans to be enacted when needed." Hizkiyahu added that he did not expect the banks to distribute a dividend over the coming year. "If they think that they will distribute a dividend they need to come and get approval," said Hizkiyahu. Furthermore Hizkiyahu called upon the banks to continue to secure a high level of capital and to maintain the sector's stability. "The banks need to be more careful and improve their risk management tools, which have not proven to work in the past," said Hizkiyahu. "Transparency is not enough. Investments can not anymore be solely based on credit rating agencies or Basel II capital market regulations. We expect the banks to look right and left before making decisions." Adding to the doom and gloom, a country report by economists of the British weekly The Economist presented at the conference predicted zero per capita GDP growth for Israel in 2009. The report argued that Israel's rapid growth of the past five years was closely related to the country's high population growth rate, adding that when Israel's natural growth rate was discounted, economic growth was actually lower. However the British weekly is confident that Israel's recovery will be faster than in OECD countries. Israel will see 1.4% growth in 2010, 2.4% growth in 2010 and 3% growth by 2012, compared with a forecast of 1.7% of GDP growth in OECD countries, the weekly said. Still the report pointed to shortcomings in the Israeli economy including the country's failing education system, the limited integration of haredim and Arabs in the labor market, and the lack of development of essential growth-enhancing infrastructures.