Business in Brief: February 28

Analyst predicts $5b. gas revenue for Israel; Netanyahu pulls cabinet vote on executive pay; ICC revenue falls 20 percent.

A man fills his tank at a gas station (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A man fills his tank at a gas station
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Analyst predicts $5b. gas revenue for Israel
Gas could eventually contribute about $5 billion per year to Israel’s balance of payments, at current prices, Citi Global Markets analyst David Lubin predicts.
“We think that the next few months will see a continuing interest in the prospects for Israel’s emergence as a gas exporter,” Lubin says.
In early January, he forecast that the natural gas discoveries will be worth around $4.8 billion a year to the economy.
Lubin predicts that Israel’s unemployment rate will fall to 6 percent by the end of 2011, but rise to 7% by the end of 2012. He expects GDP to grow by 3.8% in 2011 and 5% in 2012, inflation to reach 3% by the end of 2012, and the shekel-dollar exchange rate to fall to NIS 3.41/$ by the end of 2012.
As for exports, Lubin says, “Israel’s recovery is pretty broad based, but exports are losing some steam. Although net exports are not as strong as they once were, there is no threat, we think, to Israel’s current account surplus, which is likely to be sustained for a long time, thanks to the resilience of Israel’s technology industry, Israel’s likely emergence over the next few years as a gas exporter and Israel’s emergence in the second quarter as a net external creditor on its international investment position.”
Netanyahu pulls cabinet vote on executive pay
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled from the cabinet agenda a vote on the Ne’eman Commission’s recommendations on Sunday, including one to not restrict executive pay at public companies.
The commission announced its recommendations on Thursday.
At the Likud ministers meeting ahead of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu announced that he would not hold a vote on the recommendations, after it was clear that he lacked a majority. Last week, Shas ministers announced that they would vote against the recommendations. Israel Beiteinu today gave its five ministers freedom to vote their conscience in view of objections in the party to the recommendations.
Were the cabinet to vote, several Israel Beiteinu ministers would presumably have voted against the recommendations and others would have abstained. Several Likud ministers also voiced their objections.
MK Haim Katz (Likud) announced that he would move forward on his private member’s bill to restrict executive pay, after persuading Likud ministers not to support the Ne’eman Commission recommendations.
The Ne’eman Commission recommended against direct intervention in capping executive pay at public companies, increasing directors’ independence and supervision of boards of directors, improving mechanisms for approving and regulating salary structures at public companies, creating a mechanism to ensure that executive salaries serve all shareholders’ interests.
Israeli home price rise is third-fastest in world
Israeli home prices returned to the three fastest-growing markets in the fourth quarter of 2010, after falling to fourth place in the third quarter, Global Property Guide has reported in its latest home prices survey.
Home prices in Israel rose the fastest after the Latvian capital of Riga and Singapore, compared with the fourth quarter of 2009.
Nominal home prices in Israel were 16.23 percent higher in the fourth quarter of 2010 than in the corresponding quarter of 2009. Nominal home prices rose 21.2% in Riga and 17.6% in Singapore over the same period.
The annualized rate of increase in inflation-adjusted prices slowed to 13.43% in the fourth quarter from 16.15% in the third quarter.
“Israeli house price rises have barely cooled, despite the Bank of Israel’s efforts,” Global Property Guide said, adding, “There have been six quarterly double-digit house price rises in Israel since the third quarter of 2009.”
Israel fell to sixth place in the Global Property Guide rankings for the second quarter of 2010 from third place in the preceding quarter, before again climbing in the rankings.
Israel was one of 15 housing markets covered by “Global Property Guide” in which prices rose in the fourth quarter, while prices fell in 21 markets, as the world’s housing market recovery stalled.
ICC revenue falls 20 percent
Israel Credit Cards-Cal Ltd's (Visa) revenue and profits continued to slide in 2010, after the company halted its clearance of online gambling and pornography transactions.
ICC's net profit fell to NIS 215 million in 2010 from NIS 249 million in 2009. Excluding a capital gain of NIS 16 million from the sale of shares in Visa Inc. the net profit fell 20 percent.
"We mainly devoted 2010 to dealing with the crisis," said ICC CEO Israel David.
ICC's revenue from online clearing activity fell 72% in 2010, and it posted a NIS 13 million loss on its international business in 2010, compared with a profit of NIS 43 million in 2009. Total revenue fell 5% to NIS 1.1 billion in 2010 from NIS 1.16 billion in 2009.
ICC's revenue and profits in 2010 were even lower than in 2008.
ICC's fourth quarter profits fell 17% compared with the corresponding quarter, for the fifth consecutive quarter.
Nonetheless, ICC continues to be Israel's most expensive credit card for customers. A study by the Bank of Israel found that ICC customers paid NIS 10.40 per month in fees, 2.5 times more than the cheapest credit card company. ICC charges the highest interest for nonbank credit, at 11.9% in 2010, up from 11.6% in 2009.
ICC's non-bank credit fell 0.6% to 2010 at NIS 2.1 billion from NIS 2.11 billion in 2009, compared with double-digit growth by the sector as a whole. Although until 2009, the company was the fastest growing issuer of non-bank credit cards, it increased its cards to just 431,000 cards at the end of 2010 from 421,000 a year earlier, and fell from first to third place in the total number of non-bank credit cards issued.
Transactions with ICC credit cards rose 7.8% to 46.3 billion in 2010 from NIS 42.94 billion 2009, and the number of active credit cards rose 4.2% to 1.37 million cards at the end of 2010.
Israel Discount Bank owns 71.8% of ICC and First International Bank of Israel owns 28.2%.
Dor Alon in advanced talks with Partner
The Dor Alon Energy in Israel (1988) Ltd. Virgin mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is in advanced talks with Orange franchisee Partner Communications Ltd. to use its network. The Dor Alon-Virgin MVNO had been in talks with Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Co. Ltd. subsidiary Pelephone Communications Ltd. until a few months ago.
Dor Alon chairman teamed up with Richard Branson's Virgin Group Ltd. for the MVNO venture in Israel. Partners include former Bank Hapoalim chairman Shlomo Nehama.
David Weissman son Shanir Weissman and former Cellcom CFO Yoav Tamir are in charge of the negotiations with Partner.
The venture has also hired former Cellcom Internet executive Adi Weiss, and is reportedly seeking a CEO. Tamir is in charge of the financial side and Weiss is in charge of the technological side of operations.
Market sources believe that Dor Alon-Virgin will shortly announce a deal with Partner, and will also disclose some of its business plans. Dor Alon wants to leverage the marketing power of its supermarket chain Alon Holdings Blue Square - Israel Ltd., Israel's second largest supermarket, to provide mobile services. Virgin's Israeli operations are run by former Pelephone CEO Yigal Bar-Yosef, but he is unlikely to run the MVNO.
Both parties declined to comment on the report.