Taking on Tshuva

Average households are being chiseled out of their savings by the country’s pivotal tycoons, who only recently seemed as trustworthy as they come.

yitzhak tshuva 311 (photo credit: Delek group via Bloomberg)
yitzhak tshuva 311
(photo credit: Delek group via Bloomberg)
Members of the general public have reason for worry these days, though few are aware of financial hanky-panky that may directly affect them. Put in a nutshell, conglomerates that borrowed from regular Israeli citizens are welching on their commitments.
If these were shaky enterprises run by shady characters, it would be justifiable to argue that we brought our misfortune on ourselves due to lack of circumspection.
Yet an alarming pattern is fast becoming evident: Average households are essentially being chiseled out of their savings by the country’s pivotal tycoons who only recently seemed as solid and trustworthy as they come.
The latest to join this dubious club is billionaire entrepreneur Yitzhak Tshuva, whose Delek Real Estate consortium has proposed to shave off 50 percent of its debt to bondholders. Here it needs to be stressed that Delek’s bondholders are hardly speculators. Among them may be anyone with long-range investments in mutual funds and anyone whose pay slip shows deductions for pension funds, provident funds or educational funds.
Such investors are now asked to agree to take hefty losses for Tshuva’s sake. For every shekel of credit, Tshuva now offers to reimburse 50 agorot. The supposed sweetener comes in the form of shares in the company.
This is hardly a fair trade-off. Those who invested in ostensibly safe bonds clearly didn’t opt for riskier stocks, especially in a company whose fortunes have plummeted and whose prospects are dubious.
The difference between bonds and stocks cannot be overstated. Generally, bonds are judged the more conservative investment. They are essentially loans that the borrower undertakes to repay with interest after a defined term, or maturity.
The bondholder is a given company’s creditor while the stock owner buys a share of the company. Therefore, offering, as Tshuva does, stocks in lieu of part of the bond-debt means a whopping loss to bondholders as well as a precarious semi-recompense.
This sordid saga began in 2007, when the global real estate bubble was engorged. Delek Real Estate floated bond issues and with the procured income purchased holdings worldwide. After the bubble burst, Tshuva ceremoniously promised that his bondholders wouldn’t suffer. He wasn’t, however, as good as his oft-reiterated word.
What makes it worse is that Tshuva is hardly without means. He controls corporations far greater and wealthier than his troubled real-estate undertaking. Nothing prevents him from dipping into the robust reserves of Delek Fuel or his Tamar gas concerns, to name but two.
Ironically, it’s precisely because Tshuva’s other holdings are so enormous and powerful that the various funds that field our savings don’t pressure him. These institutional investors still need and desire to do business with the other Tshuva companies. For this end our interests may be and indeed are sacrificed, although it’s patently obvious that Tshuva can inject funds and various assets into Delek Real Estate from his manifold firms. It simply pays not to do so.
The law doesn’t oblige debtors to redeem bonds with their private wealth. Yet, despite the reality of limited liability, some tycoons do personally stand behind their obligations as a matter of principle. Shari Arison put up half-a-billion shekels in security to Arison Holdings’ bondholders.
Besides ethics, there’s business sense in such good conduct.
It’s a major confidence-builder. Investors are encouraged when the power behind the conglomerate unstintingly supports it.
The horrifying aspect of all this for small-time investors is that nobody truly fights their fight. The Treasury’s market regulators are similarly hesitant to take Tshuva on. It is easier to leave ordinary citizens in the lurch. The bottom line is that minor investors are unprotected.
What should happen now is for fund-managers to warn Tshuva that his bad behavior in this instance could hurt his other interests and his ability to leverage future projects. Such conduct also paints tycoons as greedy exploiters who cannot be trusted. Lack of trust is the crucial catalyst of a credit crunch. If “unimportant” ma-and-pa investors fear that they are being fleeced, they’ll keep their savings out of circulation and financial exchanges.