Shares in some of Israel's most powerful business groups have fallen dramatically in recent days, amid mounting investor concern that the recent wave of social protests gripping the country will force the government to take action against the country's “oligarchs”.
Business leaders such as Nochi Dankner and Yitzhak Tshuva have already seen the value of their main holdings fall by 20-40 per cent, with losses far outpacing the broader decline in the Israeli stock market.
Shares in Discount Investment and Koor, two of the biggest listed companies controlled by Mr Dankner's sprawling IDB group, have fallen by about 40 per cent each since Sunday. Through Discount and Koor, Mr Dankner controls leading mobile phone, retail, real estate and chemical companies in Israel, as well as a block of 29.7m shares in Credit Suisse, the banking group.
Delek Group, the energy-to-insurance conglomerate controlled by Mr Tshuva, on Thursday closed 22 per lower during the same period. Scailex, a telecommunications holding company controlled by Ilan Ben-Dov, another prominent Israeli tycoon, has lost 35 per cent of its market value since Sunday.
The broader TA-100 index, in contrast, is down only 9 per cent in the past five days (the Tel Aviv bourse opens trading on Sundays). The index was almost flat on Thursday, while shares in many of the groups controlled by Israel’s powerful conglomerates recorded another day of heavy selling.
Analysts said the losses reflected the recent surge in market turbulence around the world, and related worries over the large debts amassed by prominent Israeli holding groups such as IDB.
However, market watchers argue that at least some of the damage has been caused by the recent eruption of protests across the country. Last Saturday, more than 250,000 Israelis took to the streets to demand social and economic reforms, lower prices and government action to bolster affordable housing and education.
The movement has drawn on widespread middle-class anger over the high cost of living in Israel – a situation that in turn is widely blamed on the lack of competition and high degree of concentration in several key markets where the “oligarchs” play a dominant role.
According to analysts, this has heightened investor concern over a regulatory crackdown. “We are definitely aware of this issue, and as a result there are some stocks that we had to underweight because we see a risk of more regulation,” said Ron Eichel, chief economist at Meitav, an Israeli brokerage.
He pointed to mobile phone companies, retailers, cable television companies and real estate groups as potential targets – areas that are often dominated by conglomerates.
Another Tel Aviv-based equity analyst said: “I don’t think it’s a question of targeting individuals. It is a question of looking at industries where there is high concentration and not much competition. And that will obviously go against the interests of some of the financial tycoons.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has promised repeatedly to increase competition in key sectors and to curb the commercial power of Israel’s sprawling conglomerates. That campaign has made only limited headway so far, though the government is once again vowing to step up its effort.
“We hope that the protest movement can bring about a strong political tailwind of support for the reforms this government has been trying to push through since its inception – especially on the issue of enhanced competition, bringing down consumer prices and the question of market concentration,” a spokesman for Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday.
Get alerts on Israel when a new story is published