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As share prices break records, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is not leaving its employees with nose pressed to window. The exchange, which is a privately held company, is a monopoly that is not supposed to make profits: any earnings are supposed to be returned to investors through lowered fees. But the TASE gained NIS 40 million in shareholders' equity in 2006, after having distributed NIS 19 million to workers and employees through an unusually generous wage agreement.

The salary agreement approved by the TASE board of directors a month ago stipulates an automatic wage hike of 3.5 percent for every TASE employee plus up to 3.5 percent more in performance-related increases. In addition, every employee will receive an automatic bonus equal to 3.6 monthly salaries and a performance-based bonus of up to 75 percent of a monthly salary.
 
Eight TASE vice presidents, including Ronit Harel Ben-Ze'ev, will each receive a 6 percent wage hike plus a bonus equal to six months' salary. The average monthly salary of a TASE vice president was increased to NIS 53,500; the average bonus is NIS 330,000, for an average total of NIS 81,000 per month.

CEO Ester Levanon and Chairman Saul Bronfeld got a special wage agreement for themselves: Their basic salary will not change, but they will instead receive a bonus equal to eight monthly salaries. As a result, Ester Levanon's salary reached NIS 80,000 in 2006, and in addition she received a bonus of NIS 640,000. Saul Bronfman's salary was NIS 77,500 in 2006, and he received a similar bonus of about NIS 620,000.

The TASE is a privately held company which is not allowed to distribute dividends and is not supposed to accumulate profits beyond a cushion to ensure operation in lean years and for special projects. All TASE revenues are derived from stock trading fees that are charged to exchange members - banks and brokerage companies - but rolled onto investors. Profits have customarily been "reimbursed" to the public through reduced fees during high earning years.

Levanon said the latest wage increases were part of a new wage agreement - the first since 1974. She said the bonuses were necessary because of certain projects that have required extensive overtime work from employees in the past year, including hundreds of new issues, and preparations for implementing reforms to the bond market. In addition, Levanon said, most TASE employees are economists and computer specialists who could command far higher wages in the high tech and capital market industries.