Harel Insurance Investments is considering bidding for control of Israel Discount Bank if the government decides to sell its stake.
The group, controlled by the Hamburger family, is also preparing to raise NIS 400 million through an issue of nonnegotiable bonds. It recently asked the Israeli rating agency Ma'alot to rate the bonds, and the firm is expected to issue the same AA- rating it has given Harel bonds in the past.
Yair Hamburger, Harel's chairman of the board, declined yesterday to comment on the possibility that Harel would seek to acquire Discount. He said the bond issue is meant to finance additional investments in the insurance and financial fields, and attributed the timing to the company's desire to take advantage of current market conditions.
Harel, one of Israel's four major insurance conglomerates, specializes in health insurance. However, it is active in many fields besides insurance, including communications (via its stake in Telad, a Channel 2 television franchisee), medical institutes, the capital markets and real estate. Harel has maintained a high level of profitability over the years, and was recently named one of Israel's 10 most successful public companies by the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
Three years ago, the Hamburger family sold 20 percent of Harel to Discount for $74 million; it later bought 5 percent of the Visa-ICC credit card company from Discount.
Several investors have become interested in Discount recently, having concluded that it could be purchased at an attractive price. This conclusion is based both on Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's avowed determination to privatize the bank at any price and on the relatively low price for which Zadik Bino recently bought First International Bank from the Safras.
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