Last week TheMarker published the actual sum Africa Israel Investments owes pension fund members, as financial institutions that manage the public's money invested in Africa Israel bonds. The figure quoted was NIS 4 billion.
According to the Finance Ministry, the public's exposure to Africa Israel bonds is just NIS 1.6 billion, as of two weeks ago. Now that figure is even lower, since the bond's prices continued to decline.
But is that right? How should the figures be viewed? That depends on whom you ask, and when - either during the global crisis or now, after six months of recovery make the crisis seem a distant nightmare.
The difference between NIS 4 billion and NIS 1.6 billion is a matter of philosophy.
When financial institutions invest in bonds, are they investing in an actual security whose value fluctuates, or are they providing a loan that should be repaid?
At the height of the crisis, when there was an outcry that institutional investors had allegedly lost billions of shekels on bond investments , the institutions countered that it is wrong to look at the market value of bonds when discussing the public's long-term savings. Since bonds are like a loan, they will eventually be repaid by the companies, "so a bond's trading price at any given moment is irrelevant," they explained.
Last week, when the Finance Ministry announced the public's exposure to Africa Israel was NIS 1.6 billion in current market value terms, TheMarker set out to determine Africa Israel's debt to pension fund members in terms of the value of its obligations.
"You don't understand," said sources from both the ministry and the institutional investment market. "Even a bank that extends a loan backed by an asset loses out if the asset's value sinks. There's nothing you can do about it."
On the eve of Africa Israel's debt restructuring process, the difference in the bonds' value takes on new significance. If it is a financial investment, the pension savers who gave NIS 4 billion to Africa Israel already have lost nearly NIS 3 billion, a very large loss on an investment in a single company. If it is a loan, the loss is only on paper, and the institutional investors have not actually lost any money, and must now make sure the public is repaid in full.
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