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Despite the economy's continued recession, the 25 largest companies traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE), listed collectively on the TA-25 (Maof) index, posted net profits last year that were NIS 1.2 billion greater than in the previous year. This, however, is the broad "blind" view of the top 25: a closer look reveals much more.

Among the most striking points of last year's financials are: worsening performances by the financial sector; poorer results for the big retail chains; and improved returns for holding companies following very large write-offs in 2001 and for leading exporters Teva Pharmaceuticals, Agis, Elco, Makhteshim Agan and Israel Chemicals.

Teva, the generic drugs giant dual-listed on both the TASE and the Nasdaq, registered a record profit of NIS 1.95 billion, while Bezeq, the state-controled domestic phone monopoly, posted record losses of NIS 930 million.

The better results among Maof companies mostly came as a result of the reduction in the holding companies' phenomenal losses in 2001. Discount Investments, for example, announced Monday that it had slashed losses from more than NIS 1 billion in 2001 to a manageable NIS 24 million last year. Others in the IDB group - Clal Industries, IDB Development and IDB Holdings - boasted similar achievements.

A noticeable phenomenon among the results is that the banks, insurance companies and large retailers, which had borne the first year of the intifada with fortitude now had taken a turn for the worse.

The five major banks, for example, reported profits of NIS 2.05 billion in 2001, but last year, their collective bottom-line plummeted to NIS 955 million. Most of this was attributed to results of the two major banks - Bank Hapoalim's profits shrank by NIS 605 million and Bank Leumi saw profits drop by NIS 500 million. On the plus side, Israel Discount Bank notched the greatest improvement by reducing losses by NIS 239 million, or 89 percent.

Insurance companies also took it on the chin in 2002. Clal Insurance posted profits of only NIS 130 million last year, barely half of its previous year's net. Migdal fared even worse, with profits plummeting from NIS 448 million to a paltry NIS 101 million.