Market Report Gas Stocks Explode Skywards

Tel Aviv investors hared for shares linked to the apparently large field of natural gas discovered off the Haifa shore. While the benchmark index had to settle for a relatively minor gain of less than 2%, participation units of Isramco leaped 124%, Delek Drilling gained 42% and Delek Energy surged 58% - none of which are on the TA-25 index. They're smallcaps.

Another driver of gains in Tel Aviv yesterday was the advance on Wall Street during the last two trading days last week. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has sent out the message that he wants to see credit flowing again. He doesn't want the banks to sit on any money that they get from taxpayers, his senior adviser David Axelrod said, as they sat on the first $350 billion they received. The whole point is for them to start lending to businesses and families.

More narrowly, Bank of America received a $20 billion injection, showing that for all the crowing, the situation remains dire. Washington also agreed to guarantee $118 billion of BoA's assets, to help the troubled bank cope with the losses associated with the acquisition of Merrill Lynch. Here, signs are mounting that recession is roaring. The December consumer price index fell only 0.1%, much less than expected, but minus a backwind from the housing index, the general index would have fallen 0.6%. Also, the Bank Hapoalim purchasing managers' index fell below the level of the 2002 recession.

Yet in Tel Aviv yesterday, whether because of the Wall Street gains or the heady smell of gas, the mood was bright. The TA-25 index gained 1.8%, closing at 678 points, and the TA-100 index rose 3.3%. Trading turnover remained thin, however, at NIS 1.3 billion.

Isramco announced that the natural gas reserves at the Tamar-1 exploration site, 90 kilometers off the Haifa coast, are "very substantial." The partners to Tamar-1 are the U.S. company Noble Energy (36%), Isramco (28.75%), Delek Drilling (15.63%) and Avner Oil Exploration (15.63%). Dor Gas owns 4%. Yitzhak Tshuva, who owns the controlling interests in the Delek Group companies and in Avner, told Army Radio that the amount of natural gas found at the site will supply Israel's needs for decades, adding that the amount is actually one of the biggest in the world.

Another company that soared yesterday was Naphtha Israel Petroleum Corp, which doubled in value, gaining 105%. Naphtha owns stakes in Isramco as well as JOEL, another oil exploration company.

The euphoria spilled over to Delek Real Estate bonds, which climbed 17%.

Shares of Bank Leumi rose nearly 3% and Bank Hapoalim gained 2%, while Israel Chemicals advanced by more than 5%. Even so, in the last 14 days Israel Chemicals is down 14%.

Shares of Micromedic Technologies gained 3.5% on news of successful trials of its technology to diagnose cancer in the upper intestinal tract. A sample of 30 biopsies found that the test distinguished between normal cells and cancerous ones in 100% of the cases. The system also showed competence in diagnosing dysplastic cells, which have early-stage cancerous traits.