Taking Stock / Four questions
A question for Moshe Terry, chairman of the Israel Securities Authority: Why did the ISA suddenly decide this week to start an open investigation into Eli Uzan and Yitzhak Goldenberg, who own Noga Electromechanika and Noga Electronics?
1. A question for Moshe Terry, chairman of the Israel Securities Authority: Why did the ISA suddenly decide this week to start an open investigation into Eli Uzan and Yitzhak Goldenberg, who own Noga Electromechanika and Noga Electronics?
The two companies collapsed a good two and a half years ago, leaving behind a towering debt of NIS 820 million, bankrupt investors, shattered suppliers and slack-jawed banks.
You would be hard-pressed to find any banker, supplier or businessman in the know about Noga who wouldn't tell you it stank to the skies. Money seeped out of the companies in weird and wicked ways: The controlling shareholders waxed fat, while their companies crumbled.
So why is the ISA starting an open investigation now? It is not just late, it's so late that memories have become fuzzy, to the point of disappearing altogether.
If Terry feels things are better late than never, then maybe he should start an open investigation into the 10-year-old Yuval Ran scandal, which never did win attention from the watchdogs, though hundreds of millions of shekels went up in flames. We could also suggest probes into the collapse of the Bank of North America, or the "Feutchwanger Bank."
2. A question for Moshe Terry, the millionaire: Not Moshe Terry, chairman of the ISA, but Moshe Terry, the shareholder in LeadCom, which went public in London this week. The company's initial public offering lifted the value of Terry's shares to NIS 12 million, some of which was promptly cashed out.
Congratulations to Terry on the quick move, making him not only a top official in Israel, but a rich one, as well.
But while looking at London, we wonder: When you took over as chairman of the ISA, you deposited your shares in a blind trust, and you are not involved in LeadCom's management. Yet, as an observer from the wings, can you explain why so many Israeli companies are stampeding to list for trade on London's AIM exchange?
Do the kind of companies listing there, their financials, their valuations, and the relative laxity of London's proper disclosure regulations remind you of something, Terry? For instance, does it remind you of those gay days when all those miserable, rickety Israeli companies were stampeding to list on Frankfurt's Neuer Markt?
Of course, there are perfectly good companies listing on London's Alternative stock market, and maybe LeadCom is one of them. But we suspect that 90 percent of the companies floating stock there will be giving a bad name to the other 10 percent.
3. A question for Moshe Keret, chairman of the Israel Aviation Industry, and congratulations, too. On Tuesday, the papers revealed the real financial results of IAI subsidiary Bedek Aviation. The unit lost $43 million last year, it transpired. Our question is how the devil the press suddenly got word about Bedek Aviation's financial results, the causes of its massive loss, and whose fault it was - the unit's CEO.
Strange, isn't it? The IAI is hardly a bastion of disclosure; it has never told anybody what it really makes, and neither do the rest of the government companies. Yet, suddenly, the sky-high loss is leaked, complete with full details about the who, why and how, garnished with a framed mug shot of the perp.
Gracious, could the whole thing about Bedek's red ink be spin by somebody who didn't want us to notice that the parent company, namely the IAI itself, has had earnings flat as a pancake for two years now, despite avowals that it would be recovering in 2004?
4. A question for Benjamin Netanyahu, the finance minister: Did you somehow enact the reform of the capital market without us noticing? Did you sever the banks from their provident and mutual fund management companies? Did you heroically withstand the pressure from the banks and not let their collaborators in the Knesset castrate, crush and emasculate the reform?
We ask because, in your recent public appearances, you keep talking about the "reforms to come," like this latest thing about reforming the real estate sector. And we in our innocence thought the road to reforming the capital market was still very long and arduous, that the bankers have just started to apply pressure, and that you'd better concentrate on finishing your main course before you start wondering what's being served for dessert.