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The managing director of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, Sam Bronfeld, welcomes any move to privatize Bank Leumi by selling the state's holdings on the bourse.

Bronfeld was responding to a decision Sunday by Finance Minister Silvan Shalom to sell the 42 percent of Leumi shares held by the state on the exchange, given the difficulty in finding a suitable strategic investor through a private placement. According to the TASE director, although many publicly traded companies cannot issue shares as there is a dearth of buyers, he was sure that for a commodity such as Leumi shares, there would surely be demand.

Bronfeld added the government could combine two strategies for privatization. The state could sell a bundle of Leumi shares on the TASE and at a later time when it may be easier to find a buyer, and when prices have risen, the state could find a strategic investor for the remaining 30 percent of the bank that it had not sold.

Bronfeld was very encouraging for any state-owned company to privatize through launching shares on the exchange, though times are not currently ideal. "Whoever didn't privatize El Al before September 11, would be advised to wait a bit longer," he said.

Market analysts believe Leumi shares have been trading at a high price in recent months, because of the government's maneuvering over the bank's privatization. In particular, two groups are thought to have been gearing themselves up for a match over control of the bank.

Two large groups - one headed by Shlomo Elyahu and the other the Migdal insurance group, together with the small contender of Bank Otsar Hityashvut Hayehudim have "gathered up" over one billion shekels worth of Leumi shares.