Israeli business tycoon Eliezer Fishman has misjudged the forex market again. Two and a half years after losing close to $400 million in a failed gamble on the Turkish lira, Fishman has missed on another foreign currency investment, much of which was in Turkish lira.
Fishman entered several transactions short-selling the yen, which recently rose to a five-year high. So he lost that bet. Meanwhile the Turkish lira shrank by 30% in October. Thus he lost in both cases, although industry sources estimate his losses at less than last time, but still a few hundred million shekels.
Unlike in 2006, Fishman did not invest via the big banks - Hapoalim and Leumi. He entrusted his money to smaller banks. Furthermore, the deals were not carried out via his publicly traded companies. In 2006 Fishman's foreign currency losses forced him to sell off some of his holdings, such as in the Ten fuel company and Visa C.A.L credit card company, to meet his liabilities.
"Do you write about me when I make a profit, too?" asked Fishman in response to TheMarker's interest in his forex dealings. "Two months ago I earned NIS 350 million. Perhaps just now I lost another NIS 200 million, but all in all I have maintained a balance over the past several months. I lost a few hundred million, but I have some to spare. Bank Igud did not close its position; I closed it on my own when the Turkish currency hit 1.4 liras to the dollar (in October the exchange rate fell from 1.27 liras to the dollar to 1.7 liras - S.S.). I don't have such losses at Bank Igud. I hardly work with Israeli banks, but rather with foreign banks. There are no liens against my assets at the banks. I have a surplus of securities."
At the end of last week, the team that manages Fishman's private dealings convened an emergency meeting to discuss alternative modes of action in light of the losses. Apart from the foreign currency losses, Fishman has also been affected by the global crisis, as the companies he controls operate in its big "epicenters." Fishman has real estate dealings in Russia and India. The market value of the Jerusalem Economic Company, which he controls, has declined by 75% since the beginning of 2008, to just NIS 1 billion - a quarter of its equity.
This is the second worst drop among the shares in the Real Estate-15 index (Africa Israel's is the worst). Fishman's subsidiary MirLand Development Corporation, which handles his operations in Russia, issued stock on the London exchange at the height of the boom in late 2006 (shortly after Fishman's Turkish lira fiasco), at a market cap of about $1 billion. Today MirLand is trading at a market cap of just $140 million, on the background of the crash in Russia following the continuing declines in the price of oil and the flight of foreign investors since the outbreak of tensions between Russia and Georgia.
Today Russian banks are facing serious liquidity problems and fear the survival of the local economy, casting doubts on the completion of MirLand's projects on schedule. The Fishman family recently purchased tens of millions of dollars worth of MirLand shares, both privately and via the family's publicly traded companies.
In India, Fishman's operations are handled by Mondon, a firm owned by his publicly traded companies. He embarked on projects estimated at billions of dollars at the height of India's real estate expansion in late 2007. Now India is also experiencing a slowdown.
Fishman is one of the largest borrowers in Israel. His publicly traded companies have obligations totaling NIS 21 billion, and the yields on his corporate bonds recently hit junk levels. Bonds in the Jerusalem Economic Company are currently trading at yields of 19%-23%, while those of Industrial Buildings, Darban Investments and MirLand are in slightly better shape, at yields of 9%-13%.
Today Fishman is in Russia for the laying of the cornerstone at his project in St. Petersburg, which will include residential, commercial and logistical space.
"We have enough money to complete all the projects we have begun," says Fishman. "Russia is relatively attractive compared to other places around the world, because yields are higher. In Moscow, there is not a [square] meter of vacant space. People are lining up to obtain office and commercial space. As for the apartments, we're not sure yet."
As for the plunge in the value of his shares, Fishman says he bears no responsible for that. "You'll have to ask the people who are selling why they are selling," he says.