The Ticker: Arison Says Talks to Sell Half of Hapoalim Stake End Without Agreement

LivePerson shares soar on bullish outlook ■ Melisron profits fall, but CEO remains bullish on malls ■ Tel Aviv shares gain after Wall Street lift

Israeli businesswoman and Bank Hapoalim shareholder Shari Arison.
Nir Keidar

Arison says talks to sell half of Hapoalim stake end without agreement
Arison Holdings said Wednesday that talks to bring in three North American financial institutions to share its controlling interest in Bank Hapoalim ended without a binding agreement. “The talks between the parties ended without reaching a binding agreement,” Arison Holdings said in a statement without providing details. The announcement comes five months after billionaire Shari Arison signed a preliminary agreement to sell 49% of Arison Holdings, through which she holds a controlling 20% stake in Hapoalim. The Arison family has controlled Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, for two decades. Arison’s father, Ted, who made his fortune as founder of Carnival Cruise Line, was part of a consortium that bought control of the bank from the government. Shari Arison sought to sell all or part of her Hapoalim stake because regulatory restraints prevented the bank from generating the returns she had come to expect. Hapoalim shares ended down 1.5% at 24.02 shekels ($6.89). (Michael Rochvarger)

LivePerson shares soar on bullish outlook 
LivePerson shares shot up Wednesday after the company forecast double-digit revenue growth this year after a long dry period. The company’s fourth-quarter results were dull: Adjusted net income was $200,000, or nil on a per share basis, down from $1.5 million, or 3 cents, a year earlier while revenues edged up just 2% to $57.4 million.  However, it was only the second time since late 2015 that LivePerson had boosted its top line. Moreover, LivePerson said it signed 101 deals in the quarter, including one for $20 million that was its largest ever. Most important, the company said it expected revenues of $56.75 million to $57.75 million in the current quarter, an 11% to 13% rise from a year earlier. For all of 2018, LivePerson said it expected revenues of $237 million to $243 million, which could add up to 11% growth. LivePerson shares ended 15.5% higher at 50.93 shekels ($14.60). (Yoram Gabison)

Melisron profits fall, but CEO remains bullish on malls
Melisron, one of Israel’s biggest mall owners, reported Wednesday a double-digit drop in 2017 profit. CEO Avi Levy blamed a warm winter, not competition from e-commerce, for the problem. Net profit dropped 16% to 776 million shekels ($222.4 million) due to higher financial costs. Revenue climbed 14% to 1.55 billion shekels. Levy said the decline in retail sales was temporary. “The chains built huge inventories of winter clothing, but no one bought it even at end-of-the-year sales. Why would you buy a coat if there isn’t a real winter?” he told TheMarker, adding that he doubted Israeli malls would suffer the way their American peers had from online competition. “In the U.S. you have to travel half an hour to go shopping, so it’s a real decision to go shopping or buy online. In Israel, the travel time is five minutes,” Levy said. Melisron shares ended up 5.1% at 156.10 shekels. (Assa Sasson)

Tel Aviv shares gain after Wall Street lift
Tel Aviv shares stemmed their losses after getting a lift from a higher Wall Street opening Wednesday. The TA-35 and TA-125 indexes finished ahead about 0.2% at 1,502.05 and 1,366.77 points, respectively, on turnover of 1.31 billion shekels ($380 million). Still, most sectors were down, with the notable exception of tech stocks. TowerJazz rose 1% to close at 118.20 shekels. Other big gainers were shopping mall operators, after Melisron turned in strong results. Azrieli Group climbed 3.1% to 173.50 and Big added 4.5% to 231.80.Israel Chemicals advanced 3% to 15.26 and parent Israel Corporation rose 3.7% to 667, but Teva Pharmaceuticals dropped 2.3% to 69.59. Bezeq rose 1.7% to 5.33. Jailed controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch sold 18.5 million of his shares. Housing & Construction Limited ended unchanged at 7.91. The builder said a subsidiary agreed to deposit 250 million shekels in a forfeiture fund in connection with a police probe into alleged bribery in Africa. (Guy Erez)