Business in Brief

Mortgage market stays hot in January

New mortgages reached NIS 4 billion in January, according to industry figures, around 5% higher than the monthly average in 2012. The figure comes as a surprise given the Bank of Israel’s new limitations on home loans that fully went into effect this month. The measures, intended to cool the residential property market, included a mortgage ceiling of 50% to 75% of a property’s value. Still, the central bank’s monetary committee said Monday it was too early to determine the effects of the new regulations. Compared to January 2012, when the social protests had weighed down home-buying, new mortgages shot up 30%. Industry sources said this month’s numbers may reflect a flurry of home-loan applications that were completed in December, with the funds transferred in January. Thus only February’s figures will indicate the effectiveness of the new regulations. (Sivan Izescu)

ILA revenues tumbled in 2012 as credit crunch hit builders

The Israel Lands Administration sold NIS 4.67 billion worth of land last year, a 37% drop from 2011, as the credit crunch in the construction industry deterred contractors from buying. The ILA said it had sold land zoned for 39,000 housing units, though in the end deals were done for just 15,00 to 17,000 units. It said deals often closed at far lower prices than had been expected. In some cases, unit prices dropped by as much as 40%, as in Petah Tikva’s Nehalim district, where unit prices were NIS 240,000, down from NIS 380,000 a year earlier. A further problem was the number of sales done at discounts, which lowered revenues by NIS 1.2 billion instead of the NIS 800 million the ILA had forecast for the year. (Nimrod Busso)

Pelephone, Partner agree to supply cheap earphones to settle suit

Some mobile phone users will be able to buy cheap earphones for their devices, following the settlement of a class-action suit with Pelephone and Partner Communications. The companies had been sued for alleged radiation risks; the plaintiffs claimed that providers failed to sufficiently warn them about the risk of holding their phones to their heads. The settlement with Pelephone - and a similar one with Partner - requires the company to provide earphones for all models at NIS 10 apiece for the next nine months. The offer will be included in customers’ monthly bills. The company also agreed to do free checks to ensure that the radiation levels of devices it repairs are safe. It will now issue clear warnings regarding radiation risks.

(Amitai Ziv, Shelly Appelberg)

Saban takes control of Partner

Control of Partner Communications was formally transferred on Tuesday to Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media magnate who acquired 33% of the cell phone operator’s shares. Ilan Ben Dov, who sold him the stock, will retain a 15% stake in Partner through his Scailex and Suny holding companies. The board is to undergo changes, with Shlomo Rodav, former Bezeq chairman, stepping in as CEO. Other board members will include Saban’s brother Arieh; Adam Chesnoff, who manages Saban Capital; and Eilon Shalev, who manages much of Saban’s business in Israel and overseas. Leaving the board is Shlomo Ness, who represented Ben Dov, and Avi Zeldman, former CEO of Leumi Partners. Zeldman is leaving the board after Leumi Partners reduced its holding in the cell phone company from 5% to 3%, cutting its board representation to one. (Michael Rochverger)

Haim Saban.
Alon Ron