Business in Brief: TASE Employees Disrupt Opening Bell Over Labor Dispute

Allergan says it’s committed to Teva deal after Pfizer merger fizzles; Israeli banks approach ceiling for building loans; TA-25 index ends higher in generally down market.

Employees of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange at a workers' assembly on the floor of the TASE, April 6, 2016. The picture shows a few dozen people wearing identical white T-shirts printed with the TASE logo and the words "Union Member" on the back.All the subjects are standing with their backs to the camera, so no slogans on the front of their shirts can be seen
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TASE employees disrupt opening bell over labor dispute

Tel Aviv Stock Exchange workers stepped up the public profile of their labor action on Wednesday, staging a protest at an opening-bell ceremony to mark the start of trading for Pointer Telocation.

TASE employees, who have been boycotting the creation of a joint trading platform with Nasdaq, wore T-shirts with messages opposing the project that their union printed and handed out. A Nasdaq team that came to Israel returned to New York on Wednesday without completing its goals, prompting an angry letter to TASE employees from CEO Yossi Beinart.

“For several months now the union local has waged a disinformation campaign against everything connected to restructuring [the exchange], cooperating with Nasdaq and management’s efforts to improve the standing of the exchange,” Beinart wrote in the letter, adding: “Management has repeatedly and categorically reiterated that cooperating with Nasdaq will not in any way harm employees’ rights or job security.” (Shelly Appelberg)

Allergan says it’s committed to Teva deal after Pfizer merger fizzles

Allergan said on Wednesday it remained committed to selling its generic drug business to Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries after it was forced to abandon a deal to sell itself to U.S. drugmaker Pfizer.

Allergan and Pfizer walked away from their $160-billion merger on Wednesday after the U.S. Treasury unveiled rules aimed at curbing so-called inversion deals. The merger would have allowed New York-based Pfizer to cut its tax bill by an estimated $1 billion annually by domiciling in Ireland, where Allergan is formally headquartered and tax rates are lower.

Despite the setback, Allergan said it was moving ahead with plans for its $40.5-billion sale of its generic drug business to Teva and expects the transaction to close by June. The acquisition will cement Teva’s status as the world’s biggest maker of generic drugs.

Meanwhile, Pfizer said it would decide this year whether to spin off its generic drug portfolio into a separate business. Teva shares closed up 2.9% at 213.20 shekels ($56.11). (Reuters)

Banks approach ceiling for construction loans

Israeli developers are finding it harder to get loans as the country’s three biggest banks near the government-imposed ceiling on construction loans, industry sources said.

Bank of Israel rules bar lenders from allocating more than 20% of their loan portfolio to construction. At the end of 2015, Bank Hapoalim had reached the 19% mark, while Bank Leumi was at 18.9% and Israel Discount Bank at 19.5%.

Contractors have said they are being turned down for loans at Hapoalim, which is constrained by some 2 billion shekels ($530 million) in loan guarantees to the developers of a huge residential project being built on the site of Tel Aviv’s old wholesale produce market. Those guarantees will remain in force until buyers take possession of their properties next year. In the meantime, the bank is being very selective about its borrowers.

Leumi, however, should be able to step up lending to builders, after its recent purchase of 25 billion shekels of reinsurance against its residential loan guarantees. (Michael Rochvarger)

TA-25 index ends higher in generally down market

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s TA-25 index ended higher in light trading on Wednesday as a rally in Teva Pharmaceuticals shares offset declines across most of the market.

The benchmark index ended the day up 0.3% at 1,443.92 points. The TA-100 index also rose 0.3%, closing at 1,250.12 points. Just 948 million shekels ($249.5 million) in shares changed hands.

Other big blue-chip gains included Cellcom Israel, which jumped 5% to 27.62 shekels after Golan Telecom appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to clear its merger with the company. Shares of Partner Communications were up, too, ending 2% higher at 17.60. Frutarom added 3.45% to 191.80.

Losers included TowerJazz, which shed 2.1% by the end of the day, to 44.65, and Allot Communications, which lost 2.4% to 18.58. The dollar extended gains on the shekel, strengthening 0.45% to a Bank of Israel rate of 3.189. (Uri Tomer)