The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange ended down in a holiday-shortened trading session even as Cypriot banks re-opened for business with no sign of panic from depositors and European markets and the euro were higher.
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The TA-25 of blue chip stocks fell 0.5% to 1,237.67 points at the 2:30 P.M. close while the broader TA-100 dropped 0.7% to 1,100.04 on relatively high turnover of NIS 1.14 billion as the March Maof contract expired in the morning. The contract was fixed at 1,240.65 for the TA-25 and at 1,157.28 for the TA-Banking iondex.
With the TASE closed next Sunday and Monday for the end of the Passover holiday, Thursday's session was the last for March. The TA-25 gained 1.33% for the month, bringing its advance so far this year to 4.39% while the TA0-100 rose a more modest 0.86%, still leaving it slightly ahead for the year with a gain of 4.86%.
Thursday's decline was led by finance and real estate stocks. The TA-Insurance index dropped 1.6% to 1,330.27, paced by declines of 2% for Harel and 2.5% in Phoenix. Among real estate stocks, Airport City was down 2.3% and Nitzba 2.7%, leading the TA-Real Estate15 index to a 1.5% decline to 330.44.
As the TASE fell, major global markets recovered and the euro edged off a four-month low on Thursday, as banks in Cyprus reopened to relative calm following the island nation's controversial bailout. On Wall Street, stocks moved in and out of positive territory in choppy, pre-holiday trade.
In Cyprus, there was little sign of the mass panic that some had feared as the country's banks reopened after a forced closure of almost two weeks, albeit with tight capital controls to prevent depositors from cleaning out their vaults.
Benchmark stock indexes in London, Frankfurt and Paris were all higher, and the FTSEurofirst 300 rose 0.6%.The euro, which has dropped around 2.0 percent over the last couple of weeks, climbed back above $1.28 on Thursday, up from a four-month low against the U.S. dollar.
Against the shekel, however, the euro continued to lose ground after sinking to a two-year low on Wednesday. On Thursday, the European currency weakened another 0.8% to a Bank of Israel rate of NIS 4.6612, although it picked up from that low in late trading. The dollar gained 0.3% on the shekel to NIS 3.6480.
"In contrast to the relative strength of the dollar worldwide, the dollar-shekel rate continued to fall to as low as NIS 3.615, the lowest since October 2011," currency trader FXCM said Thursday in a market comment. "These are levels that have been spoken about in the past as dangerous for the economy and raise the question of whether the Bank of Israel will intervene."
It was noted that outgoing BOI Governor Stanley Fischer had said he would not hesitate in his final days in office from acting on the exchange rate, but FXCM said that without a candidate for successor, the central bank is effectively in a lame-duck period.
Teva Pharmaceuticals ended virtually unchanged, although it had the most active shares of the day with almost NIS 117 million in shares changing hands. U.S. regulators on Wednesday approved Tecfidera, a new multiple sclerosis drug made by Biogen Idec that is widely expected to become the No. 1 oral treatment for the disease. Teva's Copaxone is the current market leader, with a roughly 29% share and annual sales last year of more than $4 billion. But unlike Copaxone, which is injected, Tecfidera comes in the more convenient form of a pill.
Other big gainers included financial services company DS Apex, which led TA-100 shares higher on a 10.2% jump. Semiconductor company Mellanox rose 5.2% and Mazur Robotics gained 11.5%. Mall developer Azrieli Group fell 1.8% after its CEO, Shlomo Sherf, said he was stepping down in favor of Chief Financial Officer Yuval Bronstein.
Bonds of Israel Petrochemical Enterprises fell 6% to a yield of 48%. The company reported a NIS 166-million loss for fourth quarter 2012, turning around from a NIS 69-million profit a year earlier. In its financial report, Petrochemicals said it was weighing the sale of its holding in Oil Refineries Ltd. to raise cash.
With reporting by Reuters.