Banks Pace TASE Decline

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange broke a string of bank-buoyed gains to end lower yesterday, with the banks pacing the market's direction.

After closing at a 15-month high on Wednesday - a 20% increase over the last four months - the TA-25 index edged down 0.3% to finish at 1,226.23 points in holiday-shortened trading. The broader TA-100 ended 0.1% lower at 1,097.15.

The TA-Banking index lost 2.2% to 1,029.00 and the Real Estate-15 index declined 0.8% to 277.02. But technology shares were higher, with the BlueTech50 index gaining 1.1% to 363.04.

The Biomed index climbed 1.4% to 767.22, while the TA-Communications index eased 0.1% to 481.27.

Even with the trading day ending at 2:30 P.M. on the TASE because of the Sukkot holiday, turnover was a fairly heavy NIS 889.6 million.

In foreign currency trading, the dollar extended its losses against the shekel. The greenback was fixed at a Bank of Israel rate of 3.8870, losing 0.13% of its value against the shekel. The euro, which briefly fell below NIS 5, clawed back to NIS 5.019, appreciating 0.2%.

The euro notched a two-week high of $1.3012 against the dollar yesterday while global shares edged higher after the head of the European Central Bank reiterated a commitment to preserve the euro. U.S. data showing the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose less than expected last week, adding to the positive tone.

Bank shares were nearly all lower, with Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank ending down 3.7%, Israel Discount Bank off 3.3% and Bank Hapoalim down 3.0%. Bank Leumi, which has rallied 35% in the past two weeks, eased 0.8%.

Teva Pharmaceuticals ended 1.6% lower after it said it had stopped shipping its generic version of a popular antidepressant at the behest of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA said an analysis showed that the Budeprion XL 300 pill does not work properly.

Biotechnology shares were lifted by Pluristem, Can-Fite and Ilex Medical. Pluristem jumped 5.9% after it said it had developed a portable instrument for thawing its placenta-based stems cell (PLX cells ) on-site before they are administered to patients.

Can-Fite jumped 8.8% after it started trading over the counter for the first time on Wall Street as an American depository receipt.

Ilex surged 12.5% on news that it had signed an agreement with a Novartis unit to distribute blood-test kits in 16 additional sub-Saharan countries. Ilex estimated the market potential in the countries at $50 million a year.

Strauss Group, which fell 0.6%, said it would pay NIS 140 million in dividends, or NIS 1.32 a share.

BATM, the high-technology company best known for the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu served as an adviser there in the late 1990s, tumbled 8.6%. The TASE informed it that it would not be fast-tracked in the exchange's indexes. BATM began trading in Tel Aviv in mid-September, but it has failed to attract much interest, with turnover reaching no more than NIS 260,000 a day.

Israel Petrochemical Enterprises bonds plummeted 7% yesterday, causing its yields to spike to 50%. The credit-rating agency Midroog lowered Petrochemicals' Series Aleph through Vav bonds to BA1 from BAA2 with a Negative outlook.

With reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press