Netanyahu on Bitcoin: 'Nothing Can Keep Rising at This Rate'

Business in Brief: Bitcoin miner Natural Resources barred from TASE indexes ■ Apply shares jump after unveiling plan to enter blockchain industry ■ Shares end higher in strike-shortened trading session

File photo: Bitcoin medals
Karen Bleier / AFP

Bibi on bitcoin: ‘Nothing can keep rising at this rate’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed skepticism about the bitcoin phenomenon in impromptu remarks last week. Buttonholed by reporters in the Knesset cafeteria and asked about his thoughts on investing in the cryptocurrency, he said: “The reason that you don’t sell money is because of the great risk, so you use an intermediary who prevents the risk, such as theft and so forth. That’s why we have banks.” But the prime minister also expressed doubts about the long-term future of banking. “Will the banks one day disappear?  The answer is yes. Will it happen tomorrow? Will it happen because of bitcoin? That’s the question,” then adding about bitcoin itself: “Nothing can keep rising at this rate. It’s impossible.” On Sunday, however, the cryptocurrency was pushing the $20,000 mark, according to Coindesk, as CME Group, the world’s largest derivatives exchange operator, launched its own contract to bet on the bitcoin. (TheMarker)

Bitcoin miner Natural Resources barred from TASE indexes

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Thursday barred bitcoin miner Natural Resources Holdings from being included in its share indexes, even though the tiny company commands a market capitalization of 676 million shekels ($192 million). The decision came a week after Israel Securities Authority Chairman Shmuel Hauser called for such a ban. The TASE’s indexes committee justified its decision on the grounds that the cryptocurrency sector was not sufficiently regulated and that Natural Resources stock was excessively volatile after soaring 4,000% in the two months since the company announced it was becoming a bitcoin miner. “The exceptional volatility raised fears that index investors would be hurt and the need to be especially cautious in including the share in indexes,” the committee said. Keeping Natural Resources out of the indexes means that investors who weight their portfolios based on TASE indexes won’t buy Natural Resources stock, whose shares ended up 4.6% on Sunday at 48 shekels. (Guy Erez)

Apply shares jump after unveiling plan to enter blockchain industry

Apply, the digital advertising company controlled by Noam Lanir, said Sunday it was entering the blockchain industry, causing its share price to soar 252%. Apply said its board had approved the establishment of a joint venture with an unnamed partner, in which the company would hold a 70% interest, to provide marketing and branding  services for digital currency companies. Apply said the industry was so new that most players had not developed their own marketing or distribution platforms and needed help. Apply stressed that it will not mine bitcoins nor establish a trading platform for digital currencies or for blockchain. “At this time the company has no plans to change or expand its operations or enter any new sectors,” Apply said. Lanir is a tech entrepreneur most famous for turning Babylon briefly into an internet powerhouse by offering free downloadable software. Apply shares ended at 8.60 shekels ($2.45), giving it a market cap of about 37 million shekels. (Guy Erez) 

Shares end higher in strike-shortened trading session

Tel Aviv shares ended higher Sunday after a trading day that began only after the nationwide strike in support of Teva Pharmaceuticals’ workers ended in the early afternoon. In a three-hour trading session, the benchmark TA-35 index added 0.3% to end at 1,465.73 points, while the TA-125 rose 0.2% to 1,328,88, on turnover of just 369 million shekels ($105 million). Bank stocks were higher, with Hapoalim finishing up 1.15% at 22.83 and Leumi climbing 0.9% to 19.29. Insurance stocks, however, were mostly lower, with Migdal shedding 2.1% to 3.71 and Clal losing 1,.8% to 63.65. But Phoenix advanced 0.7% to 18.05. Sirius International Insurance Group said Sunday it won approval from Israel’s Antitrust Authority for its acquisition of a controlling stake in the insurer. Mazor Robotics fell 2.3% to 97.78 in relatively heavy trading. In foreign currency trading, the euro weakened 0.5% Friday to a Bank of Israel rate of 4.1549 shekels. (Guy Erez)

Elovitch in final stretch of talks with Eurocom investors

Shaul Elovitch was in the midst of intensive talks late Sunday with an unnamed group of investors on terms for putting some 540 million shekels ($154 million) into his indebted Eurocom Group. The deal would leave Elovitch with a minority stake in Eurocom, meaning the investor group would gain control of Bezeq, Israel’s biggest telecommunications company. The talks come as a deadline set by Bank Hapoalim  for Elovtich to repay 500 million shekels of debt passed on Sunday. The bank has threatened to turn to the courts, a move that could force the telecoms tycoon out of Eurocom altogether. Elovitch and the investor group are negotiating terms that assume that as much as a third of Eurocom’s 1.55 billion shekels in debt will be written off and some 150 million of Eurocom assets will be sold off to raise cash to help cover the rest of the debt. Elovitch’s debt problems since a securities investigation against him began in June. (Michael Rochvarger)