Business in Brief

Trade deficit narrows in first four months

Israel's trade deficit appears to be narrowing again, after rising sharply in 2012, according to figures released yesterday by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Data shows the merchandise trade deficit narrowed to an annualized NIS 42.3 billion in the first four months of the year, down from NIS 70.4 billion in 2012 and NIS 52.2 billion in 2011. Merchandise exports rose at an 8.1% annualized basis in February-April, turning around from a 5.1% annualized decline in the November-January period. Merchandise imports, not counting ships, aircraft and diamonds, continued to show a decline of 4% on an annualized basis, slowing from a double-digit decline in the previous three months, the CBS said. High-tech exports were up 17.7% on an annualized basis, with exports of electronic components jumping 41.2%. That also marked a sharp turnaround after a decline in the previous three months, the CBS said. (Moti Bassok )

Cell phone reform yielded NIS 5.7b in savings

The Communications Ministry gave itself a pat on the back in a report yesterday celebrating one year since the opening of the cell phone market to tougher competition. The ministry said lower rates saved businesses and consumers some NIS 5.7 billion. Savings for households using three devices reportedly totaled NIS 1,900 a year, and the cost of the phones themselves fell by as much as 60%. An estimated 1.5 million people switched operators last year, with an average of nearly 500,000 switching every quarter, compared with 200,000 before the change. "We are working hard to promote competition ... with emphasis on the television market and high-speed Internet infrastructures," said Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. (Amitai Ziv )

Maariv may not be distributed today

As of last night it wasn't clear the Maariv daily newspaper would reach subscribers this morning, after its distribution company Gal Maaton lost its contract, putting some 450 of Gal's employees at risk of termination. Management also decided that the remaining seven of Maariv's 12 local weeklies won't appear this week, amid reports that publisher Shlomo Ben-Zvi intends to shutter them permanently. Maariv said it has lost NIS 10.7 million working with Gal Maaton, a subsidiary in bankruptcy and operated by a trustee. Bar Distribution, the distributor of Yedioth Ahronoth and Globes, had been tapped as the replacement, but as of yesterday approval hadn't been received from the antitrust commissioner. (Nati Tucker )