Business in Brief

Cement monopoly solutions delayed to let Blavatnik weigh in

The committee examining ways to increase competition in the Israeli cement industry is expected to present its recommendations in November, said sources involved in the committee's work. The committee, headed by the Finance Ministry's budgets director, Gal Hershkovitz, has decided to delay its final findings by a few weeks in order to provide billionaire businessman Len Blavatnik the opportunity to present his position to the committee. Blavatnik is the new controlling owner of Clal Industries, which controls the Nesher cement monopoly. Clal was given an extension until the end of October to present its views, said the sources. Blavatnik bought Clal Industries from Nochi Dankner's troubled IDB group. The committee started work 10 months ago and has appeared careful to hear all sides in the matter. Nesher controls 85% to 90% of the Israeli cement market. The cement committee was established in the wake of the Trajtenberg committee recommendations, which was the government's response to the cost-of-living protests during the summer of 2011. (Ora Coren )

Celeno raises $24 million

Israeli start-up Celeno Communications, which develops chips for multimedia applications on home Wi-Fi networks, announced last week it has raised $24 million in its fifth round of financing. The company has raised a total of more than $68 million so far. Existing investors Greylock Partners, Liberty Global, Cisco Systems and Pitango Venture Capital contributed financing, and Alan Feld's fund, Vintage Ventures, joined as a new investor. This round of funding will go toward the continued expansion of Celeno's 802.11ac development program, its new standard for home Wi-Fi networks. It will be used to expand the company's sales, marketing and worldwide development teams. Celeno's customers include China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Liberty Global, UPC and Bouygues Telecom. (Maya Epstein )

Foreign currency reserves rose $610m in September to $76.2b

Israel's foreign currency reserves rose $76.2 billion at the end of September 2012, an increase of $610 million since the end of August, the Bank of Israel reported at the end of last week. There were two main causes affecting the levels of Israel's forex reserves last month: A revaluation of the reserves based on currency fluctuations increased the reserves by $940 million; this was offset by government transfers abroad of $338 million. In addition, there was an increase of $8 million derived from private sector transactions. The increase in September came after four straight months of dropping reserves. In March, reserves hit $77 billion, while September's figures were similar to the levels in September 2011, $76.3 billion. (Moti Bassok )

Strauss to pay NIS 140m dividend

Food company Strauss Group is set to distribute a NIS 140 million dividend. The payout will be NIS 1.32 per share and reflects a 3% yield on the share price. The payment is to be made on November 28 and the ex-dividend date is November 14. After the distribution, Strauss will have NIS 1.2 billion in retained profits that are still eligible for distribution as further dividends. Strauss paid NIS 200 million in dividends in 2011. The company had net profits of NIS 98 million on NIS 4 billion in revenues in the first half of 2012, compared to a NIS 38 million profit on NIS 3.6 billion in revenues for the same period of 2011. Strauss' biggest growth this year, in both profits and revenues, came from its coffee subsidiary. (Yoram Gabison )

U.S. Quakers divest investments over Israel ties

A firm that manages assets for U.S. Quakers has sold its holdings in three companies after investors raised concerns about their dealings with Israel. Friends Fiduciary Corp., a Philadelphia nonprofit, sold its shares in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Veolia Environment after a review was requested by the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting. The Michigan Quaker group wanted to avoid investments in companies that provided products to the Israeli military. Jeffery Perkins, the Friends Fiduciary executive director, said the nonprofit does not comment on its investment decisions. However, he confirmed the contents of a letter he wrote to Ann Arbor Friends last month stating the fund could not determine whether the products Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard sold to Israel would be considered "weapons components." "In the absence of that information, we chose to sell our holdings based on the peace testimony," Perkins wrote, citing the core Quaker teaching against the use of weapons. Perkins did not release a dollar value for its investments in the three companies. Friends Fiduciary says it manages about $200 million for nearly 300 Quaker groups. (AP )

Israelis chose Greece for holiday

The great wave of Israelis returning home from their holiday vacations started yesterday and will reach its peak today after the end of Simhat Torah, the day before schools reopen. Around 47,200 passengers on 307 flights are expected today at Ben-Gurion International Airport, says the Israel Airports Authority. Some 33,000 people passed through the airport yesterday, a number that included plenty of tourists returning home. A record was set on Thursday with 57,500 passengers passing through Ben-Gurion. The number-one vacation destination for Israelis this holiday season was Greece, followed by Germany, the United States, Italy and Russia. (Zohar Blumenkrantz )