Business in Brief

After 10 days on strike, Pelephone employees expanded their sanctions yesterday and started disrupting work at the company's Petah Tikva service center. Workers at the engineering division, logistics center and corporate headquarters are on strike, and the Petah Tikva service center joins ones in Hadera and Umm Al-Fahm in stopping work. Operations at two of the company's call centers in Jerusalem and Be'er Sheva are also affected. A meeting scheduled for yesterday between Ofer Eini, the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch was canceled by Elovitch after news of the meeting leaked out. The two were hoping to find a solution to the strike, as no talks are under way between the union and management. (Amitai Ziv and Haim Bior )

Kahlon: Banks are the next target for reform

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, most famous for savaging Israel's mobile operators and slashing the cost of cellular communications for ordinary folk, on Wednesday sank his famed fangs into the banks. "Reform at the banks is the next priority following the reforms of cellular and television," Kahlon said at the Sderot Conference for Society on Wednesday. Members of the general public don't have the clout to make changes and demand cheaper prices, he said. While denying having an "anti-business" bent, it's the little man who funds the big business tycoons, Kahlon explained: "Banks earn a billion shekels per quarter. That money comes from interest the public is paying. And if the banks earn NIS 100 million a year, isn't that enough? That money comes from you and your parents, and not honestly." For the third quarter of 2012 Hapoalim, the biggest by market cap, reported netting NIS 625 million, while No. 2 by market cap, Leumi, reported netting NIS 479 million and Discount Bank, the third by market value, posted net profit of NIS 221 million. (TheMarker )

The United Nations appealed for $1.5 billion to provide life-saving aid to Syrians suffering from a "dramatically deteriorating" humanitarian situation. The twin appeals, $519.6 million for aid within Syria and $1 billion to meet the needs of up to 1 million Syrian refugees in five countries, comprise the "largest short-term humanitarian appeal ever," the world body said in its statement on Wednesday. "The magnitude of this humanitarian crisis is indisputable," said Radhouane Nouicer, UN regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, who launched the appeals in Geneva. Inside Syria, UN aid agencies aim to help 4 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, including an estimated 2 million displaced from their homes by the fighting between President Bashar Assad's forces and rebels trying to topple him. More than 525,000 Syrian refugees have already been registered and the latest estimate is that up to 1 million refugees in five countries, including Egypt for the first time, will need help in the first half of 2013, the UN refugee agency said. "Unless these funds come quickly we will not be able to fully respond to the lifesaving needs of civilians who flee Syria every hour of the day - many in a truly desperate condition," UNHCR regional envoy Panos Moumtzis said. (Reuters )

HSBC less optimistic than Steinitz, but raises economic growth forecast

HSBC has raised its economic growth forecast for Israel in 2013, though it is less optimistic than Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz is. HSBC predicts a 2.8% growth in GDP next year, rising to 3.4% in 2014 - compared to the updated treasury forecasts of 3.5% growth in 2013. The bank said the Israeli economy has been relatively stable despite the global slowdown, but an improved world economy will push up growth in 2014. In other preditions by bank analysts, Bank Leumi expects inflation next year to be 2%, right in the middle of the government's target of 1% to 3%. Leumi expects two countervailing forces to affect next year's inflation: Slower increases in housing prices and reduced demand, offset by higher taxes and government controlled goods such as electricity and water. (Yoram Gabison and Eran Azran )