Business in Brief

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Private equity deals declined in first quarter

The number of private equity investments sank to a three-year low in the first quarter to just six, according to a report Monday by IVC Research Center and the law firm of Gross, Kleinhendler, Hodak, Halevy, Greenberg & Co. Just $192 million was spent by private equity funds buying companies in the three months, down from $687 million in the eight transactions in the fourth quarter of 2012. Although it doubled the amount invested in the first quarter of last year, a $100 million investment in the troubled electric-vehicle refueling company Better Place accounted for just over half the Q1 2013 sum. “First-quarter results are disappointing and show reduced private equity activity,” Rick Mann, head of M&A at GKH, said. “This is consistent with a global decrease in M&A activity in the quarter, and seems to reflect a general sense of caution in the market.” ‏(Orr Hirschauge‏)

Car repair costs show no sign of stalling

The cost of car repairs climbed in April, for the fourth straight month, even as the Transportation Ministry was undertaking reforms in the market aimed at reducing prices. Repairs averaged NIS 1,033 in the month, up from NIS 1,017 in March and NIS 989 in January, Gama Management & Clearance reported on Monday, based on examining 240,000 credit card receipts. The declining trend in repair costs that began in 2008 and continued until last January reversed course despite the entry of international chains like Checkstar and Bosch Car Service that promised to lower costs. One factor that could explain the increase was the number of visits to garages in April, which were down 8% from January, although activity tends to pick up during the winter months due to weather conditions. ‏(Daniel Schmil‏)

Leumi starts small-business loan program

Bank Leumi on Monday launched a loan program directed at small- and medium-sized businesses. The program includes the newly formed NIS 3 billion Leumi Business Fund that offers loans of up to NIS 1 million to small businesses without any need for government guarantees and approval granted within 14 days. The fund will serve businesses with annual turnover of NIS 1 million to NIS 10 million having bank debt of no more than NIS 5 million, and that have been in operation for at least a year. The loans will be granted a prime 1.9% and will require security backing of just 25%. ‏(Oren Majar and Sivan Aizescu‏)

Israel Chemicals gives gov’t NIS 400m check

Israel Chemicals said yesterday that Dani Chen, CEO of its ICL Fertilizers division, handed Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Naftali Bennett a NIS 400 million check over the weekend for royalties due the government for 2012 for the rights to mine potash. The figures represents 16% of pretax profits, a rate that was doubled, starting last year, after a government decision. ICL said it paid the government NIS 1.5 billion for 2012, including royalties, direct taxes and taxes on dividends, an amount equal to 41% of total profits. The company said the rate is due to rise in coming years to 56%. Finance Minister Yair Lapid has said he wants to reconsider the royalties rate the government gets for use of natural resources. ‏(Ora Coren‏)

The Hertz rental car firm recently opened its six garages to the public. Credit: Ofer Vaknin