In Milestone, Israel Issues Its First-ever 50-year Bonds

Private placement of 500 million euro was bought up by a single European pension fund, Finance Ministry says

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Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a government meeting, Jerusalem, June 24, 2019.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a government meeting, Jerusalem, June 24, 2019.Credit: Menahem Kahana/Pool via Reuters

In a move that reflects the world financial markets’ growing confidence in the Israeli economy, Israel sold bonds with terms of 50 years for the first time, the Finance Ministry said on Thursday.

The 500 million euros ($568 million) of debt was sold in a private placement to a single institutional investor in Europe and will pay a fixed 2% interest rate, reflecting a lower cost than previous offerings that were for periods of up to 30 years, the ministry said.

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The treasury didn’t identify the investor by name but said it was one of the largest pension funds in Europe and that it had never invested in Israeli bonds before. The bonds’ 50-year term was the fund’s condition for agreeing to buy the issue, the treasury said.

The underwriters were Barclays and Deutsche Bank.

“This issuance is an expression of confidence in Israel’s economy and market, but more than that, it expresses the belief in the world that the state of Israel is here to stay,” Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said in a statement.

In fact, the sale comes as the government is contending with a ballooning budget deficit. This week the cabinet approved 1.2 billion shekels in budget cuts, but they will only stem a rise in the widening deficit rather than reverse it.

More serious measures, which could include deep spending cuts and tax rises, will only be undertaken when a new government is formed after the September election. Meanwhile, international credit rating agencies have said they are keeping Israel’s rating unchanged.

Israel has been seeing increased demand from institutional investors for its bonds and a growing willingness on their part to accept longer-term debt. Until last year, the longest bond the treasury issued was for 20 years, but in January it completed a record public offering of 2.5 billion euros in 30-year bonds. The interest on those bonds was 2.5%.

The trend of longer-term bonds means that the average time to maturity for all of its 700 billion shekels of debt – about a seventh of that foreign debt – has grown from six years to eight years since 2015, the treasury said.

The bonds sold on Thursday are being used to recycle existing debt that had carried a higher rate of interest. Israel has been taking advantage of low global interest rates to swap higher-cost debt for lower-cost debt, a process the Finance Ministry said had saved it 1.8 billion shekels in interest costs last year.