Business in Brief

Isrotel Plans Five New Hotels in Israel by 2022

Rami Levy operating margin sags; Clal Biotech offloading CureTech unit; Talks to sell toiletries retailer Laline fail; Tech stocks lead the TASE lower

Hotels at the Tel Aviv beachfront.
Daniel Bar-On

Isrotel unveiled plans Wednesday for a major expansion of its chain in Israel, adding five new hotels by 2022 to its 24 existing properties.

The company said it planned to build three new hotels on the Tel Aviv beachfront and another on the intersection of the city’s Nahalat Binyamin and Ahad Ha’am streets.

The new Tel Aviv hotels will add 950 rooms to its total in the city, where it now has just one property. But Isrotel said the number could grow to 1,500 if it acts on its hopes to develop even more hotels.

In Jerusalem, the new hotel planned for downtown’s Zion Square will be developed from two older buildings and have about 250 rooms.

Israel is suffering a hotel shortage, with the number of rooms up just 10% since 2007 to 48,500 while the number of overnight stays rose 18%. Isrotel shares ended 0.3% lower at 40.92 shekels (11.68). (Gabriela Davidovich-Weisberg)

Rami Levy shares plunge as operating margin sinks to lowest in years

Shares of Rami Levy plummeted Wednesday after the supermarket chain reported its lowest operating margins since it went public. Operating profit – a key benchmark in the supermarket business – dropped 6% year on year in the fourth quarter to 24 million shekels ($6.85 million), or just 1.9% of revenues.

Part of that decline was due to a regulatory order to revise the company’s accounting for store renovations done between 2014 and 2016, but it also reflected the rise in the minimum wage. Net profit was up 27% at 21 million shekels, but the gain was due to an increase in the value of securities the company holds.

Revenues grew 9.1% to 1.26 billion shekels, but sales on a per-square-meter basis edged down 0.3%. Rami Levy said market studies showed there was room for 20 more of its flagship discount supermarkets as well as for 80 to 100 center-city grocers. The company’s shares ended 11.9% lower at 177 shekels. (Yoram Gabison)

Clal Biotech’s CureTech unit being sold to Insight
Clal Biotechnology said Wednesday it was joining shareholders of its 53%-owned CureTech unit to sell the company to Insight in a deal that could eventually reach $550 million.

But for now, CureTech shareholders will get $5.5 million plus a commitment by Insight to put $50 million into the company to cover the costs of developing CureTech’s lead drug, pidilizumab, a treatment for large B cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma and DIPG, a rare form of pediatric brain cancer. CureTech’s shareholders could be entitled to up to $550 million if pidilizumab or its other intellectual property meets certain milestones.

The deal marks the third time Clal Biotech has sought to divest CureTech following failed agreements with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in 2012 and Medivation in 2014. Last week Clal Biotech said it was in talks to sell its 35% stake in Mediwound. Clal Biotech shares ended 2.1% lower at 2.72 shekels (78 cents). (Yoram Gabison)

Talks to sell toiletries retailer Laline to France’s Nuxe collapse

Negotiations to sell up to a 50% stake in the toiletries and soap retailer Laline to the French company Nuxe have collapsed after the chain’s founders Revital Levi and Merav Cohen rejected Nuxe’s revised payment terms.

The abortive deal was reported Tuesday by Fox Group, which owns 50% of Laline. Under the terms of the sale announced last November, the founders would have sold a 25% stake at a company valuation of 350 million shekels ($100 million), with the buyer taking an option for the rest to be exercised anytime in the following four years.

That would have earned the two founders an initial 91 million shekels, but Levi, who co-founded the chain some 20 years ago, said she didn’t regret the decision. “We didn’t like it and on the advice of my attorney we didn’t agree to the new [payment] structure,” she told TheMarker. “We prefer to hold on to Laline. We believe in the chain and its potential.” (Eran Azran)

Tech stocks take Tel Aviv down as Nasdaq declines
Led by tech shares, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange turned sharply lower Wednesday as Wall Street’s Nasdaq Composite index was dragged down by losses in Amazon and Apple and the Bank of Israel warned of a tech slowdown. The TA-35 and TA-125 indexes both dropped about 1% to end at 1,434.43 and 1,308.31 points, respectively, on turnover of 1.47 billion shekels ($420 million). Among the biggest losers in tech, TowerJazz tumbled 4.9% to 93.50 shekels, Nice Systems 2.75% to 315 and Mazor Robotics 2.1% to 104.80. Insurance was the only sector to avoid big drops as Harel rose 2.1% to 27.33 in heavy trading. Electra ended 2.1% lower at 871.80 even though it reported a 47% rise in fourth-quarter net profit to 43 million shekels. Castro ended 1.5% higher at 91.42 even though its quarterly net profit was flat at 22 million shekels. (TheMarker)