Market Report / Stocks Dip as Euro Bloc Fails to Pass Greek Lending Package

Tel Aviv stocks closed slightly lower yesterday on average turnover as investors' fears around the world centered on Europe as help for Greece tarried. Every Israeli index finished under the flatline, if not by much, other than Oil & Gas Exploration. That index ended 0.2% higher thanks to mild gains by every company and partnership other than Gulliver, Isramco and Naphtha.

Total turnover in Tel Aviv was about average at NIS 1.9 billion. The TA-25 index lost 0.1% to 1,205 points. The TA-100 index fell 0.4% to 1,091 points. Communication and technology companies were hit a bit harder but biomed shares were spared, also ending 0.1% lower.

In world markets, oil pulled back and the dollar climbed as investors shied away from risk following reports that the euro-zone finance ministers failed to agree on another rescue package for Greece, and rating agency Moody's said it might downgrade Italy's credit rating.

After two days of crisis meetings, the euro-bloc finance ministers gave Greece two weeks to pass stricter austerity measures in return for another 12 billion euros in emergency loans. It's anybody's guess whether Athens can meet that deadline.

In other words, Greece has until July 3 to approve a new package of spending cuts, tax hikes and privatization measures, yet the ones already instituted have caused widespread protests. Greece risks defaulting on its debts if the next tranche, the fifth installment of 110 billion euros ($155 billion ) of loans agreed with Athens in May 2010, is not released in time.

The potential for Greek tragedy translates into heightened uncertainty for investors the world wide. European markets behaved like Tel Aviv's, starting the day low and gradually clawing their way back toward the flatline, though not quite passing it. All the European benchmarks ended the day in the red; the biggest movers on the downside were Helsinki, Madrid and Stockholm, while the markets in Britain, Germany and France finished down about half a percent.

Asian markets also traded downward, with Indian shares dropping 2.4%. Japanese stocks beat the trend with a slight gain.

Bank stocks in Europe are in the doghouse over potential exposure to Greece. Back in the land of expensive milk and honey, the Finance-15 index lost 1.1%. But the liveliest stock on the floor was Leumi, the biggest bank by market capitalization, which actually gained 0.9% on turnover of NIS 124 million. Hapoalim, the second biggest bank, also bucked the trend with a 0.8% rise on turnover of NIS 108 million. That's it: The rest traded in the red, with Clal Insurance losing 3.7% and fellow insurer Migdal off 3.3%.

Maybe investors in the banks were persuaded by Meir Mazuz, manager of the Excellence Nessuah mutual fund management company. Speaking yesterday at TheMarker-Brightman Almagot Deloitte capital markets conference, Mazuz said the uptrend of Israeli interest rates would do well by bank profits.

Mazuz also recommended commodities, including fertilizer suppliers such as Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. Israel Chemicals also sells fertilizer, but Mazuz didn't mention it. ICL shares gained 1.2% yesterday on turnover of NIS 107 million, and shares of its parent company Israel Corporation lost 1.8% on turnover of NIS 34 million. For more information on the behavior of ICL stock, see the briefs on page 8.

TowerJazz said it got a deal making chips for Chinese company SWID. Its stock gained 0.6%.