Markets in Brief

Union sues FIBI over marketing drives outside branches

The workers union at the First International Bank of Israel (locally known as Beinleumi) is suing management over an alleged breach of a collective employment agreement. The union is asking the Tel Aviv Labor Court to issue a permanent injunction to make management stop forcing workers to participate in marketing drives outside bank branches unless the union agrees. Doing that is a violation of the agreement, the union claims. The labor representatives also demand that the bank cover parking-lot costs for workers at the bank building on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard. The bank should cover costs beyond NIS 200 a month, the union insists. The union claims management interprets the agreement in the most tight-fisted way possible. (Haim Bior)

Ofers may divide bank holdings among family, says Excellence

The Ofer family's controlling interest in Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot would be affected if the economic concentration committee requires the family to choose between its financial and nonfinancial holdings, said Excellence Nessuah analyst Micha Goldberg. But, according to Goldberg, the Ofers aren't likely to just put the bank's shares on the market - he thinks the family will divide its assets among its members. At present Eyal Ofer owns 12% of the bank's stock, Leora Ofer owns 10%, and Doron Ofer owns 3% (though he's suing to gain Leora's stock, which she inherited from her father, Sammy Ofer, some months ago). Alternatively, to avoid restructuring holdings in the bank, the family could reduce leverage at the real estate company they own, Melisron. That way they could ensure they are not one of the big business groups that the committee requires to divest, Goldberg explained. Melisron presently owes the local market NIS 10 billion, while the threshold set by the economic concentration committee is NIS 7.5 billion. In any case the committee gave conglomerates four years to restructure, so the Ofers have plenty of time, observed the analyst. (Eran Azran)

Merrill Lynch likes Ormat Technologies

Bank of America Merrill Lynch was pleased with the results Ormat Technologies reported for the fourth quarter of 2011, mainly from the impressive $46 million in product sales that the company reported. The company's guidance for 2012 is much higher than Merrill Lynch had predicted. Based on management's confidence and the strong figures for the last quarter of 2011, the bank's analysts raised their product sales forecast for 2012 from $131 million to $152 million. However, they predict a 5% fall in EBITDA year over year because of low prices for electricity in three Californian plants - Mammoth, Ormesa and Heber. For 2012 Merrill Lynch foresees total revenues of $478.3 million (compared with its previous forecast of $448.8 million). But the bank lowered its revenue forecast for 2013 to $551.6 million, from $559.4 million. (TheMarker)

Babylon reports brisk overall growth, but flagging software sales

Online translation company Babylon yesterday reported an 89% increase in revenues to NIS 223 million for 2011. Profit also grew briskly, rising 60% to NIS 28 million. The company's stock - the best performer on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in 2011, with a 105% increase - gained 8.2% yesterday on huge turnoevr of NIS 21 million. Last year was a turning point for Babylon, said its CEO, Alon Carmeli. Growth accelerated significantly and it invested heavily in bringing in new users to support future growth, he said. The company, which provides software for translation into 75 languages, said advertising income grew 172% in 2011 to NIS 171 million, or 76% of its income. But income from software sales came to NIS 53 million - down 6% from 2010. Fourth-quarter net profit tripled against the corresponding quarter of 2010 to NIS 17 million. (Oren Freund)

Elad Europe CEO to get NIS 12,000 a month for part-time position

Real estate company Elad Europe will be paying its chief executive Benjamin Broder NIS 144,000 a year, or NIS 12,000 a month, for a 20% position - in other words, a fifth of a full-time job. The board of directors and audit committee approved the salary. Broder has been the company's CEO since last August but the terms of his employment had remained pending. He also gets reimbursement of costs incurred in Israel and abroad. The company is controlled by Elad Tshuva, son of energy and real estate magnate Yitzhak Tshuva. Broder also sits on the company's board of directors but doesn't get paid for that. (Shelly Appelberg)

Hagags personally guaranteeing debt

The Hagag brothers Yitzhak and Ido have signed personal guarantees and given a lien on 85% of the share capital in the Regency Hotel, Jerusalem, to back a NIS 15 million line of credit. The credit line is for one year and was extended to their listed company Hagag Group. Of that, the company will be using NIS 12 million for various business ventures and may use NIS 3 million to buy back series B3 Hagag bonds. The company qualified however that it may decide not to use the money for that purpose. In other Hagag news, the company has sold six more stories in the northernmost office building of the luxurious Haarba'a Towers project in Tel Aviv for NIS 97 million. So far it's sold 14 stories out of 34 for an average price, the company says, of NIS 13,000 per square meter. (Shelly Appelberg and Nathan Sheva)