Nochi Dankner, Prime Minister

Were his Super-Sol decisions guided by business or politics?

Financial circles wonder. Does Nochi Dankner want to be prime minister?

It started when he refused to sell Super-Sol to Matthew Bronfman, who was offering a fat 30% premium. He would have made $425 million.The unofficial explanation was that Dankner fell in love with being connected to the public, which he achieved through the retail chain, and didn't want to give him up. But why would he want a connection with the people?

"Dankner's acting like a politician who wants the public to love him," market players whispered. They couldn't find business arguments for rejecting the deal, other than a fuzzy explanation that Dankner may think Super-Sol is worth even more, or will be.

Super-Sol is considered to be a company that doesn't meet Dankner's criteria for return on equity, which is its weak point as a portfolio company. Socially speaking, its status changed during the second Lebanon war, when Dankner gave residents of the battered North financial and moral support, and was surprised to discover how nice it is to be loved back. Having established contact with the people, he believes Super-Sol is the best way to stay in touch with the people.

Dankner's future behavior in Super-Sol will give the capital market the answer to its question: Was January 2007 the date Dankner started making decisions in IDB according to political considerations, or is he still the surprising and professional manager that justifies the great esteem in which he is held?

But Super-Sol may have another attraction for Dankner, say capital market cynics. What is it, if not a string of selling points? And that could be very appropriate to Dankner's ambitions for another of his companies, Clal Finance. He wants the investment firm to market its products to the public via the supermarkets. Company sources say that a real plan to this effect is in the works.

Now Dankner gets to have his cake and eat it too. He retains control of Super-Sol, which means he gets to stay in touch with the public, and gets to make some profit too.

In the not too distant future, we will know for sure whether his decisions regarding Super-Sol were those of a businessman, and one of the most respected in Israel at that, or those of a politician in the making.