Roundup / IDB Holding Bonds Downgraded

Minister letting in more Thai workers for agriculture; Partner put on negative credit watch; Unilever triggers furor with price-hike announcement.

IDB Holding Corp. downgraded: IDB Holding Corporation received another blow Tuesday when the credit rating agency S&P Maalot downgraded its B2 bonds by three notches to D, terming the company in a state of "selective default." The bonds in question are non-traded ones on which holders are owed NIS 35 million. That's peanuts for a company of IDB's size, but the company was constrained from repaying this week for fear of giving the B2 holders preferential treatment. Other IDB bonds - Series B1, B3, B4 and B5 were cut to CC. People at IDB executives dismissed the B2 downgrade as "technical" and noted that the money had been put in trust.

Is Partner facing a downgrade? Bad news for the mobile operator: S&P Maalot has placed Partner Communications on negative credit watch, which means a downgrade from its blue-chip AA rating is more likely than not. Three weeks ago, the Hong Kong company Hutchison Whampoa pulled out of a deal to buy Partner's parent company Scailex. Maalot now frets that Scailex's travails may affect Partner more substantially than previously thought. Why? Scailex needs dividends, the analysts explain, which could impair Partner's liquidity. Then there are also the "challenging conditions" in Israel's cellular sphere – read: rising competition and aggressive regulation.

Ministers letting in Thai agro workers: Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Tuesday agreed to let in 2,350 workers from Thailand, of whom 350 have in fact already arrived. Farming representatives argued that under the law, up to 26,000 foreign workers may be employed but ministerial obstructiveness meant the quota was never filled. The Agriculture Ministry commented that the agreement struck with Bangkok means the workers can't be exploited by traffickers.

FCR raises $240 million: First Capital Realty, the North American subsidiary of the Israeli group Gazit Globe, is borrowing a billion shekels (about 240 million Canadian dollars) from Canadian institutional investors. Gazit Globe itself won't be investing and its stake in FCR will be reduced to about 46.8% (40.6% at full dilution). Gazit sources say the proceeds will be used to pay down debt and for routine operations. FCR's debt totals C$3.2 billion. Another reason for the offering is to increase the public float of FCR shares, Gazit sources explain: the stock has been suffering from tight liquidity.

Protest surges as Unilever announces prices hike: The "Dear Israel" protest movement is demanding that Super-Sol, the biggest retail chain in Israel, yank Unilever products from its shelves until the supplier cancel planned price increases. Unilever announced that prices would be rising by 3.5% to 6% from October 10. It supplies a vast range of products in Israel, from cooking oil and margarine to hygiene products to Telma breakfast cereals, Lipton tea and much more. Why nudge Super-Sol and not the rest? Because just last week it said it would "fight price increases," Dear Israel points out in its letter. Super-Sol declined to comment beyond confirming that it had received the letter.

With reporting by Eran Azran, Amitai Ziv and Oren Freund