Big Borrower Fishman Leaps to Klein's Defense on Rate Policy

Businessman Eliezer Fishman, considered one of Israel's biggest borrowers, has sprung to the defense of Bank of Israel Governor David Klein. Fishman said the central bank governor should not be pressured into accelerating the pace of interest rate reduction - an acceleration that could damage the economy.

"In annual terms," Fishman says, "the pace of the reduction is meaningless. If Klein cuts rate by 0.25-3 percent over the course of three or four months, or if he makes two sharp 0.5 percent cuts, corporations don't save more than 0.15 percent. That isn't what will change their financial situation, while risking destabilizing the economy with too-rapid interest rate reduction."

Fishman's defense of Klein appears surprising, both because of his huge debt and because of his many clashes with the Bank of Israel in recent years. The biggest run-in was with Supervisor of Banks Yoav Lehman, who essentially torpedoed the merger of Israel's three cable television providers by requiring that the entire debt of the merged entity be charged against each of the shareholders in the original companies. Fishman has a major stake in Golden Channels, one of the three cable companies. This requirement would have pushed Fishman over the single borrower limitation.

Fishman, a shareholder in property developer Industrial Buildings, has said in the past that real, long-term interest rates are the biggest catalyst to accelerating real-estate sector activity. Interest rates on long-term bonds have fallen recently, in part due to Bank of Israel rate cuts as well as other factors.

Fishman is estimated to owe some NIS 15 billion, most on communications and real-estate loans. Fishman himself declares his debt to the banking sector to be about half that sum.