PKN and Psagot Lost NIS 3 Billion More in May

Israeli money is fleeing exotica, but not to mutuals

How fast euphoria can evaporate. Just a month ago everybody was raring to transfer money overseas as fast as possible, to the riskiest places. The buzz was all BRICs, which invest in the four emerging markets with the highest growth potential: Russia, Brazil, India and China. Other emerging markets such as Turkey and countries in eastern Europe, Latin America and the Far East were also inundated by capital from the Holy Land. The papers brimmed with ads from funds investing abroad that had made double-digits returns: every piddling little radio show was sponsored by some exotic new investment fund.

Make no mistake, investors who trotted the globe in time, a year and even six months ago, made money hand over fist. They profited from the tremendous outflow of capital from the west to the wild, seeking returns in countries that had never seen such a thing as a "foreign investor" before.

But it all screeched to a halt in May. Anybody who belatedly embarked on adventure is down 10 percent or 20 percent on his investment.

Fears of inflation in the U.S. and several other financial excuses sent investors packing, abandoning markets that had risen like swans in the last year, only to morph into turkeys. The whole world trembled at the transformation, and after a not particularly successful escapade in the East, Israeli money is coming home too.

Nimble fund managers are still trying to hold back some Israeli money for a round in "classical Europe", so you still see ads about Switzerland and Holland. But most of the money is fated to return to the welcoming embrace of the banks, which are waiting to offer the battered, chastened investors nice comfy profit-free - but also risk free - deposits.

One could call behavior like that manic-depressive. The May figures for mutual funds, compiled by Kranot Meda Zahav, are depressing, to be sure: about NIS 3 million fled from the funds, mostly from funds specializing in foreign markets. After months of solid fund-raising, the giant withdrawals have reached Psagot Ofek, the leader of the pack. NIS 860 million was taken out of Psagot's funds in one of the worst months it has known.

The giant withdrawals are surely no comfort to the managers of the Markstone investment company, Ron Lubash and Dov Kotler. PKN Plus, the mutual fund management company they bought from Bank Hapoalim for about NIS 900 million in a moment of euphoric giddiness, lost another NIS 1.1 billion in May. When they bought PKN (pronounced "pecan"), it had NIS 21 billion in assets. Since then it has lost NIS 6 billion and counting, and has only NIS 14.7 billion left.

Lahak, the fund management company that Bank Hapoalim still owns, is also losing height like it's been shot. To fight off the attacks of other companies, for the first time in its history, Lahak started to advertise. But it lost another billion in May, bringing its losses for 2006 to NIS 3.5 billion.

The withdrawals are industry-wide, but as said, they are targeting mainly funds investing abroad. Investors withdrew NIS 740 million from Ilanot Discount (NIS 2.2 billion from the start of the year). Dikla lost NIS 470 million, and Leumi Pia was relatively well-off with withdrawals of only NIS 160 million (NIS 1.7 billion from January 1).

One company that stood out on the upside is Clal Finance, which raised NIS 850 million (NIS 1.8 million from the start of 2006). Meitav also raised a surprising NIS 320 million, and Excellence-Nessuah brought in NIS 180 million. Migdal brought in NIS 150 million.

Migdal has become the ninth-biggest fund manager after its merger with Afikim: it now has NIS 4.1 billion in assets. Meitav has NIS 5.4 billion, mor ethan Mizrahi and First International's Dikla together.

Meanwhile Emda and Dikla were sold and from next month, Dikla will belong to Migdal and Emda will  belong to Menorah and Africa Israel.

Altshuler Shaham is also raising money - NIS 50 million in May and has NIS 3.3 billion under management.

Altogether the bank-run mutual funds lost NIS 8 billion since the year began, while the funds run by brokers lost NIS 2 billion.