Cheap Credit / Give the Flowers to Rony

Last week ank Hapoalim's alpha executives announced they would forgo 10% of their wages. The devil, though, is in the details. It turns out that the wage reduction volunteered by chairman Danny Dankner and CEO Zvi Ziv refers to the year 2009. Not this year.

Their income this year will not be affected by their trail-blazing decision, even though the global economic crisis had savaged Hapoalim's performance this year.

The 10% that the two agreed to forgo in 2009 amounts to about NIS 150,000 to NIS 190,000 each. That's peanuts compared to the millions they received over the last few years.

Still, Dankner and Ziv deserve credit for blazing a trail: they were the first bankers to volunteer a wage cut as the crisis impacts their bank.

That said, another point for consideration is that most of these executives' income depends on the bank's performance. Salary makes up only a small part of their yearly take: the bulk is from the bonus.

Assuming the Hapoalimites get no bonus this year, or a small one at best, in fact this year they'll be taking home far less than in 2007.

The thing is that they don't deserve credit even if Hapoalim happens to finish this year with a profit.

The thanks for that will be due to Rony Hizkiyahu, the supervisor of banks at the Bank of Israel. He is the man who forced the bank to sell its portfolio of mortgage-backed securities - the infamous MBS.

In April 2008, Hizkiyahu ordered Hapoalim to change the way it calculated its MBS holdings. The outcome was that keeping the securities was no longer economically sensible. Hapoalim then sold its entire MBS portfolio, losing NIS 3.1 billion on the sale.

But at least the bank came away with $2.5 billion in hand. If Hapoalim had grimly held onto its MBSs, its losses could have been even greater. If not for Hizkiyahu, Dankner's and Ziv's wages might be being trimmed by much more than 10%.