More Companies Will Yet Fail

"The gains on stock exchanges around the world created the impression that the financial crisis is over and from now on, there will be a sharp decrease in the number of companies going under, but reality is the opposite," said David Milgrom, CEO of the Israeli Credit Insurance Company.

ICIC predicts that in 2010, there will be a 2% year-over-year increase in companies going under.

"The number of companies that collapse in Israel's main export destination countries is expected to increase by 15%, after global collapses increased 32% in 2009," he said.

And that's the optimistic forecast, he added.

"The less optimistic forecast says that as the situation becomes more difficult for European countries, and they cannot make their debt payments - like Greece, Spain and Italy - it will snowball and throw the world back into a spiral, and many companies will fail."

For Israeli companies, these predictions mean that not every export agreement is worthwhile, and Milgrom warned them to look out for "wandering clients," whose suppliers in other countries have cut them off due to unpaid bills.

The pending collapses are another factor making life difficult for exporters, on top of the strong shekel and the low demand compared to pre-crisis levels, he said.

The data comes from international credit insurer Euler Hermes, one of ICIC's owners. Euler insures 800 billion euros in exports ever year, which gives it a good understanding of the market, Milgrom said. ICIC insures $12 billion in transactions annually.

Euler's model is based on factors including unemployment levels, growth, foreign trade and inflation.

"We're currently seeing the highest level of corporate collapses ever," said Milgrom. "Over the last two years, we saw a massive 80% growth over the 2007 figures. Everyone thinks that the crisis is over and we should be returning to normal levels. However, the statistics indicate we're still in a major collapse phase."

Relief will come only in 2011, he said.

For companies on the edge, time is a deciding factor - banks are showing less lenience amid the perception that recovery is on the way, and are cutting off credit for struggling companies, which pushes them over the edge, he said.

"I don't envy Israel's exporters; they're expected to have a very hard year," he added. Despite that, the OECD prediction of 7% growth in Israeli exports is reasonable, he said - after all, even that kind of increase won't bring exports to their pre-crisis levels.