Taking Stock / Yes, Yitzhak, It's Real

Yitzhak Tshuva opened the paper on Monday and discovered his picture, over a caption reading NIS 1.14 billion. The article discussed a number of Israeli businessmen whose publicly traded companies soared in value this year as the market bubbled, lifting the worth of their holdings by tens to hundreds of millions of shekels.

After Mori Arkin of Agis Industries, Yitzhak Tshuva - with his 86 percent holding in Delek Group, which rose 58 percent this year - is the biggest gainer from the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

For Tshuva, it was also a moment to take action. "I decided to check whether it was real," he said at midday, an hour after telling his brokers to sell a 1.3 percent stake in Delek, off the floor, at a discount of 5 percent from its market value.

While eating lunch, he already knew the answer. The shares had been sold and his account fattened by NIS 48 million. And yes, Tshuva figured, the sum the paper had mentioned had been real.

It's real money for Tshuva and for others, too. For many of the major shareholders in Israel's publicly traded companies, the gains aren't only on paper, they're actual increases in value that can be translated into cash.

A matter of time

This year, Arkin saw his Agis shares rise 200 percent, and the value of his personal stake ballooning to NIS 1.85 billion. He hasn't sold one single share yet, but if you've been tracking him for the last 10 years, you know it's just a matter of time. Some whisper that when the time comes, he won't settle for selling a few hundred million shekels worth of stock; he's grooming the whole enchilada for sale, maybe to Teva Pharmaceuticals or Taro Pharmaceutical Industries, or a multinational drug company.

Or take the Zisapel high-tech family, whose shares in various tech ventures doubled and much more in value this year. The Zisapels have floated and sold some 20 companies in the last decade. They know what they're doing. Young Roy Zisapel already sold $6 million worth of Radware shares and it's only a matter of time before Yehuda and Zohar Zisapel cash out everything they can.

A month ago, Stanley Gold lost the power struggle with Michael Eisner and found himself ousted from the Disney board. He may take some comfort from the 78 percent climb in Tadiran Communications shares, in which Shamrock Holdings has an interest. Gold chairs Shamrock Holdings, and over the last year he, the FIMI fund and Tadiran chief executive Hezi Hermoni have been methodically divesting their holdings in Tadiran. They have recouped their investments four or even 10 times over, who's counting.

For some people, the wild surge on the stock market is a chance to pad their bank accounts. For others, it's a shot of desperately needed oxygen.

Take the Dankners

Take the Dankners, for instance. Until half a year ago, they were camping on the doorsteps of all the major banks and investment funds, trying to find buyers for their shares, in order to get rid of loans they'd taken during the boom years. Now, finally, the resurgent boom on the exchange has enabled them to shed huge chunks of stock and ease the pressure. They've sold shares in Partner Communications, Matav Cable Systems and Dor Chemicals. And this week, the day after Saddam's capture, the Dankners hastened to exploit the spike to sell NIS 48 million worth of Bank Hapoalim shares, to repay part of a particularly onerous loan, extended by United Mizrahi Bank.

Jonathan Kolber hasn't sold any Koor Industries shares this year. But sometimes you don't need to sell shares in order to shore up your liquidity. Remember, Kolber had borrowed money from Bank Hapoalim to buy his Koor stake. When Koor shares tanked, he got a friendly phone call, otherwise known as a margin call - Sir, your collateral has turned into toilet paper, kindly show up with money in hand. And he did. Now that Koor stock has shot up by 200 percent, he can get his money back, or part of it at least.

It would be only human to wonder whether the massive flood of selling by interested parties says something about current share prices. But experience teaches that it isn't relevant. When people want to buy shares, they don't care that the big shareholders are selling.

Does the rise on the stock market indicate a real economic turnaround? A new era of low interest rates and higher prices? Or is it a temporary spike triggered by Nasdaq and the U.S. loan guarantees? This isn't the time to risk prophesying, nor is there much demand for forecasts these days. What is sure, is that we have reached the point where interested shareholders, managers and the whole crew around them feel it's real, it's real.