The Wildest of Times

Okay, ladies and gentlemen. We shall not lie. We did not foresee the depth of the financial crisis that erupted last fall.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen. We shall not lie. We did not foresee the depth of the financial crisis that erupted last fall.

We did warn of "clear and present danger to your savings" half a year before the great meltdown, based on the public's exposure to the capital market. But it never occurred to us that the great U.S. banks would fall like dominoes, or that equities would lose 50% to 70% of their value. Though we did suggest that the crisis created the opportunity of a lifetime, did we not predict the markets' astounding rebound in the last six months.

We did not think the systems would get back on their feet as quickly as they did, and that by the fall of 2009, we'd be seeing the buds of economic growth.

We did not predict that Lev Leviev, proud tycoon and billionaire, would up and announce one fine summer morning that he can't repay his debts, though we had warned two years ago about the risks inherent in his company Africa Israel's peculiar dealings in Russia. Nor had we expected that Nochi Dankner would gamble NIS 5 billion on shares of Swiss bank Credit Suisse, and would net himself NIS 3 billion inside a year on that wager alone.

If there's one thing we got spot-on, it was our choice of the most influential person in the Israeli economic scene last year.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, the man who closed the Ariel Sharon case, floundered with the case against former president Moshe Katsav, and openly displayed his doubt about the investigations into then-prime minister Ehud Olmert - became the most influential person in the entire state the moment "fixer" Morris Talansky appeared. "Super Meni" unseated a prime minister. When Olmert is indicted, as we wrote a year ago, Mazuz will have made a crucial contribution to eradicating corruption in Israel.

The day TheMarker 100 list for 2009 was sent to press, the prosecution indicted Olmert in three cases: the Investments Center, Rishon Tours, and falsifying reports on his personal wealth to the state comptroller.

After all the spins and delays, moments before his term ends, Mazuz filed the most disturbing indictment ever to be served in Israel. Not only because of the gravity of Olmert's alleged crimes, but mainly because the defendant was prime minister.

Financial crises come and go, deficits mushroom and abate, reforms follow reforms. But at the end of the day, the image of this nation, this society, this economy depend on the conduct of the people at the top. Such as the prime minister.

To be fair, personal dishonesty had stained the uppermost echelons of government well before Olmert's time. You could say he was the product of Ariel Sharon's regime. But together, those two prime ministers birthed a period of blackness for public norms in Israel.

Will Olmert's trial, however it turns out, mark the beginning of a new era, an end to the rapidly creeping rot of corruption? It may, it may not. The rule by the rich, the weakness of the political system and the maddened chase after money do not augur well.

But the fact that a former prime minister stands charged does give hope that the rapid deterioration of recent years will halt. We can hope that the boundaries between permissible and prohibited will be reinstated.

The year 2008 won the sobriquet "Year of the Envelopes": wads of cash being slipped into the hands of top government officials. The year 2009 is the Year of the Crisis.

When the TheMarker 100 list for 2008 was published, the crisis had begun, yet nobody had any inkling how bad things would get. Nobody predicted that markets around the globe would crumple like wet paper requiring urgent and unprecedented action by governments.

And nobody predicted how fast the recovery would be. As 2008 ended, financial and economic systems were in utter chaos. Nobody dared to suggest that by autumn 2009, economists would be pointing to signs of recovery, at least in some countries.

Some of the people on TheMarker 100 list of 2009 were on their knees as the year began. If the financial crisis had lasted another quarter of two, they'd have been roughly where Lev Leviev is now. And may that be a lesson for us all: analysts, reporters, managers, investors. It's never been easier to fall from the top of the list to the bottom, or to regain that lost crown, than in the aggressive global economy of the third millennium. Never before has the economy been faster-moving, less predictable and less forgiving than it is now.

Some of you feel threatened, some inspired. Whatever you're feeling, tighten your seat belt. These are wild times, and here are the 100 people with the greatest influence in shaping them.