Treasury: Pension Funds' Exposure to Tycoons' Woes Is Low

Deputy commissioner of banks, Or Sofer, says banking system is stable, adding that his office does not foresee problems under current circumstances 'as long as the rules of the game are unchanged.'

The country's pension funds' exposure to problems at the largest conglomerates is low, the Finance Ministry's commissioner of insurance, savings and capital markets told the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee Sunday.

The commissioner, Oded Sarig, was speaking at a hearing on the prospect that a major conglomerate could fail. The meeting took place in the wake of sharp declines in the stocks of many of the country's conglomerates.

"Pension funds' total exposure to the tycoons isn't large," Sarig told the committee. For example, the risk to institutional investors from operations at Clal Insurance and cellphone operator Cellcom - both belong to Nochi Dankner's IDB Group - is negligible, he said.

The largest potential exposure among the public's pension savings to any single conglomerate is 3.2 percent, Sarig added. So he called for cooler heads and urged the public not to take rash action.

Meanwhile, the deputy commissioner of banks, Or Sofer, told the committee that the banking system is stable, adding that his office does not foresee any problems under the current circumstances "as long as the rules of the game are unchanged." Similar comments came from the chief executive of the Association of Banks, Moshe Pearl, who said the banking system is stable and the banks exceed the minimum government requirements for the sector.

Gitit Gershgoren of the Israel Securities Authority told the committee her agency is tracking the activities of the major corporate groups and their risk exposure. "Although events abroad could have an effect on them, we don't foresee a catastrophe," she said.

Only three Knesset members bothered to take part in yesterday's committee hearing: the committee's chairman, Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud ), Yoel Hasson (Kadima ) and Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism ).

Committee sources noted that the heads of the country's major conglomerates, including Dankner, Africa Israel's Lev Leviev, Partner Communications' Ilan Ben-Dov, Delek Group's Yitzhak Tshuva and Arison Group's Shari Arison had been invited but failed to show up. An IDB spokesman said, however, that Dankner had never received an invitation.

Shama nonetheless took the controlling shareholders of some of Israel's largest corporate groups to task for their interlocking relationships. "When Yitzhak Tshuva issues stock, Nochi Dankner buys. When Dankner issues stock, Tshuva buys," he said. "[Through] personal connections, they are playing with the public's money."

Shama noted that his committee was awaiting the recommendations of the government committee that was set up to evaluate concentration in the economy.