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Israel: Controlling stakes leave unpleasant taste

Hapoalim suffers management turnover; Leumi attracts growing interest

Bank Hapoalim used to be Israel’s biggest, most admired bank. Its partly government-owned rival, Bank Leumi, had a smaller market capitalization and, unlike Hapoalim, it has no controlling shareholder. Leumi’s more conservative approach to lending and investment was often criticized.

Shari Arison, Bank Hapoalim: disagreement with central bank

Shari Arison, Bank Hapoalim: disagreement with central bank

Now Hapoalim is causing more concern than its rival. And according to Terence Klingman, head of research at local investment firm Excellence Nessua, a well-publicized disagreement this year between the Israeli central bank and Hapoalim’s billionaire owner, Shari Arison, might cause the central bank to rethink its previous eagerness for banks to have a controlling shareholder. Hapoalim’s board members and management have scheduled meetings for the coming months to determine strategy. But with Hapoalim’s chairman, chief executive and chief financial officer all having left this year, there might have been too much change to the bank’s top management in such a short period of time. Analysts still worry about Hapoalim’s stability, and its ability to implement decisive and effective methods of dealing with the recession: Israel’s GDP shrank 3.7%

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