Symbels Resumes

Major fears are sweeping into Israel's economy

Hundreds of anti-Netanyahu protesters gathered on Wednesday outside a hair salon after the prime minister’s wife, Sara, was spotted at a hair salon nearby.

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New concerns about Israel’s economy are leading global investors to question the money they have in the country.

Massive protests have intensified in recent weeks as Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, moves closer to creating a law that would profoundly change the way the country’s judicial system operates. Critics — who polls indicate represent a majority of Israel’s population — say the changes will endanger the country’s democracy.

The law would alter Israel’s judicial system by giving sitting governments full control of judicial appointments. It would also weaken the country’s Supreme Court to the point of effectively ending its role as a check on executive and legislative power.

In a sign of the seriousness of opposition to the proposed law, graduates of elite military programs and reservists in crucial parts of the Israeli army have threatened not to show up for duty and have begun petitions in protest of the changes.

In a recent report, the Finance Ministry’s chief economist Shira Greenberg wrote that “credit rating agencies are likely to react to these developments.”

So far all three ratings agencies — S&P Global, Moody’s and Fitch — have held steady, keeping Israel in a high credit tier, giving global investors a certain amount of reassurance.

You can’t separate Israel’s unicorns and startups and scale-ups from the equity market. As funding slows, we’ll see the impact on the stock market, and that’s happening now.

Steven Schoenfeld

CEO, MarketVector

Fitch reaffirmed its rating on Wednesday, but it published a special section on the economic risks of judicial reform in its note. The firm warned proposed judicial reform “could have a negative impact on Israel’s credit profile by weakening governance indicators or if the weakening of institutional checks leads to worse policy outcomes or sustained negative investor sentiment.” 

Fitch pointed to the passing of similar rules in other countries, which it said had led to “significant weakening of World Bank governance indicators” in those places. Those indicators play an important role in shaping the ratings assigned to countries. 

Fitch pointed out that the judicial proposal in Israel has been met with “strong civil society and political opposition,” in turn splitting Israeli society. Israel is the second biggest economy by GDP in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia.

Moody’s: Changes ‘would clearly be negative’

Israel's proposed judicial overhaul would be a 'complete revolution': Former central bank official

The shekel’s fall also led to a drop in investor confidence. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange tumbled about 8% in February. 

Steven Schoenfeld, the CEO of MarketVector, said he believes investors are right to worry about the situation in Israel. MarketVector maintains stock indexes, including the Blue Star Fund, which Schoenfeld created to track Israeli stocks.

“Most of the concern is in Israel’s crucial venture capital and private equity areas,” Schoenfeld said.

“You can’t separate Israel’s unicorns and startups and scale-ups from the equity market,” he added. “As funding slows, we’ll see the impact on the stock market, and that’s happening now.”

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