Israel’s financial markets had a torrid time on Monday as swirling rumours of an imminent air strike on Iran caused investors to flee. The shekel lost 1.4 percent, the Tel Aviv stock exchange fell 1.5 percent and credit default swaps, reflecting the cost of insuring exposure to a credit, surged almost 10 percent.
There has been a modest recovery today as the rumour mills wind down. But analysts reckon more weakness lies ahead for the shekel which is not far off three-year lows. Political risks aside, the central bank has been cutting interest rates and is widely expected to take interest rates, currently at 2.25 percent, down to 1.75 percent by year-end. Societe Generale analysts are among the many recommending short shekel positions against the dollar. They say:
Expect the dovish stance of the Bank of Israel to remain well entrenched for now.
That’s not all. Investors have been pulling cash out of Israel’s financial markets for some time (Citi analysts estimate $1.6 billion fled in the first quarter of the year). After running current account surpluses for more than 8 years, Israel now has a deficit (the gap was $1.7 billion in the first three months of this year, double the previous quarter) .
Looking behind the scenes, a key factor behind shekel performance is the relative performance of Tel Aviv stocks versus the U.S. market, says Citi analyst Neil Corney. Last year, Tel Aviv fell more than 20 percent and it hasnt recovered this year. New York’s S&P500 on the other hand has rallied 12 percent so far in 2012 and outperformed last year as well. Corney tells clients: