February 18, 2019 / 11:09 AM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 1-Tel Aviv Stock Exchange expects IPO to go ahead this year -CEO

(Adds details, CEO comments)

By Steven Scheer

TEL AVIV, Feb 18 (Reuters) - The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) expects to float nearly a third of its shares in an initial public offering some time this year, its chief executive officer said on Monday.

The exchange aims to become competitive, cheaper and more efficient after around 200 de-listings over the past decade and a slump in trading volumes. It has sought to list on its own exchange since it demutualised in 2017 and became a for-profit exchange.

“We are a good asset,” CEO Itai Ben Zeev told reporters. “So, it isn’t an IPO I foresee will be a big challenge to finish with regards to pricing and stuff like that.”

Ben Zeev said last September that the bourse hoped to sell at least 31.7 percent of its shares solely to retail investors by the end of 2018, but on Monday he said that staff demands had made that timeframe impossible to meet, without elaborating on what the demands were.

Last year TASE sold nearly a 20 percent stake to investment fund Manikay Partners and another 19 percent to four other foreign investors. That sale valued the exchange at 551 million shekels ($152 million).

TASE hosts 447 listed companies with a combined market value of $209 billion.

Ben Zeev reiterated his aim to get the public more involved, noting the bourse has lost 40 percent of investors since 2010.

He said that was partly due to Israel’s capital gains tax of 25 percent, and said he was lobbying the government to reduce it to 15 percent after a national election on April 9.

In a recent survey, TASE found that the public’s perception of the market is poor, with more than half of respondents believing it is for the rich and 55 percent saying they found the prospect of investing in the stock market too risky.

“What we heard a lot is: ‘I am afraid of the market,’” Ben Zeev said.

Investors in the past seven years have shifted their funds to real estate, given low interest rates of just above zero in Israel, and more conservative long-term savings accounts.

Ben Zeev noted that Israeli bank accounts contain about 1 trillion shekels of cash earning almost no interest.

In a bid to allay the public’s fears about the risks of investing, TASE will launch a TV campaign this week with the message that an investment in the blue-chip index 20 years ago would have returned 375 percent by now.

$1 = 3.6182 shekels Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Tova Cohen and Susan Fenton

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