Israel natural gas wealth fund expected to begin around 2020

TEL AVIV, April 4 (Reuters) - Israel’s planned sovereign wealth fund, meant to safeguard billions of dollars in natural gas revenue, will begin operating around 2020, Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug said on Tuesday.

The central bank is overseeing establishment of the fund, which will be invested abroad to avoid a major influx of foreign currencies that could strengthen the shekel and undermine export industries.

Only income from the fund will be used domestically, for things like national projects and emergencies.

“Our estimate, based on current prices ... is that the fund will start to operate around the year 2020,” Flug told the National Energy Conference in Tel Aviv.

At that point, she said, the amount of taxes that will have been deposited in the fund will reach around 1 billion shekels ($274 million).

The recent discovery of some of the world’s largest off-shore gas fields has given Israel decades of energy independence and paved the way for it to become a natural gas exporter. One field, Tamar, began production in 2013, and the even larger Leviathan field is expected to come online in late 2019. ($1 = 3.6436 shekels) (Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Tova Cohen)