The Israel business scene hit the ground running to start the new year with a full slate of news, including a visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu to India in the hopes of bolstering trade deals.
Elsewhere, the Israeli economy set a personal best, and the shekel continued to flex its muscle on the global stage, which now has Olim feeling the pain. Plus, data showed Israeli mortgage taking heated back up in December, the Ministry of Finance adds some more goodies to its Family Net Plan, and the diamond industry gets set to become Israel's first crypt keepers. All that and more, so read on and be enriched.
It was a record setting month for Israel’s economy as the ratio of debt-to-GDP fell below 60% for the first time ever. A key indicator of Israel's financial soundness, the ratio also plays a significant role in determining the country's credit rating. The positive data, along with the S&P credit rating agency's recent revision of Israel's rating forecast to "positive," now increases the likelihood of a credit upgrade for Israel in the coming year.
Despite the rosy news, some work remains to be done, as Israel continues to lag behind most developed countries on the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Development Index. The annual assessment of the economic performance and health of over 100 countries measures 11 economic progress indicators beyond GDP, including employment, poverty rate, and public debt - just to name a few. Additionally, political unrest in the US is also popping up as a potential cause for concern when it comes to Israel’s overall financial stability.
Israel Real Estate
Although earlier in the month the Ministry of Finance revealed that home purchases in 2017 were their lowest in six years, last week the Bank of Israel reported that new mortgages taken in December 2017 of nearly 5.1 billion NIS, up from prior estimates of 4.5 billion. Historically, December is a strong month for mortgages, and the figures were in fact 8% higher when compared to December of 2016. That said, the total new mortgages taken of 53.4 billion NIS in 2017 represents a 9% decrease than in 2016.
In other real estate news it’s been an up-and-down time lately for the Israeli housing market as the new housing prices index released by the Central Bureau of Statistics advisory committee revealed home price trends differing by location. While both the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas experienced declines in October through November, increases were made in the Haifa and central districts. Published for the first time (previously the Bureau’s reports referenced only changes in prices at a State level), going forward the index will refer to each district separately in the interests of gaining a more accurate monthly picture.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
After yet another week of gains against the US dollar, the shekel could certainly stand to soften up a bit. Its hyper-strength has resulted in a US dollar exchange rate now hoveringjust above a 7-year low. While this was already a significant problem for Israel’s big businesses, it's now kicking our olim while it’s down, as our Director of Business Development, Daniel Eisenberg, points out in his guest blog on the Times of Israel.
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Keep the Change
Looking to do a little duty-free shopping? Then head on over to your local pharmacy, toy, clothing, appliance stores, and more. In updating a previous story, Israel Minister of Finance, Moshe Kahlon, last week signed an order abolishing selected customs duties on even more products as part of his Family Net Program. Designed to lower prices and reduce the cost of living in Israel, the expanded list now including clothing, home electrical products and appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, stoves, and more; joining the previously abolished duties on perfumes, cosmetics, toys, and sports accessories.
So, if you’ve been looking to upgrade your wardrobe or home appliances don't delay, as the temporary order is currently slated to remain in effect only through December 2018.
And In Case You Missed It...
Israel’s All New Digital Gems
Cryptocurrencies are making their way to Israel as The Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange has informed the Knesset Finance Committee that it is set to issue a digital currency. The yet-to-be-named currency will be backed by 25% of the diamond purchases on the market, and its volatility will be based on a diamond market index.
In other cryptocurrency news, the Israel Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Israel are also exploring the possibility of creating an official Israeli state cryptocurrency, although concerns and challenges remain over taxing cryptocurrency, prohibiting money laundering and terror financing, and protecting investors. Should Israel choose to move forward with its own digital shekel it would join the ranks of Sweden, Japan, and China already who have begun testing the issuance of official state virtual currencies.