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Sell-off of Bank Hapoalim Marks Israel’s Biggest Privatization Act

In the largest privatization sell-off in Israeli history, an investors’ group led by an Israeli-American businessman has acquired a 43 percent stake in Bank Hapoalim, the country’s biggest bank.

The group, led by businessman Ted Arison, the former head of Carnival Cruise Lines, agreed to pay the government close to $1.4 billion for the share.

The bid valued Hapoalim’s worth at about $3.2 billion, 18 percent higher than its market value.

The group also took an 18-month option to buy an additional 21.5 percent stake in the company for the same price, which it announced last week that it would exercise.

The move will give the Arison group a controlling share in the bank — 64.5 percent — while the government will continue to hold 5 percent. Employees will maintain 7 percent, with the remaining shares to be traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Bank Hapoalim has $2.5 billion in equity and nearly $50 billion in assets. It was nationalized, along with most of the rest of the country’s banks, following the 1983 capital market crisis.

The government still owns the second and third largest banks, Bank Leumi and Israel Discount Bank. Stock in those banks was sold on the market earlier this year.

The Arison group includes the Israeli Dankner family and American businessmen Len Abramson, founder of US Healthcare Inc., Wall Street veteran-turned philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, Charles Shusterman and Hyperion Capital Management.

Arison said he hoped the group he had put together would make “an important contribution” to Israel’s transition from a centralized market to an open economy.

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