Iran is behind us, and the threat of an international boycott does not faze us, Neil Corney, the CEO of Citi Israel, told Globes in an interview published on Monday.
“Three years ago, the issue of Iran was very troubling to foreign investors, and it was all they would ask about, but that has passed,” he said. “Today, people see Israel as a solid place — not the most exciting in terms of yields compared with emerging markets, but for a pension fund that wants long-term yields, it is a good investment. Israel is still considered an emerging market, on the one hand, and on the other, a solid, stable market.”
Corney answered boycott anxiety with an anecdote.
“I’ll tell you a short story about this: A few months ago, we led a government bond offering. I went on a road show, and just then news broke about the Dutch pension fund that announced it was ending its investment in Israeli banks. We were very worried about the timing of the announcement, and that it would harm the offering. But in the 20 meetings we had with foreign investors, it never even came up. The only questions that arose were that there must be something not good about the economy — what is it that is worrisome about the economy?”
In fact, Corney finds much good and little to worry about it. Despite concern within Israel about the state budget deficit and a slowdown in the growth rate, his outlook is positive.
“Relative to the world, our situation is good. There aren’t many places overseas, including London and New York, where you will see all the restaurants full in the middle of the week. The foundation here is very good, and we see it in our R&D center here as well; we have a hard time recruiting talented people when all the companies fight over every good engineer.”
Corney also pooh-poohs complaints that Israeli regulation is excessive and is strangling the business and financial sectors:
“I was recently in the U.S., and they spoke at a conference there about regulation in the U.S. and Europe. They said that in three more years, people will dream of the regulation we have today. Regulation will only become more stringent. Anywhere the regulator can set his foot down, he will.
“From what I see, the regulators here do not try to invent the wheel, rather, they look at what is going on abroad, adopt it, and adapt it to the local market. I believe that regulation will increase, and Israel will continue to come into line.”
Citi is putting its money where its CEO’s mouth is too. It has Israel listed in a group of 19 countries in Western Europe, and it’s the only one marked as a place worth investing in. The company envisages growth in the gas sector, investment banking and working with local financial institutions to trade in foreign markets.