TASE Says No Unusual Trading Ahead of Hamas Attack

People walk past an electronic board at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo)

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) – The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) said on Tuesday a report by U.S. researchers suggesting there were investors in Israel who may have profited from prior knowledge of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack was inaccurate and its publication irresponsible.

Research by law professors Robert Jackson Jr. from New York University and Joshua Mitts of Columbia University found significant short-selling of shares – when investors bet on share prices to fall – leading up to the attacks, which triggered Israel’s war against Hamas.

The activity, they said, “exceeded the short-selling that occurred during numerous other periods of crisis” such as the 2008 financial crisis and COVID-19.

They wrote that for Leumi Israel’s largest bank, 4.43 million shares sold short over the period Sept. 14 to Oct. 5 yielded profits of NIS 3.2 billion ($859 million).

But the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange said the authors miscalculated, since share prices are listed in agorot, which are similar to cents and pence, rather than shekels – putting the potential short-sale profit at just 32 million shekels.

Yaniv Pagot, head of trading at the exchange, said that in looking at short interest in Leumi, there was an increase of some 4.5 million shares in the week ending Sept. 21 and it then remained stable.

“I don’t see in the data something even close to what they wrote in the paper,” Pagot told Reuters, adding the researchers didn’t speak to the TASE or members. “There was nothing unusual in short positions in the stock exchange in the two months before the attack.”

The professors were not immediately available for comment.

The short position in Leumi, Pagot said, was taken by an unidentified Israeli bank known to the TASE.

“We know their compliance is very strict, so it’s unlikely that such a position that came from a terror organization can pass through this member’s compliance for money laundering or something like that,” he said, referring to media speculation that Hamas itself was behind the short-selling.

Israel’s securities regulator said it had been aware of the report for a week and was in contact with the researchers, but declined to comment while it investigates the TASE’s rebuttal.

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