Without the public interest> or attention given to Russia or Brazil, the tiny country of Israel, which is about the size of New Jersey, has continued the momentum we highlighted early last summer. Shares of iShares Israel, which tracks the MSCI Israel Capped Investable Market index, are up more than 60% year to date, far outpacing U.S. market.
Much of that gain is due to the impact of Teva Pharmaceuticals, the medical pioneer which just last week received Food and Drug Administration approval to sell a generic version of heartburn drug Prevacid. Teva s strength has tracked sister stocks, other pharmaceuticals such as Novo Nordisk A/S, Shire Plc and Sanofi-Aventis, which are also at multimonth highs.
Land of Milk and Money
iShares Israel (EIS) and The First Israel Fund (ISL) 1 year>
The fund s major technology holdings, Check Point Software Technologies and Nice Systems are leaders, and Blue Square Israel, the supermarket chain we wrote about last month that s nipping at a new yearly high, is also held.
More attention is likely to be paid as the country completes its upgrade to developed market status, a boost given by indexer MSCI that takes effect in May of 2010. Foreign direct investment into Israel hit $10 billion in 2007 and $11 billion in 2008, despite the global recession.
Yet with the price/earnings ratio on the country s benchmark TA-25 index now exceeding 26, and just fractionally off its all-time-high reached in 2007, many investors are understandably reluctant to pile in.
One bargain alternative for those with an interest in adding Israeli exposure is First Israel Fund (ISL),
First Israel Fund (ISL): Premium/Discount
Source: CEFConnect.com >
ISL now trades at a roughly 7% discount to its NAV, meaning investors can buy $1.00 worth of assets for 93 cents. As interest in Israel continues to grow, that discount could quickly narrow: the fund traded at a 13% premium to NAV as recently as last year.
An Early Stock-ing Stuffer
A few months ago we wrote about
, the visionary chairman emeritus of the
) who helped shepherd the exchange s transformation from eggs and pork bellies to financial futures and electronic trade, ultimately becoming the world s largest derivatives exchange.
Chicago Mercantile Exchange
Hog trading introduced at the CME, Feb. 28, 1966
Image courtesy: Chicago Mercantile Exchange>
The exchange s story is obsessively detailed in "Past, Present & Futures: Chicago Mercantile Exchange" (Write Stuff, 192 pages), a glossy vanity coffee-table book by Jeffrey Rodengen stuffed with full-color pictures that was released and overlooked -- last fall just as the financial markets began to melt.
Especially charming are the photographs of the various promotion exchange officials ran in order to drum up business for new and fledgling contracts. Live hogs and cattle both made appearances on the CME floor as those then-revolutionary trading pits were opened.
This is an ideal gift for CME shareholders or any investor who ascribes to the exchange s unofficial motto: Free markets for free men.