OECD Economic Surveys: Israel

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2225-1847 (online)
2225-1839 (print)
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OECD's periodic reviews of Israel's economy.  Each survey examines recent economic developments, policy, and prospects, and presents a series of recommendations.
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OECD Economic Surveys: Israel 2011

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12 Dec 2011
9789264038035 (PDF) ;9789264038028(print)

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OECD's 2011 Economic Survey of Israel examines recent economic developments, policy and prospects, the housing market, private sector finance, and the energy sector and provides a series of recommendations.
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  • Basic statistics of Israel, 2010
  • Executive summary
    Israel’s economy, including its financial sector, passed through the 2008-09 crisis in reasonable shape but is now being affected by the worsening global outlook; geopolitical tensions are high; and the "tent protests" have added a new dimension to the socio-economic agenda. The Bank of Israel has justifiably switched to a loosening stance in its policy rate.
  • Assessment and recommendations
    Israel’s economy passed through the 2008-09 global downturn in relatively good shape but is now suffering alongside others from the continuing effects of the renewed global crisis, and geopolitical tensions have increased. So far there have been no major failures in the financial sector or need for any extraordinary fiscal stimulus. This has helped avoid a substantial increase in public debt. Furthermore, there have been substantial new finds of offshore natural gas, which will strengthen the fiscal position, further decrease dependence on imported fuels and improve options regarding energy security. However, the low interest rates generated by the monetary-policy response to the crisis have contributed to a rapid increase in property prices, which are approaching bubble proportions.
  • How to improve the economic policy framework for the housing market
    Israeli house prices have risen by over 50% over the past three years. In part this reflects the fact that for several years housing construction had not kept pace with increases in the number of households. In response to these developments, hitherto sluggish planning-approval processes are being speeded up. However, in addition low interest rates have been boosting demand, and there are concerns that prices have already been driven to bubble levels. Efforts have been made to subdue demand, and the market has cooled off somewhat, but there remains a risk of a hard landing with a sharp downward price correction and a contraction in construction activity. Recent price developments are not the only economic issue in Israeli housing. As in a number of other OECD countries, housing policies favour home ownership through tax settings and subsidies for house purchase, potentially raising issues of labour mobility. More generally, housing support (public housing and rent support as well as subsidies for purchase) endeavours to fulfil an unusually wide policy agenda that goes beyond simply assisting low-income households with their housing needs.
  • Issues in private-sector finance
    The 2008-09 global financial crisis did not result in the failure of any major financial institution in Israel, but it did reveal vulnerabilities in the non-banking sector – particularly in the corporate-bond market. Conservative regulation of the banking sector helped this segment avoid a financial meltdown, and low loan-to-value ratios in mortgage lending are undoubtedly helping limit the pace of house-price increases. Nevertheless, as elsewhere, capital requirements and stress tests for banks have been ramped up. Also the identification and monitoring of systemic risks and macro-prudential problems has intensified. In the Israeli context somewhat unusual issues arise from the control of most of Israel’s major financial institutions by family-based business groups that have significant interests in non-financial sectors of the economy. This close link between the financial and non-financial sectors generates potential risks to financial stability, and it is a key issue in a wider debate about the relative merits of the business groups in terms of competition and control in the economy.
  • Addressing challenges in the energy sector
    Offshore natural-gas discoveries have released Israel from complete reliance on imported primary fuels and are allowing for a cleaner energy mix. Furthermore, additional production will soon come on stream, and there is a reasonable chance of new commercially viable gas finds, and possibly of oil too. The authorities have overhauled the system of royalties and taxes, although how best to use the resulting revenues remains the subject of debate. Concerns about competition in the gas sector have risen following the disruption of imports via the pipeline from Egypt, which has strengthened the market position of the lead consortium developing the offshore fields. Competition concerns in the electricity sector have been longstanding due to sluggish reform away from monopoly provision by the state-owned incumbent. As elsewhere, energy use has important environmental side-effects. A comprehensive plan for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions has been developed recently, which relies primarily on energy-efficiency measures and an increase in the share of renewable-electricity production.
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