ISRAELI GOVERNMENT TO SELL 72 PERCENT OF STATE-OWNED CHEMICAL FIRM

ISRAELI GOVERNMENT TO SELL 72 PERCENT OF STATE-OWNED CHEMICAL FIRM

The Israel government plans this year to sell publicly 72 percent of Israel Chemicals Ltd., the government-owned chemical company.

The Ministry of Finance intends to sell 25 percent, valued at more than $300 million, on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in the middle of March, and an additional 47 percent of equity by December, leaving the government with a 28 percent stake. A small percentage of the shares is to be reserved for ICL employees.ICL, a holding company whose net worth is estimated at $1.4 billion, concluded 1991 with exports of $1.1 billion, 90 percent of sales. It controls most of Israel's natural resources, and accounts for 6 percent of the country's industrial exports.

Through its subsidiaries, Dead Sea Works, Dead See Bromine Group,Negev Phosphates, Fertilizer and Chemicals, and Rotem Fertilizer, ICl accounts for 50 percent of international trade in bromine-based chemicals and more than 25 percent of world production and more than 5 percent of the world trade in potash.

Other key products of the group include industrial chemicals, magnesium- based products, paper chemicals, pharmaceutical intermediates and food additives.

After several failed attempts to sell major portions of ICL to private investors, including Charles Bronfman of Seagram Co. and the late publisher Robert Maxwell, the government has concluded that a public share offering on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange would be the better route.

The Finance Ministry said it wants to sell nearly 70 percent of the first issue to institutional investors.

Although a portion of the shares will remain in government hands, Finance Ministry officials said the government will not interfere in the day-to-day operations of the company.

The move will, however, enable the government to veto a sale of the company to parties that may be considered hostile to Israel, prevent the headquarters

from being transferred from Israel and to monitor the use of the strategic reserves ICL controls.

The Government Companies Authority, which is in charge of selling the company, will soon hold a tender for nine underwriters in Israel who will bid on the issue.

This will be the largest share issue ever done on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Some financial analysts said that Israel's capital markets are not large enough and that the government should sell ICL's share on the New York Stock Exchange.

The authority said the next step will be to sell 15 percent of the company to a strategic partner in a private placement arrangement; this plan has also drawn criticism.

Previous sales of government-owned companies via private tender were sold for less money than what some analysts considered their market price.

Thus far, only Norsk Hydro, the Norwegian energy company and the world's biggest producer of fertilizers, has shown any interest in the company.