Journal Issue

Israel: Staff Report for the 2017 Article IV Consultation

International Monetary Fund. European Dept.
Published Date:
March 2017
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1. Israel has achieved strong growth, especially in employment, despite the global financial crisis. Growth averaged 3.9 percent (2 percent per capita) in the decade to 2015, well above the 1.7 percent (1.1 percent per capita) mean for advanced economies. Employment surged 36 percent in this period, aided by a 5 percentage point rise in labor force participation following sharp welfare cuts adopted after the dot-com bust in the early 2000s. Labor productivity growth is lower than might be expected, averaging 0.8 percent, in part because the large rise in labor participation weighed on average skill levels.

Employment Growth in the Past Decade

(Percent change, 2005–2015)

Sources: IMF WEO database; and IMF staff calculations.

2. Yet differences among Israel’s diverse religious and ethnic groups contribute to relatively high poverty.1 Of the population of 8½ million, some 20 percent are Arab Israelis, 10 percent Haredi (ultra-orthodox Jews), and 65 percent other Jews. Haredi and Arab household incomes are reduced by the low participation of Haredi men and Arab women and by the lower average skills and wages of these groups, such that Israel has high poverty rates for disposable income. The low equivalized incomes of Haredi households partly mirror their high number of children and the focus of Haredi secondary schools for males on religious studies rather than math, science, etc.

Relative Poverty among Advanced Economies 1/


Source: OECD.

1/ Share of people below 50 percent of median equivalized disposable Income, In 2014 or latest available.

3. The coalition government faces pressures to lower the high cost of living. The government is currently comprised of six parties with 66 seats in the 120-member Knesset, which has a term of four years, but no Israeli administration has completed a full term since 1988. Since mass protests in 2011 opposing the continued rise in the cost of living, especially the cost of apartments for young families, governments have taken a range of measures aimed at reducing living costs, including cuts in the price of various services and in the VAT rate.

4. Traction of Fund advice is generally good. A number of Fund recommendations have been implemented from the 2012 Financial System Stability Assessment (FSSA), the 2015 Article IV consultation, and 2015 Fund technical assistance on enhancing medium-term fiscal management (Annex I). The Bank of Israel (BOI) is in the process of following up on recommendations from the 2016 technical assistance on banking supervision.

Solid Growth Yet Challenges Ahead

5. Israel’s growth picked up in 2016, supported by strong domestic demand and a rebound in exports. In 2015, growth was 2½ percent, held back by weak exports, which partly reflected company-specific factors.2 Real GDP grew by a preliminary 4 percent in 2016 as domestic demand surged and exports rebounded. Demand benefitted from strong labor market conditions and low interest rates. One-off factors also played a role, including Intel’s fabrication plant upgrade and a spike in vehicle purchases ahead of a tax hike on highly-polluting models, also seen in higher imports and taxes.

Composition of Real GDP Growth

(Percentage points)

Sources: IMF World Economic Outlook; and IMF staff calculations.

6. Labor market conditions have continued to improve and wage growth is rising from low levels. Employment rose by a solid 2.6 percent y/y in 2016, reflecting continued growth in the working age population and a decline in the unemployment rate of 1 percentage point, while the labor force participation rate remained broadly stable. At 4.4 percent in Q4 2016, the unemployment rate is at an historic low while job vacancy rates are high. Owing to this labor market tightening, nominal wage growth in the business sector picked up to almost 3 percent y/y in the second half of 2016, from below 2 percent in 2014, and real wage gains were about 3½ percent as a result of the decline in the headline CPI. Increases in the monthly minimum wage, of 8.6 percent in 2015 and 13.6 percent in January 2016, may have also contributed to stronger aggregate wage growth.

Labor Market 1/


Sources: Haver Analytics; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Data cover population aged 15 and above.

Wages and Labor Market Slack

Sources: Haver Analytics; and IMF staff calculations.

7. Government measures to reduce the cost of living and declines in tradables prices have weighed on inflation. Headline CPI inflation remained modestly negative since the second half of 2014, yet turned slightly positive in January 2017. Contributing factors include declines in energy prices, low trading partner inflation, appreciation of the shekel especially against the euro, and various government measures.3 Yet, even excluding energy, fruit and vegetables, and the estimated effect of government measures, CPI inflation was low at 0.2 percent in 2016. Narrowing margins, perhaps due to competition from internet purchases, may also be keeping inflation down.

CPI Inflation

(Percent change, y/y)

Sources: Haver Analytics; Bol; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Excluding fruit & vegetables, and estimated impact of government measures.

Importing Goods Price Deflation

(Index. 2010=100)

Sources: Haver Analytics; Bol; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Excluding ships, aircrafts, diamonds, and fuel.

2/ Converted to Shekel

8. Housing prices rose further in 2016, even after nearly doubling in real terms since 2007, yet some softening in market conditions emerged recently. Dwelling prices rose at an average pace of 7½ percent y/y in 2016, with housing loans growing at a similar pace, bringing household debt to a still modest 74 percent of disposable income (Figure 8). Residential investment has risen in response to higher prices, but completions remain below estimated household formation. Nonetheless, mortgage volumes and housing sales slowed during the year and price declines were recorded in late 2016, which may reflect a rise in mortgage interest rates driven by earlier macroprudential measures together with recent tax policy changes on real estate.

Figure 1.Israel: The Long View

Sources: Bank of Israel; Central Bureau of Statistics; IMF Information Notice System; and IMF staff calculations.

Figure 2.Israel: Recent Economic Developments

Sources: Bank of Israel; Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; IMF World Economic Outlook; and IMF staff calculations.

Figure 3.Israel: Inflation and Monetary Indicators

Sources: Haver Analytics; Bank of Israel; IMF WEO database; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Excluding fruit and vegetables, and estimated impact of government measures.

2/ Crude Oil (petroleum), simple average of three spot prices; Dated Brent, West Texas Intermediate, and the Dubai Fateh, US$ per barrel.

3/ A negative change indicates appreciation of the shekel.

4/ Real policy rate is calculated as the difference between nominal policy rate and one-year ahead inflation expectations.

Figure 4.Israel: Selected Financial Indicators

Sources: Bloomberg; Datastream; Haver Analytics; and Moody’s Analytics CreditEdge.

Figure 5.Israel: Exchange Rates and BOP

Sources: Bank of Israel; Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; OECD; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Includes medical services, communications, R&D, and IT services.

2/ Start-ups are included from 2010.

Figure 6.Israel: Housing Market Development

Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; Land and Housing Survey in the UN Sample of Cities (2016); and IMF staff calculations.

Figure 7.Israel: Performance of the Israeli Banking System

Sources: IMF’s Financial Soundness Indicator Database; and Haver Analytics.

Figure 8.Israel: Corporate and Household Sector

Sources: Bank of Israel; Israel Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; IMF CVU database; Moody’s CreditEdge; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ The 2016 Q3 data is estimated with a change in household (excluding the self-employed) loans from domestic financial institutions between end-2015 and 2016Q3.

House Price and Housing Loans

(Percent change, y/y)

Sources: Haver Analytics; and IMF staff calculations.

Housing Supply and Demand Indicators 1/

(Thous. units; Thous. households)

Sources: CBS; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Annualized based on outturn as of end-2016Q3

9. Although housing prices are clearly high, the extent to which the housing market may be misaligned is uncertain. As discussed in section B, Israeli housing prices are very high, especially in Tel Aviv, with implications for poverty and inequality. Nonetheless, a cross-country econometric analysis suggests the uptrend in real housing prices in Israel is mainly driven by growing incomes, the rising number of households relative to housing supply, and low interest rates, with only a modest estimated overvaluation of 9 percent as of Q3 2016. Yet uncertainty around such estimates is wide, as housing market developments are complicated by purchases for investment purposes by high-income households.

Housing Market Valuation

(Index; percent)

Sources: CBS; Haver; OECD; and IMF staff estimates.

10. Output growth is expected to settle around 3 percent and inflation is likely to rise gradually. Domestic demand growth is expected to dip in 2017 given the high base in 2016, but a firming in exports reflecting stronger trading partner activity and ongoing investments in the sector will support overall growth in 2017. With unemployment remaining low, and the output and employment gaps broadly closed, a further rise in wage growth along with a rise in international inflation rates makes a rise in CPI inflation likely, although significant uncertainty remains around the timing of such an increase. An eventual rise in interest rates would help moderate domestic demand growth in the medium term, keeping overall growth near potential, estimated at some 3 percent.

Resource Utilization Indicators

(Percentage points)

Sources: Haver Analytics; and IMF staff calculations.

Macroeconomic Indicators
(Percent change y/y, unless noted)2013201420152016201720182019
Real GDP4.
Total domestic demand3.
Trading partner GDP2.
Unemployment rate (percent)
CPI (percent change, end of period)1.8−0.2−1.0−
CPI (percent change, average)1.50.5−0.6−
Credit to households8.

11. In the longer term, however, changes in the composition of the population could significantly lower Israel’s growth potential and raise poverty. The share of Haredi in the working age population will rise given their higher fertility, as will the share of the Israeli-Arab population though to a notably smaller extent. To illustrate the broad scale of the economic impact, if the labor participation rate of each group remains unchanged from its 2015 level, the total labor force participation rate is projected to decline by almost 3 percentage points in a decade. The lower average productivity of these groups would further lower potential growth. Moreover, a growing share of the population with low wages, or out of the workforce, would exacerbate the already relatively high levels of poverty and inequality.

Population Composition: Official Projections


Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics; and IMF staff calculations.

Labor Force Participation Scenarios 1/


Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Based on Central Bureau of Statistics population projections.

2/ Participation rates of each cohort remain at 2015 levels.

3/ Participation rates of Haredi men and Arab women rise to level of Haredi women by 2059, participation rates of other cohorts remain at 2015 levels.

12. Risks are wide ranging, with significant downsides requiring strong buffers (Annex II):

  • Domestic/regional: Regional tensions have in the past hit tourism hard and more adverse developments could damage confidence and investment. Housing prices could weaken in coming years, impacting construction and dragging on domestic demand. Yet financial stability would be cushioned by relatively low household debt and the health of banks.
  • External: Weak growth in Israel’s main trading partners would weigh on Israeli exports and growth. Impacts could exceed historical experience with exports being less diverse than those of most advanced economies and with reduced space for monetary policy to cushion shocks.
  • Potential growth/inequality: Limited progress on closing the gaps in participation and productivity of the Haredi and Arab populations may undermine stability by slowing growth and raising inequality. Yet, participation gaps have narrowed and this progress may continue.

13. The Israeli authorities shared a similar macroeconomic outlook. They assessed that the high growth in 2016 reflected broad-based strength in domestic demand and exports, underpinned by supportive macroeconomic policy and improvements in the terms of trade which bolstered real disposable income. They also viewed that the labor market was close to full employment and expected GDP to grow at around 3 percent in the coming years. While noting the resilience that the Israeli economy had shown in the face of a range of shocks, they fully recognized the economic and social challenges posed by the evolving composition of the Israeli population.

Policy Discussions

14. Policies should support fiscal and structural reforms to promote sustained and inclusive growth. Macroeconomic policy should provide a supportive environment for undertaking structural reforms while also protecting buffers in the medium term. Supply-side bottlenecks in the housing market need to be addressed in a lasting manner to help moderate inequality over time and also to help contain macrofinancial risks. Inclusiveness is key to sustaining strong growth in Israel, requiring policies to promote the participation and productivity of the Haredi and Israeli-Arab populations while mitigating poverty without undermining work incentives.

A. Monetary and Exchange Rate Policies

15. Monetary conditions are accommodative, although developments with the shekel and retail interest rates imply some tightening. The BOI has held the policy rate at 0.1 percent since February 2015 owing to inflation being below the 1–3 percent target range, and it has stated that monetary policy in Israel will remain accommodative for a considerable time. Yet the shekel appreciated 5 percent in nominal effective terms in 2016, extending the appreciation trend of recent years, while the average mortgage interest rate (unindexed mortgages) has risen 80 basis points since early 2015 to 3.1 percent (see paragraph 26).

Monetary Conditions Indicators

(Percent unless otherwise indicated)

Sources: Bank of Israel; and IMF staff calculations.

16. Monetary policy should remain accommodative pending a durable rise in inflation and inflation expectations. Core CPI inflation remains below the 1–3 percent target range, even after excluding the impact of energy price falls and government measures to lower living costs. A rise in inflation seems likely given domestic and international developments, yet the timing of this increase remains uncertain, especially in relation to the pass-through from rising domestic wage growth and an easing in the drag from low foreign inflation and shekel appreciation. While longer-term inflation expectations remain anchored to the target, there has been a significant decline in short- and medium-term expectations. In these circumstances, there is a need to avoid a premature monetary tightening before inflation is clearly heading back to target.

Inflation Expectations

(Monthly average, percent)

Sources: Bank of Israel; and IMF staff calculations.

17. A significant deviation of the shekel from fundamentals is not evident (Appendix I). Israel’s real exchange rate appreciation in recent years has lifted it to about 7 percent above its historical average on a CPI basis, and 17 percent higher on a unit labor cost (ULC) basis. The current account surplus of 3.6 percent of GDP in 2016 is above its norm of balance, but high household saving due to mandatory pension contributions and high official and private transfers, could warrant a higher norm. With estimates of undervaluation ranging from 3 to 9.6 percent on approaches favored by staff, it is not clear that the shekel deviates significantly from its fundamental value. Current account inflows are reflected in a combination of portfolio and other investment outflows led by pension funds, partly offset by net FDI inflows into Israel’s vibrant high-tech sector.

18. FX intervention declined in 2016. The BOI purchased the equivalent of $6 billion in 2016, down from $8.8 billion in 2015. About one-third of 2016 purchases were under the pre-announced program to offset lower imports owing to natural gas production, with the remainder aimed at moderating shekel overvaluation. Such purchases enable the BOI to make monetary conditions more supportive while avoiding stoking the property market through interest rate cuts. At the same time, the amounts purchased have not prevented the significant shekel appreciation in recent years.

Foreign Reserves and FX Intervention

(Billions of USD, unless mentioned otherwise)

Sources: Bank of Israel; and IMF staff calculations.

Indicators of Reserve Adequacy 1/

(As of end-2015)

Sources: IMF WEO database; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Comparator countries have similar tolerance for external risks based on indicators for economic flexibility, market maturity, and market access.

19. Israel’s foreign reserves are comfortable. Foreign reserves ($102 billion at end-February 2017) have remained broadly stable as share of GDP since 2009. Although Israel’s reserves exceed standard metrics relative to imports, short-term debt, and broad money, they do not appear excessive by international standards, especially considering Israel’s geopolitical risk exposure and its limited export diversification.

20. The BOI held broadly similar views on monetary policy yet it considers that the shekel is mildly overvalued. The BOI forecasts inflation to return to within the target range in 2017Q4, and it sees some upside as well as downside uncertainty around this inflation outlook. Nonetheless, it considers that tightening too early would likely be more costly than having to tighten more rapidly at a later stage. However, the BOI’s analysis, based on a range of in-house and external analytical tools, concludes that the shekel is mildly overvalued, driven by spillovers from the very accommodative global monetary policy. The resulting decline in competitiveness was reflected in sluggish goods exports, particularly in the European market. According to the BOI’s analysis, the estimated range for adequate reserves is $70–$110 billion. Reserves are currently within that range.

B. Housing and Macroprudential Policies

21. Housing affordability has deteriorated substantially. The average cost of a home has risen to more than seven times the average household’s annual income, up from a ratio of about five in 2002–07, with affordability significantly worse than in a range of other countries. The situation is especially severe in Tel Aviv, where the price-to-income ratio is almost twice the national average.

Housing Price-to-income Ratio in Israel

Sources: CBS; and IMF staff calculations.

Price-to-income Ratio

(As of 2015Q3)

Sources: Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey 2015Q3; CBS; and IMF staff calculations.

22. Elevated housing costs have disproportionate impacts on young and low-income households (Figure 6). Lower-income families can increasingly no longer afford the down payment, resulting in rising rents in the past decade. Increases in rental expenditure as a share of consumption are largest among low-income households, while high-income households seeking investment returns increasingly own more than one dwelling.

House Price and Share of Renters

Sources: CBS; and IMF staff calculations.

Rent as Share of Total Consumption Expenditure

(Percent, by income deciles)

Sources: CBS; and IMF staff calculations.

23. Recent housing market reforms include useful measures, but some initiatives are costly and may not have lasting benefits:

  • Fiscal measures: Several tax measures aim to discourage investor demand: (i) higher transaction taxes on second or subsequent homes until end 2020; (ii) the introduction of a recurrent property tax on owners of three or more houses; and (iii) partial exemptions from capital gains tax on sales of residential properties until end 2017, with full exemptions on investing proceeds of sales in the capital markets. These tax changes may dampen price rises in the near term owing to investor sales, but focusing a recurrent property tax on investors could over time raise rental costs for low-income households, and the ceiling on monthly tax payments is regressive. The Buyer’s Price program helps households purchase a first house, yet it benefits the relatively few households that win a lottery, provides housing supply mostly in the periphery, and comes at an off-budget fiscal cost peaking at 0.2 percent of GDP in 2017–18 (Annex III).
  • Administrative steps: The government is also seeking to reduce the exceptionally long time to complete construction from the start of planning, previously estimated to average 13 years. In 2014 the government established the Housing Cabinet to handle all planning stages and to coordinate between the numerous parties involved in the process and it then consolidated the Land Authority and the Planning Administration under the Finance Ministry in 2015. Estimates are that the planning process has been expedited by 2–6 years, but further gains may be possible by simplifying rules and decentralizing the approval of smaller projects.

24. Further reforms are needed to durably expand supply and improve affordability:

  • Addressing municipal disincentives. Local governments are reluctant to approve residential projects because residential property taxes are well below those on commercial properties even as they require additional infrastructure and public services. The authorities rely on “blanket agreements” with municipalities to overcome these hurdles for major projects. But correcting the incentives would make the supply of housing more responsive to demand on a lasting basis.
  • Ensuring adequate land supply for housing. The majority of the land in Israel is state owned. Accelerating land privatization, focusing on areas of high demand, would help mitigate housing price pressures. Recent efforts to reduce impediments to urban renewal are welcome, and this should be expanded dramatically as urban density in Tel Aviv is relatively low. At the same time, improved public transportation would help relieve demand in major centers. In addition, municipalities could charge taxes on undeveloped privately held land to promote its use.
  • Reducing construction times and costs. The government recently approved six foreign companies to construct residential buildings in Israel to help raise productivity in the sector. This welcome initiative should be expanded over time to allow broader entry of companies, which could also help relieve shortages of skilled labor. Construction costs and the time to build should also be reduced by streamlining building regulations.

25. A more developed rental market would also aid housing affordability. The rental market is primarily small-scale landlords, partly because rental income is taxable for companies but not for individuals. Recent amendments to the laws and regulations for investment in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) are welcome steps to attract professional investment and management into the rental sector, which could in time expand the supply of rental property and moderate rents. Although over a quarter of the population lives in rental dwellings, protection for tenants is among the lowest in OECD countries. Reforms in this area could also aid rental market development.

26. Macroprudential policies are appropriately tight, yet the BOI should continue to monitor developments closely. The BOI has proactively implemented a battery of macroprudential measures in the housing area, both quantitative limits and measures affecting banks’ cost of funding mortgages (Annex IV). As a result, household debt-to-income ratios remain low in Israel and mortgages with LTVs exceeding 75 percent have been almost eliminated. In particular, the requirement for banks to increase capital by 1 percent of outstanding mortgage lending by January 1, 2017 helps account for the rise in mortgage interest rates during 2016. With a view to avoiding an impediment to housing supply—which would have undermined macrofinancial stability—the BOI allowed banks to raise credit supply to the construction sector by recognizing their transfer of credit risk to secondary insurers abroad. This broad perspective on managing macrofinancial risks is welcome and the BOI should continue to monitor property market and debt developments closely.

Household Debt to Disposable Income Ratio

(Percent, in 2015 or latest available)

Sources: CBS; OECD; and IMF staff calculations.

New Housing Loans by Loan-to-Value Ratios

(Percent of total new housing loans)

Sources: Bank of Israel; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Loans not secured by housing.

27. The authorities considered that housing market reforms struck a reasonable balance between measures with near- and longer-term effects and noted that macroprudential policy would remain vigilant. The MOF fully agreed that housing supply is the key issue, noting the progress already made by the administrative reforms of planning. The Housing Cabinet had also been effective in addressing impediments to urban renewal and construction financing, and one of its current priorities is addressing skilled labor shortages. Regarding municipal incentives, political obstacles to changing taxes were insurmountable, so they would need to consider other approaches. Construction sector regulation would be reviewed as part of a broader government initiative. At the same time, the full benefits of these supply-side measures would only be realized in the long term. The Buyer’s Price program would provide younger households with affordable housing more quickly and its contribution to supply would become significant in the medium term. As part of the upward pressure on housing prices reflected investor purchases in the context of the current low-yield environment, the MOF considered the combination of tax measures appropriate, noting that some are temporary. Given the high level of housing prices, there are some downside risks in coming years, but recent BOI analysis shows that high risk loans are well controlled. The BOI added that bank capital buffers have increased recently as past measures came into effect, and following their rise, mortgage rates better incorporate the risk associated with mortgage lending, but it would remain vigilant and ready to take actions if needed to protect financial stability.

C. Financial Sector Policies

28. Israel’s banking system is sound but there are concerns about competition and efficiency. Indicators for capitalization, loan quality, and profitability point a healthy banking system. The leverage ratio of 6.6 percent exceeds most advanced economies and loan-to-deposit ratios below 100 percent show limited exposure to funding pressures. However, the system is highly concentrated, with five locally-owned banking groups accounting for 95 percent of banking sector assets, and the two largest groups for over 60 percent of assets (Table 6) Moreover, there have been no new entrants in almost half a century and its cost efficiency is low relative to other OECD countries partly due to high human resource expenses.

Table 1.Israel: Selected Economic Indicators, 2013–22
Real Economy (percent change)
Real GDP4.
Domestic demand3.
Private consumption3.
Public consumption3.
Gross fixed investment4.−
Stock changes (cont. to growth)−−
Net exports (contribution to growth)1.4−0.8−1.3−
Potential GDP3.
Output gap (percent of potential)0.70.3−0.4−0.1−
Unemployment rate (percent)
Overall CPI (percent change, end of period)1.8−0.2−1.0−
Overall CPI (percent change, average)1.50.5−0.6−
Saving and investment balance
Gross national saving (percent of GDP)23.524.124.323.923.123.022.922.822.822.8
Foreign saving (percent of GDP)−3.5−4.0−4.3−3.6−3.4−3.4−3.3−3.3−3.2−3.2
Gross capital formation (percent of GDP)
Public Finance (percent of GDP)
Central government
Revenues and grants25.525.725.826.325.625.725.625.625.625.6
Total expenditure28.828.427.928.428.328.428.428.428.428.4
Overall balance−3.3−2.7−2.1−2.1−2.7−2.7−2.9−2.9−2.9−2.9
Cyclically adjusted primary balance 1/−1.1−0.60.1−0.2−0.9−1.0−1.1−1.0−1.0−1.0
General Government
Overall balance−4.2−3.4−2.7−2.5−3.3−3.5−3.7−3.7−3.7−3.7
Of which: Foreign currency external debt14.414.913.613.213.313.313.313.313.313.3
Balance of Payments (percent of GDP)
Exports of goods and services 2/33.432.230.730.131.031.331.431.531.531.4
Real growth rate (percent)3.61.4−
Imports of goods and services 2/31.130.427.727.628.228.528.428.428.428.4
Real growth rate (percent)−0.33.8−
Goods and services balance2.
Oil imports (billions of U.S. dollars)14.612.
Current account balance3.
Foreign reserves (eop, US$ billions)81.886.190.698.4105.0109.1113.9118.6123.4128.3
Exchange Rate
NIS per U.S. dollar3.
Nominal effective exchange rate (2005=100)104.1106.4108.0111.6
Real effective exchange rate (2005=100)103.0104.5106.6108.6
Sources: Bank of Israel; Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Percent of potential GDP.

National Accounts data.

Sources: Bank of Israel; Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Percent of potential GDP.

National Accounts data.

Table 2.Israel: Balance of Payments, 2013–22(In billions of U.S. dollars; unless otherwise indicated)
Current account balance10.312.213.011.611.711.812.212.612.913.3
Exports, f.o.b.
Imports, f.o.b.70.070.360.063.465.368.070.573.175.778.3
Primary income−5.8−3.5−4.4−4.3−6.4−6.6−6.9−7.2−7.5−7.8
Secondary income9.
Capital account1.
Financial account 1/−
Direct investment, net−6.9−3.1−1.60.2−0.7−0.3−0.5−0.4−0.4−0.4
Foreign direct investment abroad5.53.79.912.511.211.811.511.711.611.6
Foreign direct investment in Israel12.46.711.512.311.912.
Portfolio investment, net7.60.86.8−
Financial derivatives, net−0.5−0.4−0.3−0.6−0.4−0.5−0.5−0.5−0.5−0.5
Other investment, net5.
Change in reserves4.
Errors and omissions−2.71.0−1.2−
Memorandum items:
Current account balance (percent of GDP)
Terms of trade (percent change)−1.2−3.910.63.5−−0.1−0.2
Gross external debt (percent of GDP)34.531.129.928.627.927.829.131.333.535.8
Foreign reserves
US$ billion81.886.190.698.4105.0109.1113.9118.6123.4128.3
Percent of GDP27.927.930.330.930.930.930.930.930.930.9
Months of G&S imports10.512.412.312.312.512.512.512.612.612.6
GDP (billions of U.S. dollars)293.3308.8299.4318.3339.6352.9368.1383.5399.1414.9
Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Excludes reserve assets.

Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Excludes reserve assets.

Table 3.Israel: International Investment Position, 2008–16(In percent of GDP)
Net Investment7.35.610.416.220.521.321.022.933.3
Direct investment2.−2.1−3.9−4.4−4.9−3.3
Portfolio investment−17.6−22.1−19.6−10.5−3.3−1.5−5.2−5.82.3
Financial derivatives0.00.0−0.1−0.1−0.10.0−0.1−0.2−0.2
Reserve assets19.729.230.328.629.527.927.930.330.9
Other investment2.4−2.0−3.6−4.0−3.4−
Total Assets90.1109.6111.4101.5107.3106.7108.6118.0119.8
Direct investment25.227.729.527.127.626.225.829.932.1
Portfolio investment15.523.826.623.929.632.634.438.137.3
Reserve assets19.729.230.328.629.527.927.930.330.9
Other assets29.828.825.022.020.820.120.620.019.7
Total Liabilities82.9103.9101.185.386.885.387.695.186.5
Direct investment22.327.
Portfolio investment33.
Other liabilities27.530.828.726.
Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics; and Haver Analytics.
Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics; and Haver Analytics.
Table 4.Israel: Summary of Central Government Operations, 2010–18 1/(In percent of GDP; unless otherwise indicated)
Revenue and grants25.525.724.925.525.725.826.325.625.7
On income and profits10.711.010.811.311.311.611.711.811.9
VAT and customs11.111.010.610.811.210.910.810.710.8
VAT on defense imports0.
Loans from NII1.
Grants 2/
Expenditure 2/3/29.028.628.928.828.427.928.428.328.4
Administrative Departments4.
Social Departments11.211.211.411.311.211.312.012.512.5
Economic Departments1.
Defense Expenditure 2/
Other Expenditures0.
Repayment of Principal to NII0.
Budget deficit−3.5−2.9−4.1−3.3−2.7−2.1−2.1−2.7−2.7
Unsettled Payment Orders 4/−1.1−−0.50.3−
Foreign (net)−0.10.0−−
Domestic (net)
Sale of assets (net)
Memorandum items:
Primary spending24.123.824.224.223.923.724.424.324.5
Primary balance (PB)0.20.8−−0.3−0.3
Cyclically adjusted balance 5/−4.1−3.9−5.0−4.5−3.6−2.5−2.5−3.3−3.5
Cyclically adjusted PB 5/−0.3−0.2−1.3−1.1−0.60.1−0.2−0.9−1.0
Deficit limit 3/
Real expenditure growth (in percent)
Public debt to GDP70.768.868.367.
Nominal GDP (in billions of NIS)8749359931,0591,1051,1641,2221,2681,323
Sources: Israeli Ministry of Finance; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Data as per the MOF definition, on a cash basis, covering the budgetary sector and the National Insurance Institute.

Starting from 2017, grants provided by the United States and associated spending are excluded from the MOF’s budget presentation.

Excludes state land sales.

Registered spending but for which the equivalent cash has not yet been disbursed, hence it does not appear in financing.

In percent of potential GDP.

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Finance; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Data as per the MOF definition, on a cash basis, covering the budgetary sector and the National Insurance Institute.

Starting from 2017, grants provided by the United States and associated spending are excluded from the MOF’s budget presentation.

Excludes state land sales.

Registered spending but for which the equivalent cash has not yet been disbursed, hence it does not appear in financing.

In percent of potential GDP.

Table 5.Israel: General Government Operations, 2010–18(In percent of GDP; unless otherwise indicated)
(In billions of NIS, unless otherwise specified)
Taxes on income, profits, and capital gains80.789.392.8104.4108.3117.6125.9130.1136.7
Taxes on goods and services107.6114.6117.0128.2137.4143.0154.4159.5167.6
Taxes on international trade and transactions2.
Taxes n.e.c.29.030.832.333.835.437.940.641.944.1
Social contributions53.357.058.862.164.668.471.874.577.7
Other revenue39.340.943.444.645.647.449.853.655.9
Of which: Interest income6.
Compensation of employees87.092.399.1105.4109.4114.3121.1126.7133.2
Purchases/use of goods and services86.592.199.1104.6109.7102.4108.5114.7119.2
Interest expense39.340.342.940.940.439.438.140.944.1
Social benefits96.3101.9109.2114.7119.3135.8143.9152.1159.9
Expense n.e.c.48.649.855.461.361.465.673.278.082.3
Net acquisition of nonfinancial assets0.
Net lending/borrowing−35.7−31.9−49.7−44.3−38.0−31.1−30.8−42.1−46.8
Net acquisition of financial assets−19.0−14.1−8.6−4.4−15.2−5.6−10.8−8.5−11.8
Net incurrence of liabilities16.617.841.139.922.825.520.033.635.1
(In percent of GDP)
Taxes on income, profits, and capital gains9.
Taxes on goods and services12.312.311.812.112.412.312.612.612.7
Taxes on international trade and transactions0.
Taxes n.e.c.
Social contributions6.
Other revenue4.
Of which: Interest income0.
Compensation of employees10.09.910.
Purchases/use of goods and services9.99.810.
Interest expense4.
Social benefits11.010.911.010.810.811.711.812.012.1
Expense n.e.c.
Net acquisition of nonfinancial assets0.
Net lending/borrowing−4.1−3.4−5.0−4.2−3.4−2.7−2.5−3.3−3.5
Net acquisition of financial assets−2.2−1.5−0.9−0.4−1.4−0.5−0.9−0.7−0.9
Net incurrence of liabilities1.
Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics; IMF Government Financial Statistics; and IMF staff estimates and projections.
Sources: Central Bureau of Statistics; IMF Government Financial Statistics; and IMF staff estimates and projections.
Table 6.Israel: Financial System Structure, 2008–15
Number ofTotal assetsNumber ofTotal assetsNumber ofTotal assets


Percent of


Percent of



Percent of

A. Banks
Five major banks, consolidated51,013130.751,246117.651,388119.3
Bank Leumi131140.1137435.3141635.8
Bank Hapoalim130739.6138035.9143237.1
Israel Discount Bank118223.5120118.9120517.6
Mizrahi Tefahot Bank111414.7118017.0120918.0
First International Bank of Israel19912.8111110.5112510.8
Other Israeli banks3496.33625.83645.5
Foreign bank branches4161.5171.5
B. Non-bank financial institutions1/76598.81,390131.31,586136.3
Provident and severance pay funds8714518.87520419.375.021218.2
Advanced study funds739.414313.516914.6
Old pension funds1823730.61834832.818.039433.9
New pension funds13719.21318617.511.025121.5
New general pension funds10.120.240.3
New comprehensive pension funds709.118317.324721.2
Mutual funds1,1859812.71,24723121.81,39222919.7
Assured yield life insurance plans557.1787.3837.1
Profit sharing life insurance plans8611.120219.024821.3
Total financial system (A+B)1,778229.52,636248.92,975255.6
Memorandum items:
GDP (NIS billions)774.81,059.11,163.8
Sources: Bank of Israel; Ministry of Finance; Capital Market, Insurance, and Saving Authority; and Israel Securities Authority.

The number of funds include management companies.

Sources: Bank of Israel; Ministry of Finance; Capital Market, Insurance, and Saving Authority; and Israel Securities Authority.

The number of funds include management companies.

Non-Interest Expenses to Gross Income, 2015


Source: IMF Financial Soundness Indicators Database.

Table.Banking System Soundness Indicators, 2011–2016(End-period, in percent)
201120122013201420152016 Q3
Regulatory capital to risk-weighted assets 1/14.014.914.814.314.014.6
Regulatory Tier I capital to risk-weighted assets 1/
NPL to total gross loans3.
NPL net of loan-loss provisions to capital12.312.
Return on average assets (before tax)
Return on average equity (before tax)12.312.113.311.814.415.5
Liquid as sets as percent of short-term liabilities25.727.726.5
Customer deposits as a percent of total (non-interbank) loans111.3113.0113.9115.8117.8117.3
Source: IMF Financial Soundness Indicators Database.

The calculation of capital base follows rules under Basel II.

Source: IMF Financial Soundness Indicators Database.

The calculation of capital base follows rules under Basel II.

29. The authorities are therefore taking a range of steps to promote the efficiency of the financial sector:

  • Information and electronic banking: To help customers compare the costs of bank services, the BOI has introduced a bank “identification card,” which is an easy-to-read annual report from banks on a customer’s financial assets, liabilities, loan and deposit rates, and various fees. A National Credit Register is in the process of being established, which could broaden access to credit while also reducing the competitive advantage of the major banks. The BOI is establishing policies to facilitate electronic banking, which would ease account mobility between banks.
  • Restructuring: Following the recommendations of the Strum Committee, the authorities have enacted legislation to separate the credit card companies from the two largest banks while protecting them from their previous owners. The Committee also recommended expanding access to the clearing and settlement infrastructures by regulating these in accordance with the EU Payment Services Directive, along with an increased role for nonbanks in credit provision.
  • Cost cutting: The BOI has promoted a reduction in bank’s operating costs by requesting the banks to provide five-year streamlining programs. These programs are expected to reduce branch numbers by 20 percent and staffing by 10 percent, with the resulting savings to be used to support technological improvements and reduced fees in addition to raising profits. The associated upfront costs are accommodated by some temporary relief in capital requirements.

30. The separation of credit card companies should be closely supervised. Ahead of the adoption of legislation for this separation in December, the BOI has already taken appropriate steps to avoid conflicts of interest between the banks and the credit card companies. Given the importance of these two credit card companies for the payments system, it is appropriate that their regulation remain with the Banking Supervision Department (BSD) of the BOI. The viability of their post-separation business models and the stability of their funding structures are of particular importance. Enacting legislation for securitization is important to facilitate the funding of credit card companies, especially considering that credit card interest rates are relatively low in Israel.

31. Further strengthening the financial stability framework is needed to fully realize the benefits of greater competition. A more contestible banking market increases the need for deposit insurance with appropriate coverage limits, together with enhanced bank resolution tools, to protect stability and contain potential costs. Hence, both of these instruments should be established before significantly reducing the NIS 100 million minimum capital requirement for bank entry. More broadly, in the wake of major decisions on financial sector reform, it is important to safeguard the operational independence of each financial regulator from political pressures, including to ensure potential new entrants are not deterred by uncertainty about future regulatory arrangements.

32. Regulatory arrangements are being enhanced and the establishment a Financial Stability Committee (FSC) should be completed. In 2016, an independent Capital Markets, Insurance, and Savings Authority (CMISA) was established by separating the respective division from the MOF. It is important to operationalize the Solvency II framework for the insurance sector to ensure its resilience to shocks. Following up on technical assistance recommendations, the BSD is in the process of adopting a more risk-focused approach to supervision in order to lower compliance costs while maintaining high standards. Steps include limiting prior approval requirements to high-risk initiatives and increasing engagement with banks’ boards and senior management. To facilitate collaboration and coordination among the various financial regulators, the 2012 FSAP Update recommended to establish an FSC. The authorities have agreed that the FSC will be chaired by the Governor of the BOI, and it is now important to enact the respective legislation to enable the sharing of information needed to make the FSC operational.

33. The authorities generally shared staff’s assessment and would continue working on these issues. They agreed that strong supervision is key to maintaining sound financial sector in Israel, as reflected in the recent creation of an independent CMISA, and they expected the FSC legislation to be tabled at the Knesset by April. The BOI and MOF have established a working group on deposit insurance and bank resolution issues, with a view to ensuring stability is protected while facilitating new bank entry. The regulatory authorities fully supported the need to safeguard their operational independence from political pressures.

D. Fiscal Policy

34. Strong revenue performance contained the fiscal deficit in 2016 and the debt ratio declined to 62 percent of GDP. The central government deficit came in at 2.1 percent of GDP in 2016, well below the 2.9 percent target, with revenue over performance of 0.7 percentage points of GDP reflecting higher-than-expected growth and exceptionally high vehicle sales. The cyclically-adjusted general government deficit was unchanged at 2½ percent of GDP in 2016.

35. A two-year budget adopted for 2017–18 allows for higher fiscal deficits. The central government deficit targets for both 2017 and 2018 were revised to 2.9 percent of GDP, up from 2½ and 2¼ percent of GDP respectively. The higher deficit target primarily reflects a marked increase in current expenditures of 0.6 percent of GDP, reflecting expanded allowances for the elderly and disabled, education, and healthcare. A small increase in investment, of 0.1 percent of GDP, aims to enhance mass transport, build roads to minority communities, and raise housing supply. The net cost of tax measures is estimated to be around 0.1 percent of GDP from 2018. In practice, staff estimates the deficit will be about 2¾ percent of GDP in 2017–18 given the prudent macroeconomic framework underpinning revenue projections.

Cyclically-Adjusted General Government Balances

(Percent of potential GDP)

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Finance; and IMF staff projections.

36. Israel should be protecting its fiscal buffers in this relatively favorable economic environment. After bringing public debt down to the advanced economy median in recent years, the 2017–18 budget allows a gradual increase in the debt ratio of 1½ percentage points over the next five years, to be significantly above the gradually declining median by 2022. Israel has some fiscal space if it were to be needed, with government debt projected to remain below the 85 percent threshold for advanced economies and gross financing needs at manageable levels of around 10 percent of GDP (Appendix II). However, Israel faces wider uncertainties than most advanced economies, making the government’s medium-term debt target of 60 percent of GDP a more robust benchmark for assuring that large scale fiscal support can be deployed if the need arises.

General Government Debt

(Percent of GDP)

Source: IMF WEO database.

37. A fiscal deficit of around 2 percent of GDP over the cycle is therefore appropriate, with temporary flexibility to facilitate structural reforms. Bringing the central government deficit down to 2 percent of GDP would generate a gradual debt decline in normal times.4 Such a deficit—equivalent to 3 percent of GDP for general government on a GFS basis—would rebuild buffers after a rise in deficits and debt owing to a recession. Nonetheless, if structural reforms with clear benefits for potential growth are adopted, a deficit that is somewhat higher could be appropriate temporarily if needed to accommodate upfront reform costs. The current favorable macroeconomic conditions support undertaking this modest adjustment in the coming years. Indeed, if the deficit is below target in 2017, the authorities should seek to lock in that overperformance by not further cutting taxes or raising spending without offsetting measures.

General Government Debt under Adjustment Scenario 1/

(Percent of GDP)

1/ Assuming the general government deficit exceeds the central government deficit by 0.6 percent of GDP in 2017 and 0.8 percent in 2018 thereafter; annual nominal GDP growth of 5 percent; and non-debt financing of 0.5 percent of GDP annually. Source: IMF staff estimates

38. Although progress is being made on making the structure of fiscal policy more favorable for inclusive growth, needs remain, especially in education and infrastructure. It is welcome that the 2017–18 budget includes a sizable rise in healthcare spending to support reforms that should reduce queues for public services. But there are also other spending priorities, as well:

  • Education and training. Israel’s education outcomes are below OECD average in terms of PISA scores. Reforms of education and training, supported by additional resources, could narrow the wide gaps in achievement across social groups, bolster the skills of those already in work, and help Haredi men and Arab women enter the workforce.
  • Transport infrastructure. Prospects for rapidly rising road congestion threaten productivity and would reinforce demand for property in favorable locations. Timely completion of the public transportation projects underway is needed. The government intends to enhance road and other transport infrastructure through extrabudgetary projects (e.g., public-private partnerships), but these are often subject to extensive delays. Additional budgetary resources would enable a more rapid expansion of efficient public projects while expediting extrabudgetary projects.

Education Spending and Outcomes

Source: OECD.

39. Funding these essential public investments in human and physical capital while protecting Israel’s fiscal buffers will require a balanced approach. Defense spending is high (6 percent of GDP), making it important during peacetime to adhere to the multi-year defense budget (Annex V) to contain this spending in a durable manner. Other savings can be achieved by raising the efficiency of central government administration and by further improving public procurement procedures.5 In addition to implementing planned steps to enhance tax administration, revenues can be significantly enhanced in a growth-friendly manner by scaling back tax benefits, which total 5 percent of GDP. The government should assess whether such benefits are well-targeted and used as intended (e.g., those related to capital investments and education funds). It could also replace blanket VAT exemptions on fruit and vegetables with targeted transfers.

Projected Foregone Revenue from Tax Benefits
(Percent of GDP)20172018
Direct taxes4.14.0
Law for the encouragement of capital investments0.50.5
Education funds0.40.4
Exemption from betterment tax on apartments0.40.3
Credit to parents for children0.20.2
Exemption for the National Insurance allowances0.20.2
Indirect taxes0.80.8
Customs and purchase tax0.40.4
Sources: Israeli Ministry of Finance; WEO; and IMF staff calculations.
Sources: Israeli Ministry of Finance; WEO; and IMF staff calculations.

40. Important improvements in the medium-term fiscal framework have been made, but greater political commitment will be key to its effectiveness in practice. Following the recommendations from IMF Technical Assistance in 2015, the government has implemented a number of welcome measures to strengthen the medium-term fiscal framework (Annex V). In particular, strengthening commitment controls will improve prospects for containing spending trends, as will the agreement on a multi-year defense budget, combined with enhanced transparency in the implementation of that budget. However, long experience demonstrates that the medium-term budget framework remains susceptible to deviations from the fiscal rules. Including concrete measures to close such deviations in the budget document would enhance the credibility of fiscal rules. The government should also set clear criteria that limit changes in the spending and deficit ceilings to exceptional cases such as natural disasters. To enhance budget transparency, the Land Authority should be converted to a budgetary entity, while U.S. grants and related defense spending of ¾ percent of GDP annually should be reported on budget.

Central Government Deficit Target Adjustments

(Percent of GDP)

Sources: MoF; Brender(2013); IMF (2014); and IMF (2015).

41. The authorities expected better fiscal outturns but had differing views on tax cuts. The MOF highlighted that the deficit had been below target in both 2015 and 2016, with some potential for this pattern to recur. At the same time, if revenues are strong, it considers it important to cut tax rates such as VAT to further reduce the cost of living. In contrast, the BOI did not support tax cuts at this time, as one-off factors make it difficult to assess revenue trends and civilian spending is low. The MOF was cautious about setting out criteria for adjusting fiscal targets, including in relation to potential upfront costs of structural reforms, fearing they could be a slippery slope.

E. Structural Reforms

42. Israel has two main opportunities to improve its longer-term economic outlook:

  • Productivity is relatively low, especially in sectors sheltered from international competition. Average labor productivity in Israel was 56 percent of U.S. levels in 2015 and 74 percent of EU levels. Labor productivity growth is higher in industries that are more exposed to international competition. The inefficiencies in sheltered sectors reduce productivity and wages for employees and contribute to the high prices in Israel relative to per capita incomes.
  • Labor participation of some groups remains very low. Participation of Haredi females has risen substantially in the past 15 years to approach that of other Jewish females. Haredi male participation has risen in recent years, but remains very low at only 50.5 percent. Participation of Arab women has steadily increased, but at 34.6 percent there is much room to benefit from their inclusion in the labor force.

Labor Productivity Comparison, 2015

(GDP per hour worked, USD, constant prices, 2010 PPPs)

Sources: OECD; and IMF staff calculations. 1/ 2014 data is used due to data availablity.

Price Level and GDP Per Capita

(Index, OECD average in 2015=100)

Sources: OECD; and IMF staff calculations.

Labor Force Participation Rate by Cohorts


Sources: CBS; and IMF staff calculations.

43. Product market reforms are needed to increase competition, boost productivity, and reduce the cost of living. Israel’s product markets are characterized by (i) relatively low trade openness, (ii) complex and burdensome regulation that forms a barrier to entry, and (iii) associated signs of inadequate competition in some sectors. Reforms should therefore prioritize three areas:

  • Lowering barriers to external competition. Israel recently liberalized imports of dry food products. Trade barriers should be further lowered by expanding the coverage of quota increases and tariff cuts, especially on food, e.g., half of dairy products and eggs face tariffs over 100 percent. Support for agriculture should be shifted to less distortionary targeted subsidies. Import procedures should be simplified, standards aligned with those in other advanced economies, and restrictions that hinder foreign competition in services eased.
  • Reducing regulatory burdens. Israel’s Doing Business ranking dropped from 30th in 2008 to 52nd in 2016. Regulation should be reviewed and modernized to achieve public goals in a low-cost manner. Simple and timely administration of regulations, such as a “one-stop shop,” is critical for the ease of doing business. Regarding proposals for new regulations, requiring robust regulatory impact assessments is critical.
  • Reforming state enterprises. The weak efficiency of SOEs, especially in network industries (e.g., electricity, ports, airports, postal services, water management) drags on productivity and costs across the economy. In particular, implementing long-planned reforms in the electricity sector is key to helping Israel make efficient use of its natural gas resources.

Selected Price Levels

(PPPs-based, index OECD=100, 2011)

Source: OECD 2016 Economic Survey for Israel.

Regulation in Retail Trade

(Index scale from 0 (least restrictive) to 6 (most restrictive), 2013)

Source: OECD, Product Market Regulation database.

44. Broad efforts are needed to support higher participation and reduce poverty. Earlier welfare cuts, and house price rises in the last decade, are found to have boosted labor supply, yet there were also significant social costs.6 Going forward, policies should enhance the ability to participate, promote the availability of suitable jobs, and support the incomes of those in work.

45. Active labor market policies (ALMP) should be expanded. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has established 46 Career Centers to provide a range of employment services to Israeli-Arabs, Haredi, and Ethiopian Israelis, in their communities. It also funds adult vocational training and is running programs to promote integration in high-tech industry, to boost Haredi employment in the public sector, and encourage SME entrepreneurship. But only 0.2 percent of GDP is spent on such ALMP, limiting its impact. Programs showing good results should receive more funding, working in coordination with employers to ensure their effectiveness.

Public Expenditure on Labor Programs, 2014

(Percent of GDP)

Source: OECD.

46. The environment for small businesses, including infrastructure, is key to the availability of suitable work. More jobs are needed in, or close to, Haredi and Israeli-Arab communities. Investments in connecting their towns to main roads need to be increased, alongside improvements in access to public transport. Other supports for local business development and employment are also needed, including access to financing, which, in the Israeli-Arab communities, may require government assistance to work around the difficulties with using land as collateral.7

47. Raising the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is also critical to reducing poverty. The minimum wage has been increased significantly in recent years, to 51 percent of the average wage based on the increase planned for December 2017. Israel’s minimum wage would be among the highest by international standards, increasing the risk of adverse employment effects, especially on the low-skilled or young. 8 The EITC averages NIS 3,619 per household in 2015, equivalent to just 7 percent of the minimum wage, with an overall budgetary cost of only 0.1 percent of GDP. In 2015, 414,500 low income workers were eligible for the EITC, mostly with children, of which 70.2 percent used the credit. A substantial expansion of the EITC would provide well-targeted support to low income workers with families, helping to address poverty while reinforcing incentives to work. It would also be desirable to broaden the impact of the EITC, such as by lowering the minimum earnings threshold so that more part-time workers qualify. Payments of the credit should be more frequent and timely, to encourage greater use of it and strengthen its effectiveness in encouraging employment.

Minimum Wages Relative to Mean Wages, 2015


Sources: OECD; Bank of Israel; and IMF staff calculations.

48. The authorities are keenly aware of the need for structural reforms to enhance productivity and participation. A cross-government initiative to streamline regulation by 25 percent is being led by the Prime Minister’s Office. The MOF supports a progressive reduction in the remaining trade barriers, using targeted subsidies to support agriculture where needed. The authorities had few concerns that the increase in the minimum wage would affect employment in the current macroeconomic conditions, and, if needed, there was sufficient flexibility in the framework for adjusting the minimum wage. The BOI endorsed expansion of ALMP and EITC, together with supporting development of small business in Haredi and Israeli-Arab communities, while the MOF was concerned that a significant expansion of the EITC could undermine work incentives for those households at or near the income levels subject to abatement of the credit.

Staff Appraisal

49. The Israeli economy is well placed for reforms to help sustain strong and inclusive growth. Growth of 4 percent in 2016 benefited from robust domestic demand, only partly due to one-off factors, supported by an export rebound. Labor market conditions have improved with historically low unemployment and rising wages, yet inflation remained low. Growth is expected to settle around 3 percent in coming years with a moderation in domestic demand growth yet some firming in exports. In the longer term, however, demographic trends, especially the rising share of Haredi in the working-age population, could lower Israel’s growth potential and raise poverty.

50. Monetary policy should remain accommodative pending a durable rise in inflation and inflation expectations. With inflation below the 1–3 percent target band in recent years, the BOI has maintained appropriately accommodative monetary policy, which has helped keep long-term inflation expectations well anchored. A further rise in wage growth, together with higher foreign inflation and commodity prices, makes an eventual increase in Israeli inflation likely. Nonetheless, there are uncertainties around the timing of an increase in inflation, which, together with weakness in short- to medium-term inflation expectations, calls for avoiding a premature monetary tightening. The shekel has appreciated in recent years despite the accommodative stance of monetary policy and it is not evident that it deviates significantly from fundamentals.

51. Reforms that durably expand housing supply are needed to improve affordability over time and thereby also lower macrofinancial risks. Bringing the relevant authorities under the MOF is already expediting land planning and the Housing Cabinet has helped address financing issues and impediments to urban renewal. Recent tax measures may moderate price increases in the near term but the Buyer’s Price Program is costly and boosts supply mostly in the periphery. Correcting municipal incentives in relation to residential development is essential to make the supply of residential property more responsive to demand on a lasting basis. Land privatization should be accelerated and urban renewal expanded, complemented by improved public transportation to relieve demand in major centers. Construction times and costs should be reduced by streamlining building regulations and further opening this market to foreign competition.

52. Financial stability must continue to be safeguarded during the course of reforms to promote efficiency in the sector. Regulatory arrangements continue to be enhanced with the establishment of the independent CMISA and the move to a more risk-focused supervisory approach by the BOI to lower compliance costs while maintaining the high standards. The FSC legislation should be enacted to improve coordination among regulators and the Solvency II framework for the insurance sector should be operationalized. A range of steps have been taken to promote the efficiency of the financial sector, including separation of two credit card companies from banks, which will need to be closely supervised. Steps to lower entry barriers to the bank market should be taken in a context of adequate tools to protect stability and contain potential costs, including in relation to deposit insurance and bank resolution. It is also important to safeguard the operational independence of each financial regulator from political pressures, including to give new entrants greater certainty about future regulatory arrangements.

53. Fiscal policy should further support Israel’s growth potential while protecting buffers. Strong growth in 2016 helped lower the fiscal deficit and maintained the downtrend in public debt ratios. Although the 2017–18 budget includes useful steps, such as expanded healthcare resources, allowing deficits of up to 2.9 percent of GDP could result in a gradual rise in public debt. In the current favorable macroeconomic conditions, the central government deficit should be reduced to around 2 percent of GDP in coming years. At the same time, education and transport infrastructure are priority areas for additional spending to help sustain growth. Funding these essential public investments while narrowing the deficit can be achieved by through additional savings from central government administration and improving public procurement and by reducing sizable tax benefits. Important improvements in the medium-term fiscal framework have been made, especially the enhanced commitment controls, but greater political commitment is key to its effectiveness.

54. Product market reforms are essential to increase competition, boost productivity, and reduce living costs. Regulation should be modernized to achieve public policy goals in a low-cost manner and simple and timely administration of regulations is also critical. Steps to lower tariff and non-tariff barriers to external competition should be broadened. SOE reforms, especially in the electricity sector, would also help reduce costs across the economy.

55. Inclusiveness is central to sustaining strong growth and reducing poverty in Israel. Narrowing the wide gaps in the labor participation and productivity of Haredi and Israeli-Arab populations can improve potential growth prospects significantly and is essential to avoid a rise in poverty as their share in the population increases. Innovative active labor market programs, such as community-based career centers, and a range of integration and vocational training programs are being introduced with promising results. Resources for well-performing programs should be expanded while ensuring effectiveness through close coordination with employers. Job creation in Haredi and Israeli-Arab communities would benefit from improved transport connections including access to public transportation, and support for business development such as access to financing. At the same time, the EITC should be increased substantially while also widening eligibility for this credit, in order to more immediately help reduce poverty while reinforcing incentives to work.

56. It is proposed that the next Article IV consultation with Israel take place on the standard 12-month cycle.

Table 7.Israel: Financial Soundness Indicators, Banks, 2010–16:Q3(End-period, in percentage points)
2010201120122013201420152016 Q3
Capital Adequacy
Regulatory capital to risk-weighted assets1/
Regulatory Tier I capital to risk-weighted assets 1/
Capital as percent of assets (leverage ratio)
Asset quality and exposure
Nonperforming loans to total gross loans3.
Nonperforming loans net of loan-loss provisions to capital12.312.
Sectoral distribution of bank credit (percent) 2/
Construction and real estate16.716.616.416.216.116.4
Finance services11.
Of which: mortgages24.217.719.020.420.822.0
Borrowers with activity abroad13.012.611.711.911.8
Large exposures as percent of regulatory capital397.2395.0364.8357.9345.5349.9
Earnings and profitability
Return on average assets (before tax)
Return on average equity (before tax)13.812.312.113.311.814.415.5
Interest margins to gross income63.565.260.759.158.456.558.6
Trading and fee income to gross income8.
Noninterest expenses to gross income68.470.370.069.372.767.165.7
Personnel expenses to noninterest expenses57.359.058.659.658.859.058.4
Liquid assets as percent of total assets14.215.715.1
Liquid assets as percent of short-term liabilities25.727.726.5
Customer deposits as a percent of total (non-interbank) loans104.7111.3113.0113.9115.8117.8117.3
Foreign exchange risk
Net foreign exchange open position to capital−43.7−44.6−43.7−55.7−55.2−61.1−59.4
Foreign currency-denominated loans as percent of total loans16.216.614.913.113.212.412.9
Foreign currency-denominated liabilities as percent of total liabilities29.629.727.726.829.226.925.6
Sources: Bank of Israel; and IMF Financial Soundness Indicators Database.

The calculation of capital base follows rules under Basel II.

The 2010 data do not include off-balance sheet data and “borrowers with activity abroad” are not classified separately. From 2011 onward, data include off-balance sheet data.

Sources: Bank of Israel; and IMF Financial Soundness Indicators Database.

The calculation of capital base follows rules under Basel II.

The 2010 data do not include off-balance sheet data and “borrowers with activity abroad” are not classified separately. From 2011 onward, data include off-balance sheet data.

Table 8.Israel: Financial Soundness Indicators, Non-Banks, 2008–15(End-period, in percentage points unless otherwise indicated)
Insurance sector
Return on equity−19.035.919.3−0.514.418.311.96.8
Net premiums as percent of capital302.6204.1192.5224.5213.2201.3194.3205.7
Capital as percent of technical reserves6.
Surplus capital as percent of required solvency 1 capital1.525.528.816.632.740.444.853.1
Liquid assets as percent of total assets41.449.552.451.251.953.453.953.8
Household assets as percent of disposable income475.1497.1518.3497.3517.0516.5522.8520.3
Of which: residential buildings153.5143.0143.2143.5147.0145.2144.9144.1
Household financial liabilities as percent of disposable income78.975.474.275.972.771.172.873.8
Corporate sector
Non-financial sector borrowing to GDP ratio84.585.582.679.777.174.475.375.1
From residents67.468.867.263.861.860.460.661.5
From non residents17.116.715.515.915.314.014.613.6
Debt to equity ratio
All nonfinancial corporate2.
Of which: Manufacturing sector1.
Construction corporate4.
Net income to equity ratio
All nonfinancial corporate0.
Of which: Manufacturing sector0.
Construction corporate−
Earning before interest and tax to equity ratio
All nonfinancial corporate0.
Of which: Manufacturing sector0.
Construction corporate0.
Equity markets
Tel Aviv Stock Exchange Index 75 (annual percent change)−67.5149.815.7−25.94.824.7−9.8−5.4
Equity prices of financial institutions (annual percent change)−55.7126.99.3−−7.74.0
Equity prices of real estate firms (annual percent change)−80.0125.215.4−
Equity prices of banks (annual percent change)−55.5114.06.8−34.622.916.3−5.67.3
Market capitalization in percent of GDP52.487.792.264.260.866.670.681.7
Corporate bond markets
Corporate bond yields over government bond yields (in percentage points)
Real estate and construction20.
Corporate bond outstanding (in billions of NIS)185.6217.3240.1238.7260.8271.4263.7251.6
Average daily turnover (in billons of NIS)
Real estate markets (prices; annual percent change)
Average prices of owner occupied dwelling6.522.417.
Tel Aviv10.734.116.9−4.8−
Memorandum items
GDP (year on year percent change, constant prices)
Nominal GDP (in billions of NIS)7758158749359931,0591,1051,164
Total financial sector assets (in billions of NIS)1,7782,0022,1372,2582,4402,6362,8922,975
Of which: Five major banks (in percent of total financial assets)
Total financial sector assets (in percent of GDP)229.5245.6244.5241.4245.6248.9261.7255.6
of which: Five major banks (in percent of GDP)130.7127.8122.3125.8122.9117.6120.1119.3
Sources: Bank of Israel; and IMF staff estimates.
Sources: Bank of Israel; and IMF staff estimates.
Table 9.Israel: Credit by Financial Sector and Nonresidents, 2008–16(Percent of GDP)
Financial Sector Credit
Of which to:
Business sector49.143.543.042.239.335.433.933.331.9
Institutional investors50.851.851.049.352.452.852.953.053.2
Of which to:
Business sector13.014.113.513.013.713.412.912.612.7
Credit card companies0.
Of which to:
Business sector0.
Total financial sector credit140.0136.8136.7135.6136.0132.8132.1132.9132.4
Nonresidents Credit to:
Business sector18.218.317.017.416.915.616.215.214.7
Total nonresidents credit31.931.628.430.128.224.926.024.223.1
Government Credit to:
Business sector0.
Total government credit5.
Households and Nonfinancial CorporationsCredit to:
Business sector3.
Total HH and NFC credit18.827.928.023.324.124.523.722.320.6
Total Credit196.6201.3197.4192.6191.3184.7183.8180.9177.3
Source: Haver Analytics.
Source: Haver Analytics.
Table 10.Israel: Business and Household Sector Borrowing 2008–16(Percent of GDP)
Total business sector borrowing93.287.284.383.479.873.771.769.968.6
Bank loans49.844.343.642.439.235.433.833.332.1
Institutional investor loans1.
External borrowing18.218.317.017.416.915.616.215.214.7
Total household sector borrowing37.738.839.539.639.539.740.340.841.2
Sources: Bank of Israel; Israel Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; and IMF staff calculations.
Sources: Bank of Israel; Israel Central Bureau of Statistics; Haver Analytics; and IMF staff calculations.

Annex I. Status of Key Recommendations from 2015 Article IV Consultation and Technical Assistance on Enhancing Medium-Term Fiscal Management

Reduce fiscal deficits to put debt on a firmly downward path and build fiscal space.Central government deficits for 2015 and 2016 came in below the budget targets, but deficit targets for 2017 and 2018 have been revised up. Debt is not projected to decline in the medium term.
Establish a stronger medium-term fiscal framework, with an explicit revenue and expenditure plan consistent with the deficit target.The government has (i) started publishing a medium-term fiscal framework—although with gaps that need to be closed to meet the deficit targets—since the 2015–16 budget; (ii) introduced a mechanism to strengthen transparency and ability to control future commitments; (iii) for the Defense Ministry, agreed on a medium-term budget framework and specified conditions to deviate from it; and (iv) established a Spending Review Committee, which published the procedure for a spending review in 2017. However, the recommendation to clearly define the criteria for revisions to the deficit targets—in order to promote adherence to the targets—was not implemented.
Monetary policy can be put on hold.The BOI has maintained the policy rate since February 2015.
Boost the supply of housing by accelerating zoning and planning procedures, and enhancing local authority resources to cover costs of infrastructure and services.The government has moved the Land Authority and the Planning Commission under the MoF, but it is not yet clear if procedures have been accelerated. There has been no change in the local property tax framework to incentivize local governments to facilitate more residential development.
Macroprudential measures should continue to be used to contain household leverage.Macroprudential measures are unchanged since September 2014, with BOI analysis indicating that the share of high risk loans remains low and stable.
Establish a Financial Stability Committee (FSC) to coordinate macroprudential oversight. Strengthen the BOI’s toolkit for early intervention and resolution.A governmental decision has been made to establish a Financial Stability Committee with a clear focus on macroprudential policies in normal times and with the BOI in the lead. The required legislative changes are yet to be concluded. Legislation to establish emergency liquidity assistance for banks and nonbanks, including eligibility requirements and collateral policies, is currently being drafted.
Raise productivity by boosting competition, and improving infrastructure and education.The government has been implementing various product and labor market reforms. For example, (i) effective September 2016, import barriers for pasta, breakfast cereals, cookies, crackers, rice, and beans were lowered to allow independent traders to enter; (ii) the Poultry Council Law and Antitrust Law have been amended to eliminate the cartel in the poultry sector; and (iii) a decision was made to establish a Consolidated Electricity Authority aiming to improve the competition in the electricity market.
Reduce poverty by addressing structural problems hindering inclusion of Haredi and Israeli-Arab populationsThe 2017–18 budget aims to improve the quality of Israeli-Arab education and build roads to minority communities. Yet, legislation requiring Haredi schools to teach a core curriculum (of English, mathematics, and science) was repealed.

Annex II. Risk Assessment Matrix (as of March 3, 2017) 1/

Source of Risk and Relative LikelihoodImpact if Realized
External risks

Weaker-than-expected global growth, including lower medium-term growth in key advanced and emerging economies

Weaker global growth would hurt the ongoing recovery of exports, and hence lead to lower output. A rise in inflation would likely be delayed.

Policy response:

The BOI could signal that monetary policy would remain accommodative for a longer period and lean against excessive shekel volatility. Fiscal policy can allow automatic stabilizers to operate fully, but if prolonged there would be a need to moderate the growth in spending over the medium term.

Tighter and more volatile global financial conditions

Investor flight to safety would impact Israel’s risk premia, although to a modest extent given relatively moderate public debt, the low reliance of the banks on wholesale funding, and comfortable foreign reserves. If it relieved appreciation pressures on the shekel this would be supportive for exports.

Policy response:

Protect confidence in Israel through sound fiscal policy and financial sector supervision. FX intervention could be used if needed to smooth excessive exchange rate volatility.

Heightened regional security/geopolitical tensions

Regional tensions would hit tourism receipts—equivalent to about 5 percent of exports in 2015—and more adverse developments could damage business confidence and investment. Likely depreciation would help cushion the overall impact on the economy.

Policy response:
Fiscal policy should allow automatic stabilizers to operate fully, and in case of a more severe shock, proactive measures could be used to contain the rise in unemployment and protect those on low incomes.
Domestic risks

A significant reversal in housing prices

Impacts on household debt service payments are likely to be contained by macroprudential policies, while bank losses are moderated by full recourse and relatively low LTV ratios. However, domestic demand growth could fall significantly, especially construction activity, potentially having adverse effects on corporate loan quality.

Policy response:
Contain vulnerabilities by maintaining the current macroprudential policies and tighten these through targeted measures if needed to protect the financial resilience of households. If house prices fall sharply, ease monetary policy as feasible, allow automatic fiscal stabilizers to operate, and ensure weak credit supply does not aggravate the adjustment, including by adjusting macroprudential policies if needed.

The Risk Assessment Matrix (RAM) shows events that could materially alter the baseline path (the scenario most likely to materialize in the view of IMF staff). The relative likelihoods of risks listed is the staff’s subjective assessment of the risks surrounding the baseline. The RAM reflects staff’s views on the sources of risk and overall level of concern as of the time of discussions with the authorities. Non-mutually exclusive risks may interact and materialize jointly.

The Risk Assessment Matrix (RAM) shows events that could materially alter the baseline path (the scenario most likely to materialize in the view of IMF staff). The relative likelihoods of risks listed is the staff’s subjective assessment of the risks surrounding the baseline. The RAM reflects staff’s views on the sources of risk and overall level of concern as of the time of discussions with the authorities. Non-mutually exclusive risks may interact and materialize jointly.

Annex III. Fiscal Implications of the “Buyer’s Price” Program

Since 2015, the Israeli government has been implementing several measures that aim to contain housing prices. Many of the measures have fiscal implications:

  • Temporarily raising transaction taxes for investors by eliminating the two low rates for investors (2015-2021)—implying additional revenue of NIS 0.3–0.4 billion per year.
  • Introduction of a new recurrent property tax on owners of three or more residential dwellings—generating additional revenue of NIS 0.9 billion per year.1
  • Introduction of a “Buyer’s Price” program (2015–18)—with a total fiscal cost of NIS 7 billion.
  • Relocation of the military bases from the Tel Aviv region to free up land for constructing about 60,000 housing units—total fiscal cost of NIS 5.3 billion for 2015–2027.
  • Provision of “blanket agreements” with local authorities to cover expenses associated with residential construction projects.

The “Buyer’s Price” program, which is a temporary measure for 2015–18, aims to lower the cost of purchasing a home for eligible people winning a lottery.2

  • The program focuses on high-density construction, mainly outside areas of high demand. No Buyer’s Price tenders will be conducted in areas where home prices exceed a certain amount, therefore the program is expected to have minimal impact on housing prices in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
  • The eligible population includes all couples that do not own a home and all unmarried individuals over the age of 35, with no further conditions. Since the number of dwellings made available through the program will be less than that of eligible individuals, the dwellings will be allocated by lottery, and winners will choose an apartment according to their order in the lottery draw: the first winner will choose an apartment first, the second winner will choose an apartment second, and so forth. The program distinguishes between eligible buyers and local eligible buyers and allocates dwellings to these two groups separately.

The Buyer’s Price program is designed to lower housing costs through three channels. The channels are: (i) privatizing state-owned land at discounted prices, (ii) providing grants to purchasers, and (iii) providing subsidy for development costs (Table 1).3 The discount on the price of land sold by the Land Authority is up to NIS 120,000 per housing unit. However, because land prices in the peripheral areas may be below NIS 120,000 per housing unit, the program additionally offers a grant to buyers and a subsidy for the developer, resulting in a total fiscal cost of about NIS 120,000 per unit in total.4

Table 1.Israel: Parameters of “Buyers’ Price” Tenders
Price of land per unit before development cost (NIS)Discount on the price of landGrant to purchasers (NIS)Subsidy to development costs(NIS)
Up to 50,00080%60,00040,000
Above 150,000NIS 120,00000

The estimated fiscal cost—off budget—of the program peaks at 0.2 percent of GDP annually in 2017–18. The authorities expect about 15,000 annual transactions of housing would go through the program with a fiscal cost of NIS 2.5 billion (0.2 percent of GDP) per year in 2017–18 and NIS 7 billion in total (Table 2). Because the Land Authority is not a budgetary entity, both proceeds from land sales and its expenditure are excluded from budget, although remain included in the general government presentation on a Government Finance Statistics basis.

Table 2.Israel: Estimated Fiscal Cost of “Buyers’ Price” Tenders(Millions of NIS, unless otherwise indicated)
201520162017201820192020Total 1/
Grant and subsidy060658664377501,809
In percent of GDP(0.0)(0.0)(0.1)(0.1)(0.0)(0.0)(0.1)
Foregone income3411,3001,8001,800005,241
In percent of GDP(0.0)(0.1)(0.1)(0.1)(0.0)(0.0)(0.4)
In percent of GDP(0.0)(0.1)(0.2)(0.2)(0.0)(0.0)(0.6)

In percent of the 2016 GDP.

In percent of the 2016 GDP.

Annex IV. Macroprudential Policy Measures For Housing Markets

Type of MeasureTarget and Nature of Measure
Capital surcharges
  • Group loans: 100 percent capital surcharge on groups of borrowers who buy newly-built residential properties collectively, and/or who engage with third parties to construct and develop residential projects (March 2010).
  • Debt-service-to-income (DSTI): Capital surcharge on mortgages with DSTI ratios between 40–50 percent (August 2013).
  • Mortgage lending: Banks must increase Common Equity by 1 percent of the outstanding mortgage lending gradually by January 1, 2017 (September 2014).
Risk weights
  • Group loans: Classify loans extended to “purchasing groups”—individuals who organize themselves for the joint purchase of land rights, in part, for tax benefits—as “construction and real estate” credit, with higher risk weight (March 2010).
  • Larger mortgages with higher risk: Raise the risk weight for mortgages with a floating component of over 25 percent, an LTV of at least 60 percent, and a mortgage value higher than NIS 800,000 from 35 to 100 percent (October 2010).
  • High LTV loans: Raise the risk weight for loans with an LTV between 45 and 60 percent from 35 percent to 50 percent; and for loans with an LTV above 60 percent to 75 percent (March 2013).
  • High LTV loans: Require additional provisions of 0.75 percent for all outstanding mortgages with an LTV ratio exceeding 60 percent (July 2010).
  • Total mortgage loans: Raise the allowance for credit losses from mortgage loans—such that the ratio between the allowance and the outstanding of mortgage loans is at least 0.35 percent (March 2013).
Mortgage lending ratios
  • Loan-to-value (LTV) caps: Limit LTVs on mortgage loans up to 70 percent (75 percent for first-time buyers); and up to 50 percent on mortgage loans for purchasing properties for investment purposes (November 2012).
  • DSTI caps: Limit DSTI of new loans at 50 percent (August 2013).
  • Floating interest component caps: (i) Limit the variable-interest-rate component of mortgages with variable-interest rates that change within 5 years at 1/3 of the total mortgage loans (May 2011); and (ii) limit the overall variable-interest component of mortgages at 2/3 of the total mortgage loans (August 2013).
Mortgage maturity
  • Maximum mortgage maturity: Limit the maximum repayment period to 30 years (August 2013).
  • Reporting requirement: Require detailed reporting on residential mortgage loans (May 2011).

Annex V. Recent Steps to Enhance Medium-Term Fiscal Management

Reductions in Israel’s structural deficit have been deferred repeatedly. Since 1991, fiscal policy in Israel has been regulated by multi-year deficit ceilings aiming to lower debt. The expenditure rule was subsequently introduced in 2005 to reduce fluctuations in government spending. However, the fiscal targets have not served as an effective fiscal policy anchor as they are not binding, and in practice they have been revised whenever political needs arose or a slippage was anticipated.

As part of the efforts to strengthen the medium-term fiscal management, the government started publishing a medium-term fiscal framework (MTFF) in the 2015–16 budget and medium-term budget framework (MTBF) in the 2017–18 budget. The MTFF sets aggregate fiscal objectives (anchors) while the MTBF presents a more detailed spending framework that is consistent with both macro-fiscal objectives and the government’s priorities. Because the commitments made by the government in the coming years are exceeding the expenditure ceilings and inconsistent with the deficit ceilings, the MTFF shows the “adjustments required to converge with the deficit ceiling” for each year.

The government has also introduced measures to enhance control of medium-term commitments and reduce uncertainties with defense spending. The lack for control over the informal yet firm spending commitments of line ministries was one of the key factors that make it difficult to adhere to the fiscal targets. In addition, regular and significant spending reallocation to the Defense Ministry with each year have complicated budget planning and management. In order to address these challenges, the government introduced the following measures:

  • “Numerator” mechanism to strengthen monitoring and control of future commitments. In 2016, the government started applying a mechanism that restricts the government’s ability to make new expenditure commitments outside the budget approval process, unless it finds offsetting resources. It will take some time to yield gains from the mechanism as it controls only new commitments for the future while near-term expenditure will continue to be governed by legacy commitments made before 2016.
  • Multi-year defense budget for 2016–2020. In May 2016, the MoF and Ministry of Defense agreed on a MTBF, which disaggregates the human resource-related budget for wages, pensions, and rehabilitations and that for the core military objective (i.e., strengthening and maintaining competency and preparedness). Agreement was also reached on specific conditions under which the budget could be changed. According to the MTBF, the real growth rate of defense spending is expected to decline to 1.3 percent year for 2018–2020, from 1.5 percent per year for 2007–2017, reducing defense spending by 0.3 percentage points of GDP between 2017 and 2020.
  • Spending Reviews. The government created the Spending Review Central Committee and initiated Spending Reviews in 2016 in order to improve the composition of the budget and enhance spending efficiency while reducing deficits. The procedure included all the government offices with an objective of cutting 0.2 percent of the overall budget to be implemented by 2019. In 2016, the Committee approved several streamlining plans as per the criteria set out in the procedure; e.g., setting realistic strategies to make changes, establishing success indexes to examine the implementation status of the plans, and evaluating the estimated savings from the plans. The 0.2 percent budget cut for the ministries with approved plans—e.g., Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water (streamlining liquefied petroleum gas storage), Ministry of Health (consolidate ministry sites in Tel Aviv)—have been differed to 2019 while the budget for the ministries without approved plans is cut already in the 2017–18 budget.

Appendix I. External Sector Assessment

The shekel has appreciated substantially in real effective terms over the last decade and is now above its long-term average even as the current account remains in modest surplus. Although there is no clear evidence of the shekel being misaligned with fundamentals from an economy-wide perspective, the real appreciation appears to have had a significant impact on merchandise exports.

Model Based Current Account and Exchange Rate Valuations

Israel’s real exchange rate (REER) experienced large swings in recent decades and it is currently above its historical average. The REER fell to low levels in 2002 after the dot-com bust which had a sizable impact on Israel. But since the 2008/09 crisis it has shown an upward trend amid significant volatility. Along with easy monetary conditions in the major advanced economies, this appreciation partly reflects promising prospects for natural gas production and strong FDI inflows in recent years, including foreign purchases of high-tech start-ups. As of end-2016, the shekel had appreciated by about 13 percent in CPI-based real effective terms relative to its average level in 2009, and was 7 percent above its two-decade average. During the same period, the ULC-based REER appreciated significantly more than the CPI-based REER—by about 26 percent—and was 17 percent above its historical average as of 2016Q3.

Effective Exchange Rates

(Index, 1996-2015 average=100)

Sources: INS; Haver Analytics; and IMF staff calculations.

Real Effective Exchange Rate, ULC Based

(Index 2010=100)

Sources: INS; Haver Analytics; and IMF staff calculations.

While this real appreciation of the shekel may have contributed to sluggish growth in goods exports in recent years (see the next section), Israel’s overall external position remains solid. The current account (CA) balance declined from 4.3 percent of GDP in 2015 to 3.6 percent of GDP in 2016 as imports rose partly owing to a surge in vehicle purchases. The positive CA largely reflects resilient service exports as well as consistently high official and private transfer net inflows of about 3 percent of GDP. The CA balance is expected to stabilize around 3 percent in the medium-term. The net international investment position (NIIP) rose 10 percentage points to about 33 percent of GDP as of end 2016, partly due to an increase in foreign reserves owing to FX intervention by the Bank of Israel of about $6 billion (or about 2 percent of GDP) in 2016.

Estimates of exchange rate misalignment vary across methodologies. The IMF’s External Balance Assessment (EBA) CA analysis suggests the REER is undervalued by 15.6 percent, given a 2016 CA balance some 3.9 percentage points above its estimated norm of slightly below zero. However, this approach doesn’t take into account actual pension contributions, which is particularly important for Israel owing to the enactment of the Mandatory Pension Law in 2008. A modified CA analysis, that estimates the impact of pension contributions across the full set of countries, implies a higher norm for Israel. As a result, the estimated CA gap narrows to 2.4 percent of GDP, indicating the shekel is moderately undervalued by 9.6 percent.1 In addition, the EBA CA analysis does not include indicators of net official and private transfers, which have remained high for Israel and could warrant a higher CA norm. In contrast, the EBA-Lite REER index analysis—which does consider aid and remittances—indicates the REER is broadly in line with fundamentals and desirable policies.

External Balance Assessment (EBA) Methodologies 1/
MethodologyCA gap(Percent of GDP)REER gap(Percent)
(1) EBA CA Analysis (RES)3.9−15.6
(2) Modified EBA CA Analysis (Pension)2.4−9.6
(3) Modified EBA CA Analysis (Pension & FE)−0.20.8
(4) EBA-Lite REER (Index) Analysis−−−3.0
Source: IMF staff calculations.

The assessment is done for the year of 2016. CA gaps: minus indicates overvaluation. REER gaps: minus indicates undervaluation. REER gaps between -5 and +5 percent are considered to indicate the REER is broadly in line with fundamentals. Estimates based on data available in February 2017.

Source: IMF staff calculations.

The assessment is done for the year of 2016. CA gaps: minus indicates overvaluation. REER gaps: minus indicates undervaluation. REER gaps between -5 and +5 percent are considered to indicate the REER is broadly in line with fundamentals. Estimates based on data available in February 2017.

Overall, it is difficult to conclude that there is a significant deviation of the shekel from fundamentals. Among the methodologies, staff considers the modified CA analysis (approach (2)) and the EBA-Lite REER index analysis (approach (4)) to be most likely to be reliable in Israel’s case, which show modest undervaluation of 9.6 percent and 3 percent respectively. Taking into account that two measures of the real exchange rate have appreciated significantly in recent years to be above their historical averages, staff do not see adequate evidence to conclude that the shekel deviates significantly from fundamentals.

Recent Export Performance and the Impact of the Exchange Rate Appreciation

Israel’s export developments have reflected diverging outcomes for merchandise and services exports. After a severe slump in the early 2000s, Israel’s overall export share in global trade has gradually recovered. This overall trend relies on a steady rise in the share of services exports from a low in 2007, led by IT-related services rising 78 percent since 2011 to some 4.1 percent of GDP in 2016. However, merchandise exports (excluding aircraft, ships and diamonds), started to lose market share from 2011, suggesting that factors going beyond subdued external demand may be at work.2

Israel Exports of Goods and Services 1/


Sources: Haver Analytics; WEO; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Excluding ships, aircraft and diamonds.

Israel’s Share of World Exports


Sources: WEO; and IMF staff calculations.

Since 2011, several major sectors have been losing global market share, although some declines reflect idiosyncratic shocks. Some idiosyncratic shocks affected major companies in a number of industries: Israel Chemicals Ltd. (chemicals & oil refining industry); Intel (computer electronic & optical products industry); and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (pharmaceutical industry). This can partly explain the dip in exports in 2015, but it is notable that the slowdown became broadly spread across other exporting sectors.

Israel Exports’ Share of World Exports by Industries(Percent)
20112015ΔSector Share as

2015 Israel’s

goods exports
Agricultural products0.170.16−0.013.3
Minerals and Fuels0.
Rubber & Plastics0.350.360.013.8
Textiles, Clothing, Footwear, Hide Skins, and Woods0.
Stone and Glass exl. Diamonds0.
Electronics, Opticals, and Electrical Machinery and Equipments0.350.400.0629.0
Other Manufacturing0.130.12−0.011.7
Sources: WITS; and IMF staff Calculations.
Sources: WITS; and IMF staff Calculations.

This period of market share losses in merchandise exports may reflect a combination of real appreciation, weak productivity growth, and low diversification:

  • Accumulation of real appreciation. The large cumulative real appreciation, especially on a PPI basis, has coincided with a notable decline in the share of manufacturing exports relative to GDP in the last decade, although this decline is in part a valuation effect. Within the manufacturing sector, it is notable that exports of lower technology goods declined notably more than higher technology goods, suggesting less differentiated products with narrower margins, and hence greater sensitivity to exchange rate appreciation.
  • Slowdown in productivity growth. After trending upwards strongly in the 2000s, labor productivity in manufacturing appears to have been broadly flat since 2010. The absence of growth in trend labor productivity falls short of the productivity growth seen in the United States and is also below the Euro area average.
  • Low diversification. Israel’s exports are concentrated, with four industries (pharmaceutical, chemical, diamonds, electronics) accounting for two-thirds of total goods exports in 2015. Moreover, a few major enterprises have a large share of the exports in each industry. Consequently, the export diversification index points to a less diversified profile for Israel compared with countries at the same income level, implying higher risk of periods of weak export performance.

Manufacturing Exports/GDP vs. REER

Sources: IMF’s Information Notice System; and Haver Analytics.

Manufacturing Exports/GDP vs. REER (PPI based)

Sources: IMF’s Information Notice System; and Haver Analytics.

Labor Productivity in Manufacturing

(Thous. Chn. 2010 NIS)

Sources: Haver Analytics and IMF staff calculations.

Export Diversification and Income Level: OECD Countries

(1990-2010 Average)

Sources: COMTRADE; WDI; and IMF staff calculations.

Note: Lower diversification index value means more diversified in exports.

Appendix II. Debt Sustainability Analysis 2017

Israel’s debt-to-GDP ratio fell from 94 percent in 2003 to 62 percent in 2016. The structure of this debt helps assure resilience to shocks, with a maturity averaging 7 years and nonresidents holding only around 14 percent of the total. Nevertheless, relatively high interest payments and elevated gross financing needs are a source of vulnerability. Although most indicators are below early warning benchmarks, Israel’s debt outlook appears to be most sensitive to growth shocks.

Under staff’s baseline scenario, public debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to gradually rise to 63½ percent of GDP by 2021 (Figures A2.1A2.2). The DSA covers debt of the general government1 Gross financing needs would increase from 8½ percent of GDP in 2016 to 10 percent in 2017 and then remain around 10 percent throughout the projection period. The baseline scenario is underpinned by the following assumptions:

  • Real GDP is projected to grow at around 3 percent annually on average.
  • CPI inflation is projected to return to around 2 percent—the mid-point of the target range—by 2019 and remain at around 2 percent throughout the projection period.
  • The central government deficit is expected to increase from 2.1 percent of GDP in 2016 to 2¾ percent of GDP in 2017 and 2018, and then to 2.9 percent of GDP in 2019 and stay at the level thereafter. The general government deficit is assumed to be larger than the budget deficit by 0.5 percentage points of GDP in 2016, 0.6 points in 2017, and 0.8 points annually from 2019 through 2022.
  • Non-debt creating financing is assumed to be ½ percent of GDP annually.
  • Primary expenditure is projected to increase from 37 percent of GDP in 2016 to around 37⅔ percent of GDP.
  • The effective interest rate is projected to increase gradually from 5 percent in 2016 to 5⅔ percent in the medium term, reflecting the normalization of monetary policy.2 Borrowing conditions—facilitated by comfortable sovereign ratings (A+ and A1) and the U.S. debt guarantee program (about 3 percent of GDP)—are assumed to remain favorable.

Figure A2.1.Israel: Public DSA—Risk Assessment

Source: IMF staff.

1/The cell is highlighted in green if debt burden benchmark of 85% is not exceeded under the specific shock or baseline, yellow if exceeded under specific shock but not baseline, red if benchmark is exceeded under baseline, white if stress test is not relevant.

2/The cell is highlighted in green if gross financing needs benchmark of 20% is not exceeded under the specific s hock or baseline, yellow if exceeded under specific shock but not baseline, red if benchmark is exceeded under baseline, white if stress test is not relevant.

3/The cell is highlighted in green if country value is less than the lower risk-assessment benchmark, red if country value exceeds the upper risk-assessment benchmark, yellow if country value is between the lower and upper risk-assessment benchmarks. If data are unavailable or indicator is not relevant cell is white. Lower and upper risk-assessment benchmarks are:

400 and 600 basis points for bond spreads; 17 and 25 percent of GDP for external financing requirement; 1 and 1.5 percent for change in the share of short-term debt; 30 and 45 percent for the public debt held by non-residents.

4/Long-term bond spread over German bonds, an average over the last 3 months, 25-Nov-16 through 23-Feb-17.

5/External financing requirement is defined as the sum of current account deficit, amortization of medium and long-term total external debt; and short-term total external debt at the end of previous period.

Figure A2.2.Israel: Public DSA—Baseline Scenario

Source: IMF staff.

1/ Public sector is defined as general government.

2/ Based on available data.

3/ Long-term bond spread over German bonds.

4/ Defined as interest payments divided by debt stock (excluding guarantees) at the end of previous year.

5/ Derived as [(r - π(1+g) - g + ae(1+r)]/(1+g+π+gπ)) times previous period debt ratio, with r = interest rate; π = growth rate of GDP deflator; g = real GDP growth rate; a = share of foreign-currency denominated debt; and e = nominal exchange rate depreciation (measured by increase in local currency value of U.S. dollar).

6/ The real interest rate contribution is derived from the numerator in footnote 5 as r - π (1+g) and the real growth contribution as -g.

7/ The exchange rate contribution is derived from the numerator in footnote 5 as ae(1+r).

8/ Includes asset changes and interest revenues (if any). For projections, includes exchange rate changes during the projection period.

9/ Assumes that key variables (real GDP growth, real interest rate, and other identified debt-creating flows) remain at the level of the last projection year.

Shocks and Stress Tests

A range of stress tests indicate that debt sustainability is reasonably resilient to growth, interest rate, and combined macro-fiscal shocks (Figures A2.3-A2.4).

  • Growth shock. Lower real GDP growth rates (by 1 standard deviation for 2 years starting in 2017) would lead to a larger deficit as revenues fall while expenditure remains unchanged. The debt-to-GDP ratio would rise to about 65 percent by 2018 and then to 68¼ percent by 2022. Financing needs would increase to 12 percent of GDP by 2019 and then decline to 11 percent of GDP.
  • Interest rate shock. A geopolitical shock might push up borrowing costs by 200 basis points. Public debt would increase moderately to around 65½ percent of GDP by 2022 with a moderate increase in financing needs to around 11 percent of GDP over the same period.
  • Combined macro-fiscal shock A shock that combines exchange rate depreciation, an expansion of the primary deficit, and a decline in real GDP, would raise debt to 66 percent of GDP by 2018 and financing needs to 11 percent of GDP. Debt is projected to keep increasing to around 71½ percent by 2022 while financing needs would stay around 11½–12½ percent of GDP.

Figure A2.3.Israel: Public DSA—Composition of Public Debt and Alternative Scenarios

Source: IMF staff.

Figure A2.4.Israel: Public DSA—Stress Test

Source: IMF staff.

1See A. Thegeya “Income Inequality in Israel” in Israel: Selected Issues 2015 (IMF Country Report No. 15/262).
2A few major companies like Teva (pharmaceuticals), Israel Chemicals, and Intel play a large role in Israeli exports. Exports of potash and bromine fell owing to a strike at Israel Chemicals in the first half of 2015. Intel’s exports declined due to slowdown in production related to the fabrication plant upgrade.
3Government measures to lower living costs include cuts in VAT, electricity, gas and water prices, public transport costs, public nursery prices, diary food prices, taxes on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, and the television levy, etc.
4This deficit target assumes nominal GDP growth averaging 5 percent and an annual stock-flow adjustment of around ½ percent of GDP. Fiscal targets may in future need to be adjusted for gas-related revenues of around 0.4 to 0.8 percent of GDP, part of which are to be placed in a Sovereign Wealth Fund.
5Following recommendations in March 2013, the authorities undertook procurement reforms to streamline and standardize tender procedures, introduce centralized e-procurement, and encourage staff professionalization given the job’s growing complexity. However, only 10–15 percent of total public procurement at the central government level is processed in accordance with the program (OECD).
6See Box 5.2 in the BOl Annual Report 2006 for an evaluation of the effect of a cut in child allowances on labor force participation and Box 5.1 in the BOl Annual Report 2005 and Box 5.3 in the BOl Annual Report 2008 for evaluations of the impact of the employment support program. See Chapter 5 in BOI Annual Report 2015 for an assessment of the connection between rising housing prices and the supply of labor.
7See SME and Entrepreneurship Policy in Israel 2016 (OECD 2016).
8See Cross-Country Report on Minimum Wages (IMF Country Report No. 16/151).
1The tax is set at 1 percent of the value of assets, up to a ceiling of NIS 1500 per month.
2This program was chosen among other programs, such as a zero-VAT for purchases of new apartments. Notably, the Buyer’s Price tenders themselves are not a new concept: they were instituted in a 1994 government decision. However, the eligibility criteria are different between the old and new programs: the eligibility for the old program is tighter, based on criteria, such as personal status, number of years of marriage, and number of children, whereas that for the new program allows all couples that do not own a home and individuals of 35 years and older.
3Under the Government Finance Statistics Manual 2014, sales of state-owned lands should be recorded as a negative entry to “net acquisition of nonfinancial assets,” which is part of expenditure (above the line). However, the Israeli government records such sales as “privatization proceeds,” which is part of financing in the budget presentation (below the line). Starting from the 2015 outturns, the government started reporting land sales as part of an above-the-line expenditure to the Government Finance Statistics.
4To receive the grant, a buyer must hold the apartment for a least five years from the occupancy date, although the buyer is allowed to rent it out.
1A further modified CA analysis—adding a country fixed effect to capture persistent country-specific factors that are not accounted for by the model (such as dependence on large aid, remittance inflows, commodity exports, or tourism)—indicates the REER is around its fundamental value.
2Israel occasionally sells aircraft and ships that are recorded as exports, while it also processes diamonds, and these exports can be volatile from year to year.
1The analysis is for the general government, including both tradable and non-tradable debt. Non-tradable debt has been issued to institutional investors with the terms set based on long-standing arrangements. This non-tradable debt has been declining over time given the reduction in designated bond issuances to pension funds.
2Israel’s high effective interest rates partly reflect high-yield non-tradable government bonds issued to pension funds, which guarantee a stable return of approximately 4 percent in real terms. Currently, such bonds constitute 19 percent of general government debt.

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