Tel Aviv bourse sees sale of controlling stake to overseas exchange by April

TEL AVIV, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) expects to have a deal in place by April to sell a controlling stake to a large foreign bourse, its chief executive said on Monday.

Ittai Ben-Zeev would not disclose which exchange was the likely buyer but said TASE had been in talks with more than one major overseas exchange operator.

TASE, which was demutualised to become a for-profit entity in September, plans an initial pubic offering some time next year. To that end, it has offered to buy out the shares held by its members - commercial and investment banks - at a valuation for the bourse of 500 million shekels ($145 million).

Ben-Zeev said TASE has commitments from the banks to buy back 71.7 percent of their shares, and TASE has until April 18 to accept.

"That stake will be sold to a strategic partner - a large foreign exchange," Ben-Zeev told reporters.

"I believe that we will have for sure" a deal with an exchange by mid-April, he said, without elaborating.

Member banks would retain a 22 percent stake in TASE while TASE employees own another 6 percent.

The Tel Aviv exchange aims to become competitive, cheaper and more efficient after seeing around 200 de-listings over the past decade and trading volumes slump. In 2017 stock trading averaged 1.4 billion shekels, or about $408 million, a day, up slightly from 2016 on a rise in IPOs but well below 2 billion shekels in 2010.

Ben-Zeev said he expects volumes to reach 2 billion shekels a day in two years with a longer-term goal to reach $1 billion a day.

He noted that the TASE was working to be more visible globally and be included in more MSCI and FTSE indices.

At the same time, the bourse is trying to lure many of the 90 Israeli companies listed abroad -- with a market value of $70 billion -- to dual-list in Tel Aviv. One barrier for companies listed on Nasdaq to trade in Tel Aviv has been removed, with companies allowed to be advised by International Shareholder Services Inc (ISS) instead of Entropy in Israel.

Israel's plan to privatise 10 to 15 state-owned companies with an estimated float of $4.3 billion should also boost the bourse's trading volumes in the next few years. The government is expected to sell a 20 percent stake in Israel Post on TASE later this year.

Ben-Zeev, a proponent of lower capital gains taxes, also said the bourse also aims to encourage dozens of high-tech companies to list each year rather than turning to venture capital or private equity funds for financing. ($1 = 3.4358 shekels) (Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Susan Fenton)