The Monday through Friday work week is coming to Israel — at least at the stock market. In the coming days, the management of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange will present a plan to members that would have the exchange close on Sunday, and the current Friday day off would become a regular work day. The TASE would open as usual at 9:30, and close at 2:00 in the afternoon Fridays, taking into account the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath before sundown.
The directors of the TASE support the plan, and reports in the media quote stock exchange officials as saying that the idea has strong support among members. Many brokers, the officials say, see Sunday trading as a waste of time. Volume is low, because investment firms in the rest of the Western world take the day off. Brokers often dedicate Sunday to catching up on paperwork or other administrative tasks because there are so few orders to execute. With Friday as a trading day, the officials feel, the TASE would operate on the same schedule as banks, investment houses, and investors around the world.
Over the past few decades, Israel has moved gradually from a six-day work week — Sunday through Friday with Saturday off for the Jewish Sabbath — to a five-day week. But instead of closing down on Sunday, most have opted to skip Friday, which is anyway a short work day, especially in the winter, when the Sabbath begins early.
The Monday through Friday move is seen by experts as a way to revive the fortunes of the moribund TASE. Volume has declined significantly in recent years. Since the beginning of 2010, there has been a drop of about 44 percent in trading volume in the domestic stock exchange, and in the second half of 2012 it reached a 6-year low, a 2013 report by the Bank of Israel said. Various reasons have been given for this decline – foreign investors spooked by political issues, Israel’s reclassification in international stock indices as a developed market excluding investors who wish to invest only in emerging markets, and global activity retraction by international investors are some of them – and TASE officials have for years been trying to attract more investors.
For decades, Israelis have debated the positives and negatives of replacing Friday with Sunday as a day off from work and school, but until now no major institution or industry has taken up the gauntlet of change. The TASE plan, if approved, would require thousands of people to change their work schedules — and not just employees of the TASE. Brokers, secretaries, bankers, even cafeteria workers employed at lunchrooms run by big investment houses would work on Friday and take off Sunday.
Could the TASE move become a “back door” for a general shift to a Monday-Friday work week? If it does, many Israelis — from Western olim to top government officials — would be happy. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman are big supporters of Sunday off (it’s in both their parties’ platforms), as is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Infrastructure Minister Silvan Shalom, who proposed legislation to turn Sunday into an official day off in 2013.
The reasons touted for a Sunday off are many — encouraging Western aliyah, further extending Israel’s leisure economy, and enhancing observance of the Sabbath. The theory for that is that less-observant but traditional Israelis would have their “fun” day off on Sunday instead of Saturday, which might enhance synagogue attendance and general Sabbath observance.
Not all are in favor. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish members of parliament believe that a Friday workday would hurt Sabbath observance, especially in winter months, as workday Friday would gradually edge out Sabbath’s Friday night. And the Finance Ministry has spoken out against the idea, claiming that a short Friday workday replacing a long workday Sunday would cut the work week — resulting in a productivity loss.
If the TASE does make the switch, it would be at the vanguard of a major social experiment — but for stock market officials, it’s all about the money. In a 2013 report on why the TASE has lost business, officials wrote that “the lack of coordination of activities during the TASE’s operating hours with those of other major stock markets results in gaps in information traders need, and makes it difficult for traders to operate in the market to appropriately respond to what is happening in the global markets.” Friday trading, while not a total solution to the exchange’s problems, is at least a start, TASE officials hope.