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Private Equity Eyes Israel Tech

TEL AVIV, Israel -- The recent $17.6 billion takeover of Freescale (FSL - Get Report) by the Blackstone-led private equity group got the Israeli tech industry buzzing with speculation over the possibility of the elephant-hunting season reaching "Silicon Wadi."

At Ernst & Young's 10th annual Journey Conference in Tel Aviv earlier this week, speakers in a panel titled "The Alternative Asset Class -- Trends in Private Equity" couldn't hide their enthusiasm for the "wall of money" heading toward Israel.

Private-equity "people are not sitting on their hands anymore," said Jeremy Blank, senior adviser at York Capital Management, an $8 billion private equity fund, and a panelist at the conference. "Private equity is about the opportunity to actively drive growth in a company you buy, and the opportunities in Israel are really forcing us to create more value."

Still, Israel is challenging in that is has "asset-light businesses" that require less leverage but a more active engagement of management teams, Blank says. In York's case, a $300 million acquisition of Psagot-Ofek, one of Israel's largest asset management and brokerage companies, turned out to be a slightly tougher challenge than anticipated. Since the deal was announced in late 2005, regulatory changes in Israel's capital market ignited a wave of mutual fund account redemptions by customers, amounting to hundreds of million of dollars in Psagot's case.

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