Saturday, June 28, 2008

UK Islamic home finance, sukuk; DIFC CEO calls for standardization; Indonesia plans sukuk in August

The Guardian newspaper in the UK describes in detail the different types of Shari'ah-compliant home financing available in the country. There were a few very interesting facts presented. First, a small minority of customers using the Shari'ah-compliant home financing are non-Muslims; currently about 2 percent of the Islamic Bank of Britain's customers are non-Muslims who turn to Islamic home finance for ethical reasons. Second, and this may provide a way for Islamic banks to broaden their interest beyond the Muslim market, is that in some cases, Islamic home finance is cheaper than traditional mortgages.
"If you bought a property for £250,000 using a diminishing Musharaka plan from HSBC Amanah, you would pay around £1,553 a month (made up of £1,246 in rent and £307 in contribution payments to increase your share), based on the bank buying 90 per cent and you putting down a 10 per cent deposit. If you took out a conventional two-year fixed-rate loan with HSBC (at 6.29 per cent and with a £799 fee) on £250,000, you'd pay around £1,655 a month over 25 years."
. There are of course differences in availability and structure that could negate the difference, the development of cost competitive Islamic home financing is a good thing for the industry as it seeks to expand beyond its current niche role.

Nasser Al Shaali, the CEO of the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), commented on the difficulty of operating Islamic finance in regulatory environments premised on only conventional banks operating, but also that the lack of standardization (such as standard, widely accepted fatawa) is hampering the industry's growth. While many countries are anathema to developing parallel regulatory systems for Islamic and conventional banking (as Malaysia has already done), there is still a case for assessing whether regulatory requirements designed for conventional banks are adequate for supporting a sound financial system where conventional and Islamic banks operate side-by-side.

The Indonesian government plans to issue its first sukuk in August and will use an ijara structure based on assets from the finance ministry. A cynical observer might question whether the assets of the finance ministry are Shari'ah-compliant since many activities in the finance ministry surely involve interest such as the also announced ORI005, the fifth retail (conventional) bond.

Meanwhile, Islamic banking continues to develop in Bangladesh but faces challenges in Thailand.

The UK government is "dragging its feet" and is unlikely to issue its first sukuk this year according to Mohaimin Chowdhury, head of legal, Shari'ah and compliance at the European Islamic Investment Bank. Although the difficulties for a sovereign sukuk from a tax perspective are real and the uncertain market conditions create challenges, Mr. Chowdhury feels they could "deal with them quicker". Kitty Ussher, the Finance Ministry is quoted as saying "There's no doubt in my mind that if we can find a way that works for the taxpayers to do it, the benefit to the City of London in terms if prosperity, jobs and expertise will be enormous [however] we just felt that since this is the first time we are doing it, it would be simpler and less risky to sell Treasury bills". Dr. Mohammed Ramady speaks to the situation in the U.K. and U.A.E. regarding the Islamic finance market as a whole in an editorial.

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