Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Islamic finance growing globally, particularly in the GCC and U.K., although the industry is not completely immune from the credit crisis

The rapid growth in Islamic finance has begun to receive interest from Western financial institutions and others like rating agencies (e.g. Moody's and Standard & Poors), consulting companies (McKinsey) and news organizations (Financial Times and Bloomberg). This is a credit to the industry's rapid growth and potential to emerge from being a niche industry to one that could become significant in the global financial system. The Islamic financial industry is also expanding into Europe, particularly the U.K. (although there are many other cities vying to become a hub in the global Islamic financial industry) The Independent newspaper in the U.K. has an interesting article on the different Islamic financial products available in the U.K. A recent event called 'Microfinance in the Islamic world' was held at the House of Commons and featured a presentation by Muslim Aid, a charitable organization which has done a significant amount of Shari'ah-compliant microfinance. The conservative nature of Islamic financial products has increased their attractiveness as more risky products have run into problems recently.

The first multi-asset class investment fund was launched on the AIM in London last Friday trading under the ticker FSF.

France is continuing the process of figuring out legislative, tax and regulatory changes needed to rival London for the center of Islamic finance in Europe. Despite having a Muslim share of the population many times that of the U.K., Islamic finance is still nearly nonexistent in France. Switzerland, although prominent in international finance, has lagged behind on Islamic finance.

AAOIFI is developing a governance standard for corporate social responsibility. This is a very important step because it will provide a way to monitor whether Islamic financial institutions are meeting their ethical responsibilities that are the core of their differentiation from most conventional financial institutions.

The Indonesian rupiah-denominated sukuk will be placed in mid-August with a listing expected on August 27th. Doha Bank has delayed their planned $1 billion sukuk to develop an exchange for carbon emissions trading in the Middle East because of poor market conditions. Thai property developers should finance their businesses using sukuk, according to the former head of the Islamic Bank of Thailand Dheerasak Suwannayos. Since 2006, the growth in sukuk has outstripped the growth in conventional bond issues in the GCC, and almost half of this has financed real estate projects.

The Netherland Antilles are exploring legal and regulatory changes needed to attract Islamic finance.

Islamic economist Humayon Dar is working with a group called Charity Bank to develop Shari'ah-compliant financing for non-profit organizations in the U.K.

Dubai Islamic Bank recently launched a Shari'ah consulting group, Dar Al Sharia, to provide research and development and consulting services in Islamic finance transactions.

Islamic banks in the GCC are planning expansion into North Africa and Asia to find new opportunities to grow.

NPR has an article on Islamic home finance in the United States.

IBF Net is launching an institute studying Islamic microfinance in the state of Orissa in India. I have had the pleasure of speaking with one of the founders of the Institute of Microfinance and Development, Dr. Mohammad Obaidullah who is also a Senior Economist at the Islamic Development Bank, and I anticipate that they will make a very positive impact.

Islamic credit cards are becoming more available, although they differ little from conventional credit cards. Usually, the either offer a line of credit with a fee based on the amount used, a murabaha structure where the card issuer 'owns' the goods purchased for an instant when they are purchased and charge a markup, or a lease-buyback where they own the goods until they are paid for and 'lease' usage. They seem to be virtually indistinguishable from conventional credit cards in impact, more so than other Islamic finance transactions where there is a chance for the Islamic finance company to take ownership.

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