Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Islamic finance running into problems in the GCC, expanding elsewhere

France is considering regulatory and tax changes to allow Islamic banks to compete and enter the market which could be one of the largest in Europe based on the relative share of the population that is Muslim. At least three banks have requested permission to operate in France, the Qatar Islamic Bank, Kuwait Finance House and Al Baraka Islamic Bank of Bahrain. The Islamic banks operating in the UK would also likely be interested in France and would probably face an easier time expanding because of the financial sector harmonization promoted by the European Union.

The Commercial Bank of Kuwait cancelled plans to buy a 19 percent stake in Boubyan Bank from The Investment Dar, something that was part of reported plans by the Investment Dar to raise money.

As a result of the credit crisis, the Turkish government is considering issuing sukuk, although like the Islamic banking sector, it will not be explicitly labeled as Islamic (Islamic banks are called 'special finance houses' in the country).

A Shari'ah-compliant green fund trading carbon credits is being launched, although it is not immediately clear to me how they will engage in 'active trading' in the carbon markets in a Shari'ah-compliant way.

The market for sukuk and IPOs in Saudi Arabia has taken a tumble since the credit crisis spread across the world and out of the financial system into the real economy. The Central Bank of Bahrain's regular ijara sukuk issue was oversubscribed as normal however. The State Bank of Pakistan, the country's central bank, successfully issued Rs. 6 billion ($76 million) in sukuk, providing Islamic banks an investment for their surplus liquidity.

The property market in Dubai is experiencing a squeeze and, although it is not clear which companies bear the greatest brunt of it, there are probably some Islamic finance companies that will be hurt. Dar Al Shari'ah, a consulting subsidiary of Dubai Islamic Bank, believes that publicly traded Shari'ah-compliant securitizations could provide funding for home finance that would allow smaller investors to become involved.

An article compares the zero interest rate policies of the Bank of Japan and the US Federal Reserve to Islamic banking. I think the analogy is entirely incorrect because Islamic finance doesn't actually use a 'zero interest rate', it structures financing differently. Although some of the products may resemble interest-bearing instruments, they are not offered at zero cost. Borrowers are making financing available based on an expected (non-zero) return. I think that many articles miss the real compelling facets of Islamic finance when it is boiled down to 'they don't use interest'.

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