One article focuses on the Shari'ah scholars and includes details about the dissent among the Shari'ah scholar community about Sheikh Usmani's criticism of some sukuk forms. I have been generally supportive of his criticism as an example of how the Shari'ah scholars are using their influence to shape the future of the industry, but the focus on strict interpretation also limits innovation in the industry. The issues of standardization and workload on the Shari'ah scholars (as well as the shortage of 'brand name' scholars) has hampered the industry's growth by focusing scholars efforts on certifying plain vanilla Islamic financial products instead of allowing them to focus on more controversial products and help shape the dialogue about the future direction of the industry.
Another article takes up the breather given to scholars caused by the global credit crisis to debate and deliberate on the industry's future. This is a vital topic for an industry that has grown so rapidly in recent years and will ultimately help the industry's progress. One interesting tidbit from the article is that the industry appears near to seeing an alternative to commodity murabaha for short-term liquidity management. Another article focuses on this issue and on standardization.
The sukuk market could be set for a resurgence as global credit conditions are under less stress and one of the principal sources of liquidity--oil revenues--should rebound a bit with the rise of oil prices from lows around $30 to $50. The sukuk market, however, will not be the same and most of the issuance will probably be local currency ijara deals because the recent AAOIFI ruling (Feb. 2008) cast doubt on the Shari'ah-compliance of many mudaraba and musharaka sukuk.
Islamic banks are not necessarily immune from the spill-over effects of the credit crisis into an economic crisis, especially those with high exposure to real estate as the property markets in the Gulf have tumbled. This article also cites a Nomura study of Islamic banks in Turkey during the crisis in 2001 and find no significant advantage. Further, the 'profit equalization reserves' set aside by Islamic banks may not be sufficient to offset losses and could cause Islamic bank deposits to 'break the buck'. I highlighted this potential problem several months bank in Business Islamica and it is a serious problem that may require government intervention if property markets continue to deteriorate.
Two other articles discuss Islamic finance in Asia and the West. One talks of the goal of Malaysia to become an Asian hub for Islamic finance, the other focuses on France and the US as potential challengers to the UK's lead in accommodating Islamic finance following the delay in a UK sovereign sukuk.
The special report concludes with a column by HSBC Amanah's chief executive Mukhtar Hussain.
Tamweel, Amlak and liquidity issues in Islamic finance
Tamweel reported profits for 2008, although it had a loss in the fourth quarter due to "a sharp rise in funding costs, significantly lower business origination levels which affected fee income, substantially lower income from property sales [...[ and higher prudential provisioning on the home finance portfolio". It also excludes a significant amount which was off balance sheet following securitization. The results demonstrate the difficulties caused by the economic crisis and property market crash that affects Islamic and conventional financial institutions alike. Amlak Finance, the Islamic mortgage company in Dubai that will be likely merged with Tamweel is also seeing a rise in delinquencies. The first-hand crisis in subprime mortgages and derivatives has led to a liquidity crunch hitting parts of the Islamic finance industry as a whole.
- The New York Times has two articles about Islamic finance in the last few days. One includes an analysis of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in terms of their approach to finance and in particular their attitudes towards debt. The other focuses on a few Muslims in New York City who have received home financing from Guidance Residential, a Virginia-based Islamic finance company.
- Amid the difficulties facing the Islamic finance industry from the economic crisis caused by the global financial meltdown last year, Kuwait Finance House continues its expansion into China and Saudi Arabia to make it an even more global firm.
- American fund manager Franklin Templeton may be eyeing expansion in the Gulf and into the Islamic finance industry through its option to acquire up to 40% of Algebra Capital.
- Jordan has provided $10 million in financing to the Islamic Development bank to support microfinance programs.
- The International Islamic Financial Market (IIFM) held its 20th annual meeting and discussed, among other issues, its work on creating standardized contracts for several frequently used Islamic finance products.
- South Korea continues its efforts to make inroads into the Islamic finance industry at the IFSB meeting as a way to attract capital from the Islamic world.
- UBS's plan to increase its staff in the Gulf region and make inroads into Islamic finance appear to be on hold due to the company's problems arising from the credit crisis.
- Azerbaijan is considering legislation to allow Islamic financial institutions to begin offering products in the country.