The sukuk secondary markets are notoriously illiquid, although there has been an improvement in this area as the number of new issues has declined in the past year or two. With a shortage of new issues, there has been an uptick in the trading of outstanding sukuk in the secondary markets. There has also been the nascent steps towards provide more opportunities for secondary market trading with the launch of bond and sukuk trading on the Saudi exachange Tadawul. However, even with these steps, there are few listed sukuk, with most trading on either NASDAQ Dubai (formerly the Dubai International Financial Exchange) or the Bahrain Stock Exchange.
As I have described before, the secondary market for sukuk has been caught in a chicken-or-egg problem (which came first?). During the boom times, there were a number of new issues, most of which were heavily oversubscribed. A decent proportion of these sukuk were listed on secondary markets theoretically giving investors who were not able to subscribe in the offering the chance to pick them up in the secondary markets. However, there wasn't much activity in the secondary markets.
This can be ascribed to two things. First, the secondary markets weren't active because the secondary markets weren't active. Although a tautological argument, it was true. If you subscribe to a sukuk and receive an allocation, then sell it on the secondary market, you would generally hope to be able to take the proceeds and purchase a new sukuk to replace it. In an illiquid secondary market, for one you could probably not receive what you perceive to be the fair value, but also, you would likely have to overpay for a replacement. Without the benefit of a market maker in the sukuk, the gap between bids and offers in the market perpetuated the illiquidity.
Second, the continuing stream of new issues made it less beneficial to chase the offer in the secondary market if there was a chance of getting in on a newly issued sukuk. Why pay up if there is a chance that another similar sukuk might come along that you might be able to receive an allocation at par?
However, this equation changed after the financial crisis when credit was generally scarce and expensive and there were few companies willing to issue new sukuk. In addition, the outstanding issuers were affected by the growing economic crisis so that their ability to repay came into question (in some cases, they defaulted on their sukuk). The investors in these sukuk, either through concern over the sukuk or their own need for cash, became more willing to participate in the secondary markets.
This created some market turmoil, with many sukuk trading far below par and yielding higher than may have been justified by the fundamentals of the companies and sukuk. However, it also created an opportunity for a few sukuk funds which launched over the past year to step in on the buy side of the market and create additional liquidity by narrowing the spread between the bid and ask of listed sukuk.
No sukuk exemplifies this transformation perhaps more than the Nakheel sukuk which matures in December. In an illiquid market, with concerns about Nakheel's ability to repay, the bond traded down to nearly 60% of its par value even though the payment on maturity, if made, would be nearly 115% of par. Since reaching this point, the sukuk has become more actively traded and has rebounded in the trading price to greater than par. Some of this rebound was due to the fundamental ability of Nakheel to pay, albeit with support from the Dubai government, but some could be chalked up to the greater liquidity and the entrance of bidders for the sukuk.
To be clear, the sukuk market remains illiquid in many listed sukuk names, but there has been a greater level of activity in secondary markets as of late. Returning to the initial point of what is needed for longer-term maturities, it is generally the case (even in US Treasuries, some of the most liquid bonds in the world) that longer maturity products are less liquid and more volatile in price than shorter-dated bonds. Without a liquid secondary market for shorter maturity bonds and sukuk, it is unlikely that investors would purchase longer-dated sukuk.
Mubadala's point is well taken and the sukuk market, largely as a result of external events, has begun to liquify. This is a necessary, but probably not sufficient, precondition for the introduction of longer maturity sukuk. The resolution of sukuk through cases of default will also go a long way towards reassuring investors that they will not be trappen in a 10-year or longer sukuk regardless of what happens. To see a possible future, the experience of Malaysia is instructive. The Malaysian secondary markets are active and there have been numerous resolutions of sukuk defaults. Consequently, there have been several longer-dated sukuk--for example, the Cagamas residential mortgage-backed securities which have maturity dates of over 10-years, something that has not happened in the GCC...yet.
- The performance of the Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes for October are now available.
- The IFC sukuk was priced at 25 basis points over mid-swaps, which is the tightest pricing yet for a sukuk, although the sukuk received a higher pricing (by 10 basis points) over what conventional debt issued by the IFC would be priced at.
- Germany's financial regulator jumps into the mix of European countries wanting to attract Islamic finance shortly after France passed laws defining the rules for Islamic financial products, but far behind the U.K., which has so far led the EU in its accommodation of Islamic finance.