Monday, November 02, 2009

A scholar raises issues of copy-cat products, IFC sukuk, South Korea considers sovereign sukuk

Shari'ah scholar Dr. Hatem El-Karanshawy, a former director of the Central Bank of Egypt, cautions the Islamic finance industry on 'Islamizing' products that do not inherently fit with Islamic principles. He says that venture capital can fit in well with few modifications. The growth in Islamic finance has been accompanied by 'copy-cat' versions of conventional financial products using contracts that allow Shari'ah scholars to approve them. In many cases, these products do provide value, but as I mentioned in a blog post two months ago, there is a need to keep in mind whether new innovation is beneficial in Islamic finance just as in the conventional financial industry.

The International Finance Corporation's $100 million sukuk is receiving favorable coverage from Arab News, which points out that many Arab countries have not yet stepped into the Islamic capital markets to raise funds. In addition to the most recent sukuk (and a Ringgit-denominated one it issued in 2004), the IFC has been involved in several other Islamic finance transactions over the past few years.

South Korea appears to be the latest non-Muslim majority country to work to attract Gulf money by passing laws that put Islamic finance including sukuk on equal regulatory and tax footing to conventional bonds. The country recently announced a list of state-owned companies that the government is looking to privatize and which it seeks Gulf investment. In addition, the government is considering an $80 billion initiative for environmentally-sustainable areas of growth. The government is also on a roadshow to gauge interest in a $500 million - $1 billion sovereign sukuk.

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