"In the majority of unsecured sukuk transactions the investors ultimately have no direct recourse to the assets themselves. The repayment of their investment is dependent on the exercise of a purchase undertaking by the seller of the assets at maturity or upon default. Thus, as with a conventional bond, the investors take credit risk on the seller who has granted the purchase undertaking.This is one of the aspects of sukuk which I have criticized because it isolates the actual asset from the transaction and thus creates an unsecured debt that appears to be based on an asset. While this is clear in the offering documents, the amount of different articles that talk about Islamic finance as being more stable because it is based on real assets suggest that they have not read offering circulars of sukuk.
Although typically there is a physical asset in the structure, it is present primarily to generate periodic profit payments, not to enhance the credit quality of the deal or provide investors with recourse to the assets upon a default."
The solution, if the industry wants to make the rhetoric match the reality, in the eyes of these two lawyers (which I agree with) is:
"While Sharia principles seem harmonious with the nature of asset-backed securitisation, for securitisation to become more mainstream in the GCC, three prerequisites will be required: firstly, investors will need to demonstrate a commercial desire to take the risk (and reward) associated with the true sale of assets in an asset-backed structure, including the management of those assets in a default scenario; secondly, those companies seeking finance will need to demonstrate a desire to sell their assets (which will have accounting and shareholder equity implications); and thirdly, a robust legal framework will need to evolve as bankruptcy and asset-selling laws in many jurisdictions in the GCC remain opaque and militate against securitisation structures."These three points are important and have not been the focus of the future of sukuk as much as they should be.
The prime example for a sukuk which does use an asset-backed securitization structure that has run into trouble (and therefore is instructive when compared with recent defaults of unsecured asset-based sukuk) is the East Cameron sukuk. This sukuk was a musharaka between the issuer SPV and an oil-and-gas exploration & production company. The asset was an overriding royalty interest (ORRI) and the two parties split the production from the musharaka assets (natural gas), which was then sold to make periodic payments and redeem the sukuk.
The transfer of the ORRI to the musharaka SPV was a true sale and this has been upheld in the bankruptcy court overseeing the reorganization of East Cameron Partners. According to documents filed in the bankruptcy court, the sukuk investors have provided debtor-in-possession financing to the company and a reorganization plan is expected to be submitted sometime in January 2010. However, for the discussion of ABS structures for sukuk, the idea of using a true sale rather than a sale of beneficial interest that is common in unsecured sukuk has shown to protect sukuk investors by giving them rights to the underlying asset that is insulated from the claims of other creditors.
Of course, this case occurred in the U.S. where the legal system is more developed in terms of understanding and resolving claims regarding asset-backed securitizations than in other jurisdictions where sukuk are issued. The ability to take this example and generalize to sukuk issued elsewhere is, therefore, limited. However, lack of generality does not make it a useless exercise.
- The UK has proposed changes that would put corporate sukuk issuance on equal footing with conventional bond issuance by removing them from regulation as collective investment schemes. A Reuters blogger, Cecilia Valente, says that there continue to be discussions about a sovereign sukuk from the UK government, although she ascribes the renewed focus as a reaction to moves by the French to promote their own ambitions of being a Western hub for Islamic finance.
- The Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions released updated standards for the Islamic financial institutions.
- Thomson Retuers launched a risk management system for Islamic banks.
- The Islamic Development Bank is increasing the size of its medium-term note program, which will allow it to issue more sukuk to fund its activities.
- Bahrain-based Al Baraka is considering acquiring a large minority stake in Bank Muamalat, an Islamic bank in Malaysia.
- A report on microfinance in Afghanistan includes a suggestion that microfinance institutions offer Islamic microfinance based on client demand, although they note that it will be unclear if it will be demanded if it is more expensive than conventional microfinancial products.
- The Secretary General of the Franco-Arab Chamber of Commerce believes France will become a large part of the Islamic finance industry.
- Reliance Capital is entering Islamic finance through a Malaysian subsidiary, Reliance Asset Management.
- Forbes magazine provides a profile of Nicholas Kaiser, the head of the Amana Funds' parent company Saturna Capital.
- Indonesia priced its retail sukuk offering at 8.7%.