Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dubai World; Islamic 'lender of last resort'

News about possible options for Dubai World continue to surface in media reports and the latest is that Dubai World may seek to simply rollover its debts and lower the interest payments and repay over an eight to ten year period. The outcome for sukuk holders was not discussed specifically in the reports and I am still not sure whether the Dubai World restructuring will include specific accommodations to account for Shari'ah-compliance concerns. In my opinion, and I am not a scholar so I can't speak definitively about this, that any extension of maturity with continued lease or profit payments could be difficult because it would effectively exchange a delay in repayment for a higher level or repayment, which would probably raise some issues. However, I recall that the Nakheel sukuk incorporated defaults by extending the lease term and continuing the lease payments until repayment (analogous to what is being proposed), while retaining the lease as the source of the payments. This would probably be viewed more favorably because it would not include a delay in repayment in exchange for increasing the principal (by making periodic payments for a longer period). However, not all of the Dubai World Islamic debt is structured as ijara. One source in the FT article said that creditors could receive a share of future profits, which could be a way to extend the maturity by turning a murabaha or other facility into a mudaraba or musharaka. However, the lack of clarity on this issue in the media report suggests that there is either a minority of debt that is Shari'ah-compliant or the issue of Shari'ah-compliance is not at the forefront and is being viewed as a later issue when the general terms are agreed for something to be engineered to work around any issues. The National newspaper also offers its slightly different analysis. The Nakheel sukuk are discussed in another article as JP Morgan indicated in a note that sukuk holders could receive repayment at par.

The Union of Arab Banks says it is finalizing a way to allow Islamic banks to approach the central banks of the region for support. This is an important issue because without 'lender-of-last-resort' protection, Islamic banks are more vulnerable to runs. The lack of this support potentially can turn a liquidity crisis at Islamic banks into a solvency crisis if they are forced to unload assets at fire sale prices to meet depositors' withdrawals. This vulnerability should overshadow the more conservative lending standards in the pronouncements of Islamic banks' supposed immunity to crisis. The interbank market is important for banks to be able to have lower reliance on high levels of liquid assets that can reduce their profitability and thus the competitiveness with conventional banks. Following the launch of larger banks like Istikhlaf, which appears only to be an investment bank at the time being, there will need to be more attention paid to the systemic risk posed by larger Islamic banks. Without liquidity facilities at the central banks, investment banks and retail banks in the Islamic financial industry are extremely vulnerably. Beyond the fleeing of depositors in a 'classic' bank run, the demise of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns show how a run can start even without depositors if the wholesale funding partners of a bank withhold credit all at once. Both 'classic' and 'Lehman' runs should be considered in judging the urgency of establishing a 'lender of last resort' facility. When there is a new bank with $3 billion in capital expected, this could translate into $60 billion in assets (assuming a leverage ratio of 20:1). That would be a huge institution that would pose systemic risk to the Islamic financial system. It is an issue that deserves a lot of attention.

Other News

  • The Dubai Financial Services Authority issued five Islamic finance handbooks for firms operating in the DIFC.
  • Having announced last year investments in Chicago and a joint-venture with a publicly traded REIT, Kuwait Finance House is planning further expansion in the US, China and Canada. Other Islamic banks have urged China to consider Islamic banking as a way to attract capital from the Middle East.
  • Indonesia raised 999 billion rupiah ($108.9 million) in its latest sukuk auction with a maturity range of 5 to 15 years sukuk. It had no winning bids for an 11-year sukuk auction. There have been several recent failed auctions for sukuk with investors demanding too high a yield to be accepted by the Ministry of Finance.
  • Forbes has an article (written by Oxford Analytica) on the moves towards standardization in Islamic finance.
  • The Islamic Development Bank will soon launch a roadshow to raise money for Istikhlaf, the 'Islamic Goldman Sachs' expected to begin operations later this year.
  • Dar Al-Arkan redeemed a $600 million sukuk.
  • The Jordanian government borrowed $100 million from Jordan Islamic Bank to finance a stockpile of wheat and barley.
  • Centennial College in Toronto will offer an Islamic finance course starting in May.
  • Has Islamic finance helped cushion Bahrain from the blow of the global recession? The finance minister thinks so.
  • The Investment Dar continues to struggle on its restructuring and may seek protection under the country's financial stability law.
  • Amana Takaful, a Sri Lankan takaful provider received an insurance license in the Maldives. The takaful industry continues to struggle over the lack of sufficient supply of appropriate investments, like sukuk, and a shortage of talent.

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