Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The rise of istithmar sukuk

From my newsletter:
On June 20, 2011, the Malaysian central bank, Bank Negara, unveiled its newest liquidity management product, although few details were offered. In the first auction on the following day, Bank Negara sold RM500 million.($165 million) of the 1- to 3-year sukuk. The product itself is based on the istithmar structure, which combines other receivables from murabaha as well as ijara transactions. In general, under AAOIFI rules, the portfolio must have at least 33% ijara sukuk in order to be tradable, although in many cases, a more conservative interpretation is used where 51% of the portfolio must be ijara.

It is always interesting to see new Shari'ah-compliant liquidity management products come out with different structures (istithmar, commodity murabaha, salam and ijara are the ones I have run across). However, beyond the liquidity management space, the istithmar structure is becoming more widely used with institutions like the Islamic Development Bank. The International Finance Corporation used a similar wakala (agency structure) which securitized a portfolio of other contracts.

The thing that I find about this interest in istithmar sukuk is that it (and/or wakala) have potential to replace mudaraba and musharaka sukuk, which were used (and misused) extensively before the financial crisis and the AAOIFI ruling clarifying the rules around the buyback clauses used at maturity of those sukuk. There may be less concern about misusing structures (or misapplying their rules) in an istithmar sukuk (compared with a mudaraba or musharaka) because the former type is designed to be specifically an investment portfolio, where latter is commonly associated with venture financing (either providing financing from one party in mudaraba or through a joint-venture financing in a musharaka).

It will remain to be seen how much uptake their is in the istithmar sukuk structure but they are likely holding many ijara and murabaha assets on their balance sheets that could be securitized. It will likely depend on whether they have sufficient ijara assets to match up with murabaha to get to the threshold to make their sukuk tradable.
As I re-read the newsletter, it occurs to me that the entire area of securitization has largely passed Islamic finance by, although it would be a natural source of new sukuk were Islamic banks to pass on their risk and return to investors. However, the likely reasons for the absence of securitization (with a few exceptions) is the absence of standardization of the contracts for securitization, as well as the collapse in the securitization market that occurred just as the sukuk market was reminded of the rules around mudaraba and musharaka sukuk, which had been widely used (and as I mentioned, misused).

Now that the securitization market is coming back to life in the conventional market, it would be a good time to look towards pure securitization. It has the "ideal" structure (in the eyes of many) of making investors participate in both the risk and reward, would allow for the relatively quick creation of a lot of new sukuk in a market that has been coming back strongly from the credit crisis and the istithmar and wakala structures are much better vehicles, at least on a high-level view view, than mudaraba and musharaka, which were somewhat co-opted for creating sukuk based on a pool of financial assets.

There are, of course, some caveats. The first would be to find and address the reason why Islamic banks are reluctant to securitize their assets. Perhaps they believe that they will be more highly rewarded by holding the assets themselves, although that creates additional risk within the system as a whole. Or, perhaps, the infrastructure for creating cheap securitizations does not exist. Compared to the first possibility, this would be the best case. The International Islamic Financial Market (IIFM) is already reported to be working with Hawkamah on a standardized contract for ijara sukuk.

There is also the ever-present risk to investors that Islamic banks will securitize their bad assets and keep the ones they believe will perform the best. Given the ability of some Islamic banks (Gulf Finance House is the best known name) to use questionably ethical business models, the potential for Islamic banks to dump risky assets into securitized sukuk risks creating Subprime (v.Islamic). Perhaps the Western Islamic banks could take the lead in developing the infrastructure for Islamic securitizations.

No comments: