Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Transparency vs the OCIS-SC closed-door forum

The Oxford Center for Islamic Studies and Malaysia's Securities Commission held a closed-door forum on "Solutions for Liquidity Management" earlier this week.  While I have no problem with a closed door meeting, I am a bit mystified trying to read the SC press release to figure out what they were talking about (there is no press release that I could find from the OCIS). I am not sure why a press release was issued that contains few details that would be useful to people following the industry. 

There were really only 2 paragraphs of substance:
"While sukuk issuances have generally been successful in terms of primary subscription, "the lack of secondary trading - due perhaps to the scarcity of supply; lack of infrastructure; trading mechanisms that are not globally accepted; or unresolved issues over valuations - have all led to investors holding on to the "buy-and-hold‟ attitude of the instruments until maturity" observed HRH Raja Nazrin."
I have discussed the liquidity challenges in sukuk secondary markets many times.  I think that all of the reasons cited are valid, but I think the most problematic for investors is the lack of supply, so that it becomes hard to replace a sukuk sold in the secondary market with another (either in the primary or secondary market).  There has to have been some interesting discussion in the forum on the differences in liquidity between Malaysia and the GCC (and beyond) that would not be too sensitive to release to the public, that could have offered as the basis for constructive discussion around what can be done to help the secondary markets develop.  Alas, there was nothing beyond the well known issues for the sukuk markets.  The press release continues a bit later discussing a bill in Malaysia being developed by the SC to expand the investment opportunities for funds. 
""This bill will pave the way for Shariah funds to directly invest into income generating assets and businesses. The bill also proposes the creation of business trusts, a trust vehicle, to accommodate the ownership of businesses or assets, giving investors direct exposure to the real economy. More importantly, these initiatives are consistent with maqasid al shariah. This bill has strong roots in the exchange of visionary ideas and perspectives from the inaugural SC-OCIS Roundtable of 2010" added Tan Sri Zarinah."
 Here, the release is a bit more forthcoming suggesting the idea to allow more direct ownership of businesses through trusts, that give investors "direct exposure to the real economy".  However, this does not appear--from the discussion in the press release--to be a new idea.  Islamic funds already have direct exposure to the real economy through equity ownership in businesses, or through debt-based sukuk that use of trusts (SPVs), both of which are also "consistent with maqasid al shariah".  A more direct discussion of the bill and how it differs from what is already in existence would help spur discussion, again without  revealing any of the sensitive discussions that happened behind closed doors. 

Transparency is a good thing.  While it does not have to be universal--it shouldn't always be--press releases that say little about closed-door forums is not particularly useful for anyone involved.  For example, I will never get the time back the time I spent trying to squeeze water from the rock that this press release. 

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