Friday, November 28, 2008

New sukuk are smaller than last year; profits hold up for Islamic banks although challenges remain

A blog post at PBS, the U.S. public broadcasting organization, provides a brief description of Islamic banking seen through the prohibition of usury in the three large monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The U.K. may be providing the greatest example of how to allow Islamic banking to operate on a level playing field with conventional financial products.

A panel at a conference in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) tackles difficult subjects like the effect of the credit crisis on Islamic finance and the potential for 'greater good' efforts to expand Islamic financial principles to financial products without the 'Islamic' label (e.g. 'ethical' and 'green').

In another report, data show that the sukuk market has fallen off in 2008 compared with 2007. Issuance in the GCC fell from $14.15 billion in the first nine months of 2007 to $8 billion in the same period in 2008. The number of sukuk issued in the GCC only from 36 to 34 which means that the average size of sukuk has fallen (from $393 million to $235 million). There were some sukuk significantly larger than average issued by real estate companies: eight accounting for $4.85 billion (compared with seven in the same period in 2007 valued at $3.42 billion). This means the remaining 26 sukuk issued this year only averaged $121 million compared with the non-real estate issues in 2007 which averaged $370 million.

Business Week had a story that I missed a few weeks ago about Islamic finance weathering the credit crisis, but which was mentioned in another article on Islamic finance, because of its additional screens which help Shari'ah-compliant investors avoid some of the pitfalls that have been hurt the most in the credit crisis. Some non-Muslim investors may even be attracted to the industry by its relatively simple screens used to exclude companies that, while conforming with the Shari'ah screens, may also perform better in bad markets for several reasons including a lower reliance on debt financing.

Although Islamic finance is less susceptible to the credit crisis, Moody's warns that it is not completely isolated from global economic trends and are overexposed to real estate markets, particularly in the GCC, which have only recently began slowing. Despite this, the profits of Islamic banks remained strong in the last year.

The Islamic Development is planning a sukuk to raise money to assist member countries suffering in the wake of the credit crisis.

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