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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Egypt could become thriving centre of Islamic finance

Covered head-to-toe in a black abaya embroidered with red and yellow flowers, Amal Abbas waits for her turn to place a deposit at Cairo’s Al Baraka Egypt Bank, one of Egypt’s two fully-fledged Islamic banks.

Although Egypt is considered the birthplace of Islamic finance, which adheres to Islamic principles banning interest and speculative trading, its growth has lagged due to past corruption scandals, while the previous government sought to enforce a more secular financial system.
But after the Egyptian revolution toppled Hosni Mubarak and his government, Muslims like Abbas are embracing Islamic banking, raising the prospect that Egypt could become another thriving centre of Islamic finance.

“I prefer Islamic finance, it keeps me far from usury and I feel my money is blessed,” said the 50 year-old research centre manager at the Mohandessin branch of Al Baraka Egypt Bank.
“My husband has been dealing with mainstream banks for more than 30 years and all his projects failed because they were funded by unblessed money.”

According to a 2009 report by consulting firm McKinsey, Islamic banking only accounts for 3% to 4% of Egypt’s $193bn banking industry. That compares with 46% in the UAE.

“In a post-Mubarak era, the urgency of rebuilding and changing things will clash with the absence of resources and lack of money,” said Ibrahim Warde, adjunct professor at The Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University.

That will likely present an opportunity for Islamic finance houses in the Gulf region, which now serves as the industry’s global hub.
“Egypt is going to look towards the Gulf for money and it’s going to have to offer Islamic options to maximise investments.”

Cairo-based National Bank for Development, which is converting into a full-fledged Islamic bank, is already 49%-owned by Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank. Al Baraka Egypt is in fact a unit of Bahrain’s Al Baraka Bank.

There’s also keen interest in Egypt for Islamic insurance, or takaful, which makes up 5% of Egypt’s $1.45bn insurance market but is expected to grow dramatically, according to a March report by Islamic consultancy BMB Islamic.

Salama Islamic Arab Insurance’s chief executive Saleh Malaikah said last month that demand for its products in Egypt have grown significantly since the revolution.
According to data from Bankscope and Thomson Reuters, Egypt could see Islamic finance assets grow to $10bn in 2013 from $6bn in 2007.

Challenges remain, given the less than encouraging history of Egypt’s Islamic finance industry.
Millions of Egyptians were stung by ponzi schemes in the mid-1980s, when a number of money management companies touted Islamic investments at returns above local interest rates.

A new post-Mubarak administration is expected to show more interest in Islamic finance, despite concerns that a growing Islamic finance industry could also provide political support for Islamic opposition groups in the country of 80mn.

Egypt will need to adopt Islamic banking as one tool to appease politically active Islamic groups or face a barrage of criticism for adhering to the previous regime’s hard line against the industry, said Humayon Dar, chief executive of consultancy BMBIslamic.

“Egypt is a religiously sensitive country. There are a number of families and small savers who wouldn’t want to use the conventional system,” he said. “If there’s a movement towards interest-free banking, that would draw deposits.”

Grassroots support is already emerging among conservative Muslims. Manal al-Moursi, another bank customer at Al Baraka Egypt Bank, said Egyptians are turning to Islamic finance, in part, to show their support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, was long persecuted as the main challenger to the ruling National Democratic Party in parliament and was one of the most vocal protesters during the demonstrations that toppled Mubarak on February 11.

With the dissolution of the NDP and growing acceptance of the Muslim Brotherhood in mainstream politics, experts say Islamists will have increasing influence in the new Egypt and Islamic finance will serve as one way to propagate Islamic values and gain supporters.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is for Islamic finance because it is related to religion,” said Mohasseb Refaat, deputy manager at Bank of Alexandria. “They will promote the idea so long as it is in their benefit.”
Refaat said the industry is likely to gain more footing in Egypt if the Brotherhood secures a significant number of seats in the 508-member parliament in September. One leading Brotherhood figure said the group could field candidates for as many as 49% of the seats.
Even secularists calling for less religion in society may make a pre-emptive attempt to promote Islamic finance ahead of elections to reach a wider group of constituents.

“Secularists will see supporting Islamic finance as a way of stealing the thunder of the Islamists by giving people an outlet to express their religiosity,” Warde said. “We’ve seen that strategy in other markets such as Iraq and North America. Even groups that were opposed to political Islam looked to Islamic finance as a way of preventing extremism.”

Britain and France, for example, have changed regulations to accommodate Islamic transactions. And Malaysia, with its thriving dual system of conventional and Islamic finance, has been the biggest success story in the industry, serving as a model for new markets looking to offer Islamic products.

Decades of lost growth, however, have left Egypt lacking proper financial regulation to accommodate Islamic financial instruments such as Islamic bonds, or sukuk.

The head of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA) said last year Egypt would issue its first regulations governing sukuk in the second half of 2010 and later delayed further to the first quarter of 2011. That deadline has passed as well as the government restructures and plans now appear in limbo.

Experts say the government will need to issue debt guidelines for sukuk issuance and remove tax barriers that make Islamic transactions commercially unviable in order to draw foreign investment from oil-rich Gulf countries.

And the revolution may spell a willingness among Egyptians to embrace alternatives, particularly if they can derive benefit from it for some of the social ills that sparked the protests.

Under the Mubarak regime, critics said the rich benefited from lending and other business opportunities while the poor were plagued by unemployment and low wages. Malik said Islamic finance with its focus on interest-free financing and ethical investments would appeal to the common man.


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Emas Sebagai Pelaburan Alternatif

Minat dengan pelaburan emas memang sedang meningkat. Mengapa wajar melabur dengan emas? 

Emas sebenarnya ialah suatu komoditi yang tidak luntur ditelan zaman. Walau tertanam beribu-ribu tahun sekalipun, emas tetap berkilau.

Tidak ada negara yang mata wangnya tidak tertakluk kepada turun naik nilai emas, termasuklah negara kita semasa krisis 97/98 yang mana mata wang kita dikatakan menjadi bahan spekulator dan pernah jatuh ke paras serendah RM4.50 untuk satu dolar Amerika.

Mata wang dunia tidak lagi disokong oleh emas dan negara seperti Amerika Syarikat didapati boleh mengeluarkan seberapa banyak wang sesuka hati mereka.

Sekian lama mata wang dolar Amerika digunakan untuk segala-galanya daripada rizab negara kepada dagangan dunia.
Boleh dikatakan tidak ada urusan yang tidak lepas daripada dolar Amerika sehinggalah Kesatuan Eropah menghasilkan Euro yang menjadi pencabar kepada kedudukan dolar Amerika.

Apabila berlaku krisis ekonomi pada tahun 2008 yang berpunca di Amerika, dolar terus tertekan kedudukannya selaku mata wang utama. Tambahan pula negara seperti China yang banyak membeli Bil Perbendaharaan Amerika Syarikat merasa bimbang mengenai penurunan nilai dolar dan menyarankan penggunaan mata wang alternatif untuk perdagangan.

Pada waktu sama China juga mengajak negara-negara Asia Barat mengubah haluan menggunakan mata wang lain selain dolar Amerika. Suasana begini dicampur dengan defisit kerajaan Amerika yang berjumlah trilion dolar menyebabkan ramai orang membeli emas selaku pelindung atau insuran.

KL Conference on Islamic Wealth Management (14-15 June 2011)

Mereka yang mengambil langkah perlindungan ini bukan saja orang individu tetapi juga negara. Selasa minggu lepas, Bank Negara India telah membeli 200 tan emas dari Dana Kewangan Antarabangsa (IMF) dan ia telah melonjakkan harga emas pada hari itu. Dikhabarkan IMF akan menjual sebanyak 200 tan lagi. Kenaikan permintaan ini menyebabkan harga emas terus meningkat.

Minggu lepas sehingga semalam (Jumaat) emas naik dari AS$1091 (RM3,815) seauns kepada AS$1106 (RM3,871).
Bagaimanapun mereka yang ingin membeli emas patut melihat pembeliannya untuk disimpan selama 365 hari. Bukan untuk dijual minggu depan atau bulan depan kerana dengan mengambil sikap demikian segala turun naik harga (volatiliti) dapat diatasi.

Misalnya sejak setahun lalu, harga emas naik sebanyak 52 peratus dari AS$734.90 (RM2,572) seauns kepada AS$1116.80 (RM3,908) seauns.

Kalau emas tidak penting mengapa kerajaan India membeli 200 tan emas minggu lepas?

Kebimbangan akan kejatuhan nilai matawang dolar Amerika dan kemungkinan pemulihan mungkin akan mengambil masa lebih lama daripada dijangkakan kerana pengangguran di AS hampir mencecah 10 peratus dan masalah yang membelenggu sektor perumahan belum dapat diatasi lagi.

Kerajaan China juga menasihatkan rakyatnya menyimpan 5 peratus daripada wang simpanan mereka dalam bentuk emas dan ini bakal menaikkan lagi harga emas. Kita ingat semasa zaman ramai pelarian meninggalkan negara asal mereka seperti semasa perang Vietnam. Mereka yang lari daripada Kemboja membawa bersama emas dan apabila sampai di sini mereka menggunakan emas tersebut untuk memulakan perniagaan dan hidup baru.

Contohnya di kawasan Kota Tinggi, Johor. Ramai orang Kemboja yang memiliki perniagaan seperti barang kemas dan perniagaan kain. Emas diterima di mana-mana tidak kira di negara mana sekalipun, emas tetap emas.

Seperti yang pernah dinyatakan dahulu, emas boleh dibeli secara buku pas dan secara syiling atau keping (wafer) dari bank-bank perdagangan. Selain itu, barang kemas juga suatu pelaburan dalam “bentuk emas” walaupun ketulenan emas pada barang kemas adalah rendah daripada emas keping iaitu 91.6 peratus bagi barang kemas dan 99.99 bagi syiling dan emas keping.

Bagi Bursa Malaysia pula, mungkin Dana Dagangan Bursa Emas (Gold Exchange Traded Fund) mungkin boleh difikirkan selaku salah suatu tawaran di bursa kita. Dengan adanya ETF Emas ini dapatlah lebih ramai pelabur melabur dalam emas dengan modal yang lebih rendah. 

Oleh Dato' Salleh Majid, bekas Presiden Bursa Saham Kuala Lumpur (kini Bursa Malaysia)

KL Conference on Islamic Wealth Management (14-15 June 2011)
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