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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Islamic finance must adapt to prosper

If Islamic finance is ever to be anything more than a poor relation of the conventional credit markets, those responsible for guiding the sector need to learn to adapt. The indecision and disputes that can delay deals at the moment will only get worse as issuers look to push into more innovative areas. Scholars that stand in the way of progress may well find themselves sidelined. 

It is often argued that Muslim countries have a natural inclination to move towards a model in which Shariah-compliant finance dominates. But at the moment, even for Islamic industry centres like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, this would entail a big increase from the current market share.
Prospective participants — so the argument goes — just need assurances that adopting Islamic finance principles would still allow them the flexibility to do business with the conventional market and to effectively risk-manage positions.
But those assurances are in short supply. The palpable discomfort of leading scholars in answering questions about Goldman Sachs’s sukuk plans at a recent Euromoney Islamic finance conference will be as nothing compared to the headaches that topics like Islamic derivatives and short term liquidity tools look set to cause in 2012.
At a time when the wider market is pursuing greater regulation, Islamic finance should keep pace, say its critics.
Perhaps it is faulty — or inappropriate — conventional-market thinking to suggest that Islamic finance will only achieve greater credibility with greater standardisation. But the notion clearly struck a few conference attendees that a potential issuer as important and pace-setting as Goldman Sachs, for example, should have a right to approach top Islamic finance scholars and expect them to give their judgement, whether positive or negative. Investors also deserve answers, so they can act with confidence.
Public indecision over a deal like Goldman's is perhaps understandable, given that approval could open a Pandora’s Box of conventional entrants to the sukuk arena. But top scholars must show their stomach for the challenge in this and other cutting-edge matters. It is no longer (if it ever was) acceptable to hide behind the catch-all excuse of “we neither accept nor refute”.
Maybe a central arbitration panel is required (or regional if that is more palatable). This could remove the reliance on bespoke sign-offs every time a new question arises. Naturally, scholars raise all kinds of objections to this: it would be too difficult, too rigid, governments would interfere, who would decide?
These are challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Helpful analogies abound in the conventional credit sector. If a bond defaults, for instance, one can go to Isda and ask if a credit event has taken place. Isda gives its verdict in a timely manner, based on a defined set of criteria and path of arbitration.
By comparison, the Islamic market considering cutting edge products looks rather like a blind man who wants to cross the road. Some helpful people tell him he should cross immediately and take his chances with the traffic. Others declare it will never be safe so he should just forget about it.
Then there are the traffic experts, the scholars: they know the road and can act as lollipop men to help him get across. But for whatever reason, they often appear reluctant to assist — perhaps they are too busy, or worried about their own safety amid the busy traffic.
So what is the blind man to do? He can stay exactly where he is, or he could wander off in another direction and become lost. Worse still, he might walk out into the road at the wrong time and get hit by a bus.
There is another option, of course. He might figure out that he could build a traffic light. And that would put the lollipop men out of a job.

(EuroWeek,28 Feb2012)

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Canada: Shariah Investment for Canada Muslims

Ontario – Celebrating a growing market of Shari`ah-compliant funds, Canadian Muslims are resorting to products that comply with Islamic principles for their retirement income and investments.

"The way I actually look at Shari`ah-compliant products is mainly as a subset of ethical, or socially responsible investing [such as avoiding the adult entertainment industry or any company that may negatively impact the environment]," Mohammad Khalid, a retired economist living in Oakville, Ontario, told CBC News on Monday, February 27.

Khalid, a devout Muslim, said Muslims must be careful about their investments, such as securities and equities.
Managing his own portfolio, he invests in sectors such as mining, forestry and technology as well as helping his older children save for their retirement.
"The whole market is essentially available, excluding some of the major ones [such as insurance companies and banks]. ...There are so many different companies which will keep giving you dividends year after year," Khalid said.
Shari`ah-compliant funds in Canada are focused on mining, forestry and technology.
"We've assisted in getting the Shari`ah-compliant certification for a couple of the mutual funds that are in Canada right now," said Rehan Huda, a director with Amana Canada Holdings, a niche financial firm that sells Shari`ah-compliant investment funds.

"There’s one fund – a bullion fund – that’s a fairly large fund that has gold, silver, platinum stored here, and it’s a purely Shari`ah-compliant fund.

"Since we're heavily in resource and technology-weighted [funds] ... when those do well, the Shari`ah funds generally do well."
Islam forbids Muslims from usury, receiving or paying interest on loans.
Islamic banks and finance institutions cannot receive or provide funds for anything involving alcohol, gambling, pornography, tobacco, weapons or pork.
Shari`ah-compliant financing deals resemble lease-to-own arrangements, layaway plans, joint purchase and sale agreements, or partnerships.
Investors have a right to know how their funds are being used, and the sector is overseen by dedicated supervisory boards as well as the usual national regulatory authorities.
The Shari`ah-compliant system is now being practiced in 50 countries worldwide, making it one of the fastest growing sectors in the global financial industry.
Flourishing Investments
With the growing Muslim population in Canada, the demand for Shari`ah-compliant investments was increasing.
"An inordinate amount of cash is found among Muslim investors that I know ... and they are waiting for Shari`ah-compliant products," Huda, from the director with Amana Canada Holdings, told CBC News.
"In the future, there’s going to be a lot more products because the population is increasing here."
Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the Roman Catholic country.
A recent report from the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life said that Muslims are expected to make up 6.6% of Canada’s total population in 2030.
A testament to the growing interest in Shariah-compliant investing is Standard & Poor’s introduction of its Shari`ah stock index (S&P/TSX 60 Shariah Index) into the Canadian market in 2009.
The index recategorizes equities on the S&P/TSX 60 and excludes all equities that do not comply with Islamic law, which is based on the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.
Though many Canadians think the Shari`ah-compliant funds are not profitable, Khalid says there are many "wonderful companies" that can help investors reap big dividends, including technology companies.
"Absolutely nothing is holding them back," he said.

"If they don’t [invest], obviously they’re losing something big time. You can reduce your taxes big time."

Starting almost three decades ago, the Islamic banking industry has made substantial growth and attracted the attention of investors and bankers across the world.
A long list of international institutions, including Citigroup, HSBC and Deutsche Bank, are going into the Islamic banking business.
Currently, there are nearly 300 Islamic banks and financial institutions worldwide whose assets are predicted to grow to $1 trillion by 2013.

(OnIslam, 26 Feb2012)

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Pakistan: Islamic banks need to offer agriculture financing says SBP chief

State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Yaseen Anwar on Tuesday said Islamic banks need to offer agriculture financing to tap the huge productive potential of the sector.

Speaking as chief guest at the inaugural session of the two-day 2nd International Conference on Islamic Business (ICIB- 2012) organised by Riphah International University at National Institute of Banking & Finance (Nibaf), Governor SBP regretted that Islamic banks have not been able to come out of the conventional shadow and lack better risk management and due diligence.

Islamic banks have been working both in international and domestic market in the conventional shadow.

He said the agriculture sector and SMEs are of paramount importance for the growth but these were highly ignored, urging Islamic banks to tap huge opportunities available in the agriculture sector.

The agriculture sector is contributing 21 percent to the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and provides 40 per cent of the employment whereas Pakistan is fifth milk producer in the world.

He said Nestle and other international companies have realised the opportunity and making investment in the dairy sector.

He said huge opportunities exist for Islamic banks in agriculture sector and they must make efforts to tap these through agriculture financing.

He said inclusive growth is beneficial only and Islamic banks are required to be more aggressive and increase their outreach beyond major cities and deplored that 70 percent of their branch network was confined to 12 major cities of the country.

He said the SBP is working to provide Islamic interbank market to Islamic banks and regulator has been taking measures to help Islamic banking in Pakistan.

He said the Islamic banking system has to come out of the conventional shadow and overcome the lack of understanding about risk management and training and capacity obstacles.

Yaseen said that Islamic banking has been growing at a very robust rate of around 30 percent for the last six years and constitutes 8.5 percent of the total deposits of banking sector.

Yaseen said over 886 branches of Islamic banks have been working in the country but the industry is still facing challenges that are required to be addressed.

The debate, he said has now started how the Islamic banking system should move towards stability.

He said Islamic finance is a profitable economic opportunity and the country is required to learn a lesson from the global financial crisis.

Yaseen said despite financial crisis, the fundamental of the economics of Western countries are very deep and it would be a misconception that their system has collapsed.

He said financial institutions have to be cautious and prepare themselves to show resilience against any sort of crisis.

Yaseen said the Islamic financing has been lacking in better risk management and due diligence and key challenge for them was their working both in international and domestic markets in conventional shadow.

He said despite all this, he was optimistic about global and domestic role of the Islamic banking and considers it most dynamic area of financial services today.

Financial and economic devastation caused by the recent financial crisis has provided further impetus to the healthy growth momentum, as the Islamic financial system is increasingly being looked at as a prudent, stable and viable alternative against the conventional system.

He said despite all the positive developments during the last decades there exist many critical issues, which needs to be addressed to sustain the growth momentum on long-term basis.

The Governor State Bank said it is very encouraging to see that Riphah International University has arranged the second International Conference to discuss the critically important issues pertaining to Islamic finance product, monetary policy in an Islamic economic system and liquidity management.

He said the State Bank, being the regulator as well as the promoter and facilitator of the industry, will look into the recommendations of the Conference for possible adoption and implementation.

He congratulated Riphah International University for organising such an important event at international level on regular basis.

Business Recorder,29 Feb 2012)

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