With Oil’s Slump, Gulf Nations Seen Turning to More Sukuk
The almost 50 percent plunge in oil this year is set to unleash a wave of Islamic bond sales as Gulf Cooperation Council nations seek to compensate for slumping revenues.
Sukuk issuance across the region in 2015 will surpass this year’s $14.8 billion, according to Emad Mostaque at Ecstrat Ltd. The 2014 figure is the lowest in three years, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The Gulf states may sell sukuk to help meet planned expenditure, including to fund infrastructure projects at home, said John Sfakianakis, Middle East Director at Ashmore Group Plc.
With Saudi Arabia and Qatar planning more than $700 billion of spendng during the next seven years, boosting sales of sukuk will help compensate for oil prices that are about 25 percent below the $80 a barrel the International Monetary Fund says governments in the region need to balance their budgets. The six-nation GCC includes four members of OPEC, which supplies 40 percent of the world’s oil.
“There will have to be a balance between spending and debt issuance in order to cover for a lot of the capital and current expenditures,” Sfakianakis said by phone from Riyadh on Dec. 16. “It’s reasonable to expect sovereign debt issuance to increase in 2015 across the board.”
Brent crude, used as a benchmark for more than half the world’s oil, fell 0.5 percent to $59.56 per barrel at 9:30 a.m. in London, the lowest on a closing basis in more than five years. It may decline to $50 a barrel in 2015, according to a Bloomberg survey of 17 analysts.
Islamic bonds from the GCC, which comply with the religion’s ban on interest, account for more than a quarter of all sales in a market worth about $310 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain are regular issuers.
“Sovereigns in the GCC may increasingly rely on sukuk as a means to support government funding at a time of decreasing oil revenue,” Jonathan Fried, capital markets partner at law firm Linklaters LLP in Dubai, said in an e-mail yesterday. Linklaters advised the Luxembourg government on its debut sukuk sale earlier this year. “There is an ever-growing demand for sukuk products in the GCC.”
That hasn’t stopped yields climbing as oil prices collapsed. The yield on Shariah-compliant bonds from the Middle East jumped 14 basis points last week, the steepest increase since August last year, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. indexes. That compares with a 22 basis-point decline in the benchmark 10-year Treasury.
Susceptible to Oil
“In the short term, I don’t think there will be any noticeable impact on any of the governments’ strategies,” Thomas Christie, the head of fixed income at Prometheus Capital Finance Ltd., a Dubai-based investment advisory company, said by phone on Dec. 15. “If the oil price continues in the downward trend, in the long term, in the next five years,” there may be an impact to sales, he said.
Bahrain and Oman will be most susceptible to lower oil prices and are likely to issue sovereign debt to finance their fiscal deficits, according to a Moody’s Investors Service report last week. The ratings agency said earlier this year the sovereign sukuk market will reach about $30 billion globally in 2014, and it expects growth to continue in 2015.
Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Co., the country’s sovereign wealth fund, sold a $600 million sukuk last month. Oman’s Central Bank head Hamud Sangur Al-Zadjali said in October the country may sell 200 million rials ($519 million) of Islamic bonds next year, its debut sale.
While “less resilient” GCC states with fewer fiscal buffers like Bahrain and Oman are likely to issue, “all of them should see an increase in sovereign debt issuance over the next year or two,” Ashmore’s Sfakianakis said.