The UK has yet to see its first Sukuk origination. However, London has an unenviable history and track record for structuring and arranging Sukuk. HSBC; Citigroup; WestLB London Branch; Standard Bank (London Branch); Deutsche Bank London Branch; ABC International Bank; and Dawnay Day CAP have all been active in this capacity.
They have drawn on the unparalleled expertise of City law firms such as Clifford Chance; Linklaters; Norton Rose; Denton Wilde Sapte; Trowers & Hamlins, Simmons & Simmons, Stephenson Harwood, Taylor Wessing, Whie & Case, etc. in structuring Islamic financial products including Sukuk.
The potential for London is huge. With the recent tax treatment guidelines for Sukuk issuance in the UK and HM Treasury’s announcement that it has embarked on a feasibility study to see how the UK Shariah-compliant instruments in the wholesale sterling market, GCC and South East Asian Islamic financial institutions see this as an important development.
The UK is highly respected as a well-regulated and sophisticated market and the City as one of the top international financial centres. Post 9/11 and thanks to the three Patriots Acts in the US (which is perceived as unwarranted and prejudicial against Muslims by Gulf and Malaysian investors), there has been a definitive shift in the preference of GCC and South East Asian Islamic investors to invest in UK and EU assets.
This together with the UK’s historical relationship with the Middle East and with other Asian and African countries through its leadership of The Commonwealth, puts it in a pole position to capitalise on future investment flows especially through the vehicle of wholesale Islamic financial instruments.
The UK Government is trying to capitalise on British financial expertise in the Islamic finance sector. Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed that the British Government is keen to develop the UK as a hub for Islamic trade and finance. There is no reason to assume that this ambition would change now that Prime Minister Brown is in No 10 Downing Street.
On the contrary, Sukuk structures and Islamic finance in general could proliferate in the UK with new opportunities opening up as a result of the Government’s social and financial inclusion policies and the urgent need for investment in education, healthcare, transport infrastructure and affordable housing.
Sukuk can be a competitive alternative financing tool to raise funding for a host of projects – Infrastructure such as transport including toll roads; education such as City Academies; leisure facilities such as sports and recreational facilities; healthcare such as hospitals and clinics; and sports stadia and facilities such as the facilities for the London Olympics 2012. These could also be developed under the Public-Private Financing Initiative.
Sukuk is not only issued by Governments, corporates or utilities. Municipalities such as the London Assembly or the Mayor’s Office could also raise funding through a Sukuk issuance.
The overwhelming reason for a UK Sukuk issuance is that there may be a good business case for doing so. HM Treasury would be able to diversify the sources of its debt market instruments; a Sukuk issuance could prove to be competitive from a pricing point of view; a Sukuk issuance would stimulate a nascent Eurosukuk market; this would attract business to the City and further enhance London’s position as a major centre for structuring and originating Islamic financial products; it would also help ‘demystify’ the wholesale Islamic markets to the UK and EU authorities; and it could pave the way for UK corporate Sukuk issuances thus helping UK companies also to access a new form of financing.
With London overtaking New York as the premier international financial centre, US banks envy the advantage their British and some European counterparts have in Islamic finance. A UK and Eurosukuk market allows for diversification of investment to Muslim and other investors. It also allows issuers better access to capital – US dollar, Euro, Sterling – to meet specific requirements of investors. Issuers out of the Sterling and Euro market may have a better rating compared with issuers from other parts of world. So, this would create a better benchmark.
Bankers in London already project that Sukuk origination and issuance by European corporates and governments ‘will be the next big step forward’ in the market, with the UK leading the initiative. Already some banks – both global and regional – are talking about forming strategic alliances to pitch for the mandate to structure and arrange the potential UK debut sovereign Sukuk.