Category Archives: Islamic products

Islamic finance in the US: Interview with Devon Bank executive

Islamic finance in the US: Interview with Devon Bank executive

Interview with David Loundy, vice-chairman and head of religion- based financing at Devon Bank. Devon is a Jewish community bank in Chicago, offering Islamic finance.

My comments: It is interesting to see David’s answer to the first question on how Devon, a Jewish community bank, got into Islamic finance: due to demand from the community. This shows that while a top-down demand approach is popular, grassroot-level demand that is effectively and appropriately communicated is often equally productive. Western Muslim communities should follow the example of the Chicago Muslim community and press their local banks to start offering Islamic financing options.

QUESTION: How did a Jewish-owned family bank, Devon, in Chicago, get involved in Islamic finance?

Answer: Although many of our shareholders are Jewish, we are a community bank. We were created by a community to serve the needs of that community. That community is in constant flux. Once, it was predominantly Jewish. It is a “new immigrant community”. People move in, get established, bring family from the old country, and then move on.

Our headquarters is supposedly in the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the Americas. Indian, Pakistani, African, Eastern European, some Arab. This includes a large Muslim population. They asked us for help. We helped. This is part of our mission-serve members of our community in the ways they need to be served.

Our Islamic finance programme derives from a customer who wanted to open a bookstore. They asked if we could help, but without riba. At the time, we said no, and the group found financing from the United Bank of Kuwait (UBK). When UBK was acquired, it sent away all of its US customers. The customer came back and asked for help again. At that point, the head of our International Department convinced management that there was an unmet need.

The bank started looking into options. As word got out, the demand exploded showing there really was a need, and we were in a good position to help. We had done non-interest-based financing before for the observant Jews, but the strong Muslim demand for such products surprised us.

Q: What have been the challenges internally, community and with the regulators?

A: Internally, our biggest challenge has been to line up needed liquidity. We turn away a million dollars of businesses a day. Some of this we are looking to manage with two prospective sukuk issuances. We would like to put in place a larger permanent solution, but it requires raising quite a bit of funding in a bad market. Our second internal challenge is resource allocation. All bank functions must run well, conventional and Islamic.

We are striving to triple our mortgage volume (conventional and Islamic) in the next 18 months, but that requires an investment in staff, technology, and processes to handle higher volume.

The community is not homogenous. 2010 was the bank’s 65th anniversary. We are generally known and respected in the community. People with prejudices do not respect that we are trying to serve the WHOLE community. I laugh at those that think that any entity providing Islamic finance has to, by definition, be donating to terrorist groups. A local synagogue soup kitchen or the Salvation Army are acceptable recipients for any donations.

The worst prejudice comes from competitors who publicly inquire as to how a non-Muslim institution can be an acceptable source of Islamic products. Answer: Because our products are better. Some in the community see our Islamic finance programme as a step towards peace and understanding. Our Muslim customers are just grateful that someone cares about their needs and is accommodating them.

Regulators are also not a homogeneous group. Banking regulators are largely supportive-they see us as “banking the unbanked” – a good thing. After 65 years in business, our regulators know us. They know we are experienced and careful, bankers. However, I often say that “Islamic finance is easy, dealing with the secretaries of state is the bane of my existence”. The amount of detail that goes into fitting the square peg of Islamic finance into the round hole of a conventional regulatory system, which can vary in each of several thousand counties, can be extreme.

Q:. The sub-prime induced credit crisis devastated the mortgage market, how were the Islamic mortgages impacted in Devon’s portfolio?

Devon Bank didn’t do sub-prime mortgages. Our Islamic portfolio has been performing VERY well compared to larger averages and even our conventional portfolio. In our 7.5 years of providing Islamic product, our write-offs have amounted to less than 90 basis points on originations-mostly due to a fraud and not credit loss. We have been careful in our underwriting, but if a customer losses a job, we both have a problem. An Islamic product has restrictions on what workout options are available, but we have been able to successfully arrange several restructurings.

The sub-prime mess disrupted entire markets. It negatively affected property valuations, and thus reserve requirements. It has scared investors, even in the face of great opportunities. A number of vendors are just plain gone. Things are starting to normalise a bit now, but the reverberations from the meltdown will take years to work out of the system.

Q. What is the profile of your typical Islamic mortgage customer, both residential and commercial?

It is fairly broad across the income spectrum. Usually first- or second-generation immigrants. Initially predominantly Indo-Pak, but now covering a much wider geographic origin. Because of our compliance level, we tend towards the more conservative end of the religious spectrum, but we get a broad range here too. We have forced industry pricing down so customers don’t feel punished for their religious observance. Our customers tend to have family networks helping with the purchase. Credit scores are a bit higher, but are often “shallow”.

Down payments are often either particularly high or low-depending on whether customers were saving to buy with cash or assuming they never would be able to buy at all.

On the commercial side, because we are a small bank, our size and location constraints produce some customer selection. They tend to be small business operators and investors; frequent masjid financing inquiries; an occasional inquiry from a Gulf investment bank.

Q: Has the time arrived for a licensed deposit-taking Islamic bank in the US? If not, what are the challenges?

We are between windows of opportunity. Devon Bank made two attempts to buy a bank to convert to Islamic. One was geographically located in a community where it would have also reached a sect of Christians that follow their religion’s prohibitions on interest as well as accommodating Jewish and Muslim prohibitions. US$6-US$9 million (US$1 = RM3.06) would have bought either institution. We could have cleansed the balance sheet and had the bank operating as a “proof of concept” pending further regulatory discussions. Our regulators were willing to see us try and make it happen in the beginning. We did not, however, have investor support.

A new charter is practically impossible to create, and largely un-economic to buy. When the right opportunity comes along, you have days in which to strike and consummate a deal. It takes a special investor who can work that fast on something novel. Now, the regulators are too busy with failing and flailing banks to put the resources into figuring out how to handle an Islamic bank. They know it WILL happen, but they don’t even know what questions to ask. It will happen, but it will be easier in a few years than it will be today.

The more interesting question is about customer demand. A subset of people will only deal with an “Islamic” bank, either out of prejudice or out of concerns over the “purity” of money coming from a conventional bank.

While we do not respect the first view, the second is one of religious conviction that we must acknowledge. There are solutions to this concern besides the creation of an Islamic bank. An end-to-end syariah-compliant bank would need to start small and demonstrate market demand. I believe there is sufficient demand for such an institution, but most plans are from people who don’t understand the US banking market and how it is regulated.

Q: What kind of interest and inquiries have you received from a Gulf or Malaysia-based institution in Devon Bank and its Islamic portfolio?

All of our businesses and funding so far have been from “onshore” sources. To date, we have not had good contacts in Malaysia. They just don’t know us-it has simply been a mismatch of networks. We have had more visits and potential businesses from Indonesians. We have had a number of contacts from Gulf entities, and I have taken several trips to the UAE, but they have been frustrating.

To some, we are a novelty (Oh look! An American doing Islamic finance! Isn’t that cute!). Others see our potential, but we have been the wrong thing at the wrong time. It is a frustration when you schedule a due diligence trip only to have the next eruption in the financial meltdown scare investors and kill discussions; or you read in the news about your potential partner defaulting on a few billion dollars worth of its debt during your discussions. Others are so fixated on winning the biggest prize that they don’t look at the merits of the race – for example, they are more interested in buying a trophy property rather than smaller more profitable ones.

The right people with the right vision WILL line up with the right time. We believe we have a compelling story and Grand Plans capable of execution – just bad timing. When those in the Gulf and in Malaysia are ready for us, we are ready for them. Our performance speaks louder than our “wasta”. In the mean time, we are not waiting – we have added capital to the bank and are adding more. We expect our business will continue growing.

Q: If you had to start all over for Islamic mortgages, what would you do differently?

I would have been more aggressive about developing infrastructure faster – vendors, staff, technology, business partners, etc. We started our programme slowly to make sure everything worked as it should and that our regulators didn’t see problems we were missing. However, it meant that resources weren’t lined up when needed.

The global credit crisis put an awful lot of plans on hold for a lot of people, and it prevented us from moving more quickly to the next stage. If we had shifted our entire timeline nine months earlier, we could have been functionally several years ahead of where we are now.

Q: What could the state of Islamic finance in the US be in 2020?

There will be an Islamic bank. A major US provider would have been long gone (five minor players pulled out of the market in the last two years). There will be a larger menu of investment options that many will not even know are syariah-compliant.

There will be “crossover” products that are syariah-based and valued for their performance characteristics, not because they fit a moral code, though they will not be widely used.

Many Islamic finance projects will continue to be done quietly in the background. The scope of product offerings will increase as providers stop trying to fit square pegs into round holes as much and develop legitimate de novo alternatives.

The Bigot Brigade will still be warning that Islamic finance is the road to Armageddon – without doing any more fact-checking than they have done today. The market will go from under-served to adequately served, though “adequately served” will not mean (fortunately) what people might have wanted it to mean three years ago.

Source: http://www.btimes.com.my/articles/jewbi/Article/

 

Pakistan Mutual Funds Push for More Sukuk Issues to Invest Cash

Pakistan Mutual Funds Push for More Sukuk Issues to Invest Cash

Fund managers in Pakistan are urging the government to increase offerings of Islamic debt, saying a 13-fold rise in sukuk sales this year isn’t enough for them to invest inflows of cash.

The central bank plans to auction 45 billion rupees ($525 million) of three-year sukuk in the domestic market on March 1 and another 55 billion rupees in the three months ending June 30. The sales will take the total for the fiscal year to 189 billion rupees, compared with 14.4 billion rupees in the previous 12 months.

Pakistan’s Islamic banking assets climbed an average 30 percent annually in the past four years to 411 billion rupees as of June 2010, 6 percent of the financial industry’s total, according to a central bank estimate in October. Pakistan aims to double that share to 12 percent by 2012 and plans to issue two more Shariah banking licenses that will take the total to seven, the monetary authority said in October.

“The government has relied too much on the conventional debt market without realizing how much liquidity is in the Shariah-compliant industry,” Sajjad Anwar, who helps manage the equivalent of $187 million at NBP Fullerton Asset Management Ltd., a unit of the nation’s biggest lender National Bank of Pakistan, said in a Jan. 11 interview from Karachi. “Islamic funds and banks are just waiting.”

Banking Licenses

Pakistan needs to finance a budget deficit that may reach 6 percent of gross domestic product, or 1 trillion rupees this fiscal year, exceeding the government’s target of 4 percent, according to a report from the State Bank of Pakistan on Oct. 25. The shortfall was 6.3 percent last year, according to data on the Finance Ministry’s website.

The yield on the three-year debt will rise to 13.89 percent from 13.39 percent at the prior offering on Dec. 13 as the central bank may increase interest rates to temper inflation, said Karachi-based Abdullah Ahmed, treasurer at Meezan Bank Ltd., the nation’s biggest Shariah-compliant lender.

“In an environment when everyone is expecting a hike in interest rates, the demand for such paper will remain high,” Ahmed said in an interview on Jan. 12. “Islamic banks are desperate to deploy their funds.”

Inflation stayed above 15 percent for a fourth month in December after unprecedented floods in August destroyed roads and damaged crops worth $3.3 billion.

Inflation to Slow

“The inflation rate will start falling from next fiscal year to average 13 percent as the government aims to reduce borrowing and impose additional tax measures,” Mohammed Sohail, chief executive officer at Topline Securities Ltd., said in an interview yesterday from Karachi.

The State Bank of Pakistan increased its discount rate by half a percentage point to 14 percent on Nov. 29, the third policy tightening since July. The central bank has raised borrowing costs from a record low 7.5 percent in 2005. Policy makers will increase the rate by 50 basis points to 14.5 percent at the Jan. 29 meeting, according to Meezan Bank’s Ahmed, who said he will buy sukuk at the next auction.

Pakistan’s central bank uses the yield on its six-month non-Islamic treasury bills as a benchmark for pricing debt. The yield rose to 13.55 percent at a sale on Jan. 12, nine basis points more than the previous offering. The rate was 12.05 percent a year ago, Bloomberg data shows.

Global sales of sukuk, which pay asset returns to comply with the religion’s ban on interest, fell 15 percent to $17.1 billion in 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Issuance reached a record $31 billion in 2007.

Islamic Debt Returns

Shariah-compliant bonds returned 12.8 percent last year, the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index shows. Debt in developing markets gained 12.2 percent, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBI Global Diversified Index.

The difference between the average yield for emerging- market sukuk and the London interbank offered rate shrank eight basis points this month to 281, according to the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index. Average yields dropped 13 basis points to 4.61 percent.

The yield on Malaysia’s 3.928 percent sukuk maturing in June 2015 rose two basis points to 2.8 percent today, according to prices from Royal Bank of Scotland Group. The extra yield investors demand to hold Dubai’s government sukuk rather than Malaysia’s narrowed one basis point to 330 today, Bloomberg data show.

Government Debt Sale

The government sold 37.2 billion rupees of Islamic securities on Dec. 13 and got orders for 57.7 billion rupees. At the previous sale on Nov. 8, it raised 51.8 billion rupees after receiving offers of 64.7 billion rupees. Pakistan had local- currency debt of 5.35 trillion rupees outstanding, including 94 billion rupees of sukuk as of November 2010, according to the central bank’s website.

Pakistan is attracting investors even as the country battles an eight-year insurgency with militants in its border region with Afghanistan. The U.S., a major financial donor, is pushing President Asif Ali Zardari to intensify that crackdown. A policeman assassinated secular politician Salman Taseer on Jan. 4 for opposing an Islamic blasphemy law.

Albaraka Banking Group BSC, Bahrain’s biggest publicly traded Islamic lender, boosted its branch network to 90 after acquiring Pakistan’s Emirates Global Islamic Bank Ltd. in 2010. Meezan Bank, controlled by Kuwait’s Noor Financial Investment Co., plans to open 225 new outlets in the next four years.

The central bank predicts the economy will expand 2.5 percent this fiscal year, faster than last year’s 1.2 percent. The Karachi Stock Exchange KSE100 share index reached a 2 1/2- year high today. The gauge rallied 28 percent last year after soaring 60 percent in 2009.

“For Islamic banks, sukuk will remain attractive because the sovereign notes offer the least risk and high returns,” Pervez Said, chief executive officer of Dawood Islamic Bank, 35 percent owned by Bahrain’s Unicorn Investment Bank BSC., said in an interview yesterday from Karachi. “Political and security problems have always been associated with Pakistan. The issue is where do we invest?”

Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-17/pakistan-funds-push-for-sukuk-to-invest-cash-islamic-finance.html

To contact the reporter on this story: Khalid Qayum in Singapore kqayum@bloomberg.net; Haris Anwar in Islamabad at Hanwar2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sandy Hendry at shendry@bloomberg.net.

Japan eyes sukuk tax breaks to draw Islamic investors

Japan eyes sukuk tax breaks to draw Islamic investors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan will alter regulations to give foreign investors tax breaks on sharia bond dividends, the latest country to pursue Islamic finance to woo investors demanding sharia-compliant assets. Islamic bond dividends received by foreign investors may be declared tax-free as early as end-2011. As neighboring countries had already changed or been changing tax systems to exclude Islamic bonds from taxation, “Japan also has understood the necessity of enhancing the attractiveness as an investment destination,” a Japanese FSA official said. Japanese regulations do not forbid the issuance of Islamic bonds but these funding instruments are often not commercially viable without tax breaks on dividends received.

The transfer of assets tends to attract tax, which can make Islamic finance transactions more costly than conventional deals.

Japanese brokerage Nomura Holdings sold $100 million of Islamic leasing bonds in Malaysia in July and Sumitomo Corp is said to be arranging the first Islamic funding deal in Japan.

Islamic finance practitioners expect the regulatory change to encourage more interest and drive sukuk issuance.

“The range of investors’ portfolio variation can be expanded and the underlying demand may be stimulated,” said Etsuaki Yoshida, a deputy chief of Africa office at Japan Bank of International Cooperation.

The $1 trillion Islamic finance sector saw a burst of interest about two years ago after the global financial crisis prompted a search for alternative sources of funding but interest has since cooled slightly as conventional debt markets reopened. Non-Muslim countries such as Singapore, Australia, France and Hong Kong have either amended or are working on changes to their regulatory framework to accommodate Islamic finance, which avoids interest payments in favour of asset sales or rentals to underpin financial transactions.

But efforts to develop Islamic financial markets have met resistance in South Korea and India.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL3E7CD0OZ20110114

Push for asset-backed Sukuk framework lifting demand

Push for asset-backed Sukuk framework lifting demand

 

 

 

 

 

It’s good to see a move towards asset-backed Sukuk rather than asset-based Sukuk, which are obviously more close to the spirit of the Shariah. In asset-backed Sukuk, investors become owners of the underlying assets in case of default, whereas asset-based Sukuk give no such recourse.

DUBAI, Jan 10 – Investor worries over the impact of defaults in Islamic bonds is driving a push for a better structure for asset-backed instruments that should help alleviate concerns, bankers and lawyers said.

Islamic finance industry body IIFM is looking to develop a template in 12 to 18 months that will help reduce some of the legal and operational complexities surrounding asset-backed Islamic bonds, or sukuk, said its chief executive Ijlal Alvi.

The Nakheel property arm of Dubai’s state-owned conglomerate Dubai World [DBWLD.UL] staved off default on a $4.1 billion Islamic bond after a last-minute bailout from Abu Dhabi in 2009, after Dubai World announced plans for repayment on $26 billion in debt, spooking global markets.

Also still ongoing is Kuwait Investment Dar’s <TIDK.KW> discussions with creditors over a $100 million sukuk it defaulted on in 2009.

Asset-backed sukuk are seen closer to the spirit of Islamic law as they involve a transfer of tangible assets — investors become the legal owners of these in the case of default.

Investors were taken aback as they realised the majority of sukuk were asset-based and that these could not be accessed directly by sukuk holders following a default.

“People didn’t really talk about asset-backed sukuk until the stress tests were applied,” said Tim Ross, partner at Latham & Watkins in Dubai. “Some investors were caught off guard — they had an unsecured payment claim.”

As investors cried foul, market watchers hoped the industry would shift toward a securitised model, but that has yet to happen, as more than 90 percent of transactions are still structured as asset-based sukuk.

“While asset-backed transactions, both conventional and Islamic, have been done in the Gulf, they are more difficult and costly for companies to undertake,” said Gregory Man, senior associate at Clifford Chance in Dubai.

He added that such transactions also face tougher legal and analytical requirements imposed by rating agencies and many companies in the region lack sufficiently robust internal systems to service and report on the assets to investors and agencies.

A master agreement would aim to provide a standardised base from which issuers could structure the sukuk in line with their own jurisdictions and increase awareness about the product.

“In this credit environment, creditors would prefer direct recourse to the assets,” Alvi said. “Although asset-based is a valid structure as well, I think it is preferable to encourage increase in asset-backed sukuk over the medium to long-term.”

Despite the challenges, companies would look to issue more asset-backed sukuk if investors demanded it, bankers said.

“Among investors, there is still no real drive to do it,” said one Gulf-based Islamic banker. “Much of the corporate world comes from a conventional background so asset-based sukuk is closer to the debt model they are used to working with.

“Most investors simply don’t care enough, despite all the frenzy following defaults.”

Source: http://sg.news.yahoo.com/rtrs/20110110/tbs-assetbacked-sukuk-7318940.html

Sukuk issuance to reach pre-crisis level by end 2011: Daud Vicary Abdullah

Sukuk issuance to reach pre-crisis level by end 2011: Daud Vicary Abdullah

Global issuance of Islamic bonds will take another year to reach pre-crisis levels as new markets in Europe and Asia have yet to make up for the slump in the Gulf, said Deloitte’s head of Islamic Finance on Tuesday.

Underwritten issuance of Islamic bonds, or sukuk, reached $14.3 billion last year, according to Thomson Reuters estimates, well below the $20-30 billion in annual issuance before the global financial crisis.

Malaysia, the industry’s biggest market, held up well in 2010 but issuance in the Gulf Arab region has been hurt by some sukuk defaults and investor confidence has yet to return.

“I think it’s going to be another year or so before (sukuk issuance) gets back to pre-crisis levels,” said Daud Vicary Abdullah, head of Islamic finance at advisory firm Deloitte.

He said that new markets will help a come back in sukuk issuance, as governments in Brazil, Australia, Western Europe and Central Asia are considering issuing sukuk to tap the Muslim wealth pool and nurture their own Islamic financial industries.

He said that American re-insurers are considering entering Islamic re-insurance business, or re-takaful, which would also increase demand for Islamic bonds.

The global financial crisis popped a Gulf real estate bubble in 2008, severely hitting regional investors and pushing the region’s business hub Dubai to the brink of default.

Investors are still holding back their funds as the full extent of the damage took long to surface due to a lack of strong and transparent regulations in the region.

“This market is always much more sensitive to economic ups and downs…there is still some ground to make up and people are sort of nervous about what they have seen in Dubai,” said Abdullah.

The Gulf saw a modest revival in sukuk issuances in the last quarter of 2010 but market experts fear it could be a fragile recovery with investors fearful of any more bad news. [ID:nLDE69618P]

Sukuk issuance has also been hurt by a debate about the compliance of some of its structures with Islamic law. Sukuk are structured around underlying assets, from which returns to bondholders are derived.

Estimates of sukuk issuance can vary significantly depending on the methodology applied.

Experts polled by Reuters in October estimated that sukuk issuance will likely be less than $25 billion as Gulf debt restructurings and state deficit constraints dampen borrowing.

Source: http://sg.news.yahoo.com/rtrs/20110111/tbs-sp-islamicfinance-sukuk-7318940.html