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Dana Gas Sukuk - Why Sharia compliance is NOT the point

Dear Reader,

Dana Gas Sukuk is still making headlines and continues to damage the Sukuk market.
A key question to be understood: Could a lack of Sharia compliance make the issuance unlawful?

Well this is the claim of the prospectus regarding the Sharia compliance:

\Quote
No assurance can be given as to Sharia rules

The Sharia advisory board of Dar Al-Sharia have confirmed that the Transaction Documents are, in their view, Sharia compliant. However, there can be no assurance that the Transaction Documents or the issue and trading of the Certificates will be deemed to be Sharia compliant by any other Sharia board or Sharia scholars. None of the Trustee, Dana Gas or the Delegate makes any representation as to the Sharia compliance of the Certificates and/or any trading thereof, and potential investors are reminded that, as with any Sharia views, differences in opinion are possible. Potential investors should obtain their own independent Sharia advice as to the compliance of the Transaction Documents and the issue and trading of the Certificates with Sharia principles.

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Bitcoin Mania versus Tulip Mania?

Dear Reader,

regular readers may remember my critic on bitcoin from an Islamic perspective missing intrinsic value. The former blog entry you find here: http://www.islamicfinance.de/?q=node/7840 - almost two years ago.

So far bitcoin just went up higher and higher, with wild fluctuations but nevertheless.

It reminds on how bubbles work, think about the tulip mania in 1637 a nice piece of economic history. A single tulip bulb was traded and bought on credit. Check the Wiki page on it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_mania

As bitcoin has even less value than a tulip except for payment purposes, it is the payment functionality, which can lead to destruction. What happens if a new alternative currency is becoming en vogue, which has a better usability and faster transaction time? In my view this is most likely trigger to burst the bubble.

FT Alphaville covers now the difficulties coming up with bitcoin's increasing transaction numbers causing inconvenience in using the digital currency:

https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2017/05/17/2188961/the-currency-of-the-futur...

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Update on the topic of Interest deductibility

Dear Reader,

Two obstacles blocking the substance of Islamic finance and destabilsing the economy, one is the risk weighting of Basle regulation discouraging banks from giving equity finance, the other the interest deductibility as cost factor discouraging corporates from taking equity finance.

At least the latter may slowly be resolved, reports FT Alphaville:

"US tax reform now contemplates ending the tax “subsidy” for interest. Ultimately, we concluded that the favoured tax treatment for debt and interest was unjustified, a position that inspired the primary private equity lobbying group to issue a 2,422 word press release assailing the FT piece."

https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2017/02/06/2183520/what-lbo-modeling-suggest...

It is worth reading completely; and I still wonder why Muslim majority countries are so slow to show any action to this adverse piece of damaging taxation.

Best regards,

Michael Gassner
www.islamicfinance.de

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#AAOIFI Shari’ah Standard on #Gold - does it move the price?

Dear Reader,

There has been quite some media echo (see e.g.: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-05/gold-standard-approve... ) on the AAOIFI Sharia Standard on Gold.

The standard was established in cooperation between the Accounting and Auditing Organisation of Islamic financial institutions (AAOIFI) and the World Gold Council, which defines itself as "the market development organisation for the gold industry."

Interestingly, the media reports are very enthusiastic in terms of creating lots of additional demand previously prevented to participate and invest in the Gold market.

Well, this is the point I like to challenge:

The standardization may increase efficiency, but will NOT create a new buyer segment, which has not existed before in my opinion – as already the first consultation draft just outlined the old classical Islamic legal positions regarding buying and selling of Gold.

There used to be a physical backed Gold Sukuk at DIFC once, which was dissolved and another attempt for years now to re-establish one. There are offers with a Fatwa in the market; quite doable just a matter of market demand.

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Are Contract for Differences #CFD / #Binary Options halal? Well, no. Why?

Many Muslims contacted me in the last years with one single repeating question: Are CFD and/or Binary Options halal meaning permissible in Islam? There are indeed forex brokers offering so called Islamic accounts avoiding outright interest. But still: A contract of difference does not involve the ownership of any underlying (currency, stocks etc.) hence money against money is exchanged in different amounts - this is the most simple test for the prohibited Riba. Any Muslim receiving such offers should therefore insist of receiving the Fatwa and if not provided leave out.

The intention on those trading activities everyone can ask himself; mostly it will be akin to gambling and this on top of the fact that the trading activity itself is a zero sum game; meaning what one wins another looses, which rules out again to participate in such business. It does not do any better that aside from luck the outcome is influenced by know how - the same is true for classical money games as Poker or Backgammon. Still nobody would classify Poker therefore as halal.

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Equity finance in form of Merchant Banking in the US under pressure

In the New York Times Deal Book, Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon writes about new steps to disapprove merchant banking by the FED to reduce risk but at high cost. From an Islamic point of view, it just looks like another door for equity investments by the banking sector is about to be shut down, while the contrary makes sense in times of an ongoing debt crisis.

Professor Solomon defines Merchant Banking as ""simply the practice of buying operating companies. The risk to a bank holding company is twofold. First, the bank could lose its money — as with any investment. Or second, it could be held liable for the debts of that company." Already he outlines that "banks are penalized for these investments by having a charge applied to their allowable capital. Second, the bank must sell the investment within 10 years, a period that can be extended by application to 15 years. These investments are monitored heavily these days to ensure they are not unduly risky."

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#Education #Crowdfunding - A direct and effective way of #Giving with #Givology

Dear Reader,

For some time I did private research on crowdfunding and fintech for the social good. Only recently I found the long existing platform givology.org - it allows to donate specifically for education to individual pupils in poorer countries and getting in touch with them! Personally this one of the causes important to me, because it ensures that the funds are being spent on education, and therewith building a future.

My questions to you are the following:

1. Would you donate for education via an internet platform, then you can conveniently check a profile from Somaliland just here:

https://www.givology.org/~tfscholarship/

2. If you are *not* interested to donate now, could you share what exactly, if anything, would make you donate? This would be exetremely helpful and I will share the information with givology.org to find a way to do just that.

3. If you any other ideas please feel free to share them. You can also directly suggest to volunteer: http://www.givology.org/get-involved/

In case you wish to receive further updates on Givology please register your email here: https://www.givology.org/register/

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Securities Regulation: USA-SEC Adopts Rules to Permit Crowdfunding

Dear Readers,

The US Securities Exchange Commission has issued recently press release regarding equity crowd funding and its regulation:

"Washington D.C., Oct. 30, 2015 —
The Securities and Exchange Commission today adopted final rules to permit companies to offer and sell securities through crowdfunding. The Commission also voted to propose amendments to existing Securities Act rules to facilitate intrastate and regional securities offerings. The new rules and proposed amendments are designed to assist smaller companies with capital formation and provide investors with additional protections."

http://www.sec.gov/news/pressrelease/2015-249.html

Equity funding is discriminated threefold in finanical markets despite most people assume that a market economy would leave choices to market participants. The three key problems are: 1) Risk weighting of equity finance a multiple higher than debt finance, thus making it unattractive for banks to provide equity finance and consequently destabilizing economies with excess debt. 2) Tax deductibility of interest expense. 3) Entry barriers to the securities markets to raise equity.

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Cryptocurrencies and Islamic finance?

Bitcoin (https://bitcoin.org) started to make the idea of a cryptocurrency popular. What is missing so far is an intense discussion among Sharia scholars.

What makes Bitcoin unique is, that it is a) created by a computer program b) that it is created and verified by a decentralised process, the so-called 'Blockchain' technology (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_chain_(database)), which is solving a practical problem for the first time: To enable trust and accounting without a central ledger, such as a central bank. c) that it faciliates payments quick, efficient and discreet - while the latter leads to accusation of misuse, e.g. for gaming, drugs, terror finance etc.

How it can be seen from an Islamic perspective is not widely discussed, despite it deserves the attention. What we find in search engines are some discussions and also an initiative, which calls itself a bank (https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=21732.0).

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Short European fixed-income trade. A loss of a lifetime?

Bill Gross, well known fixed income fund manager twittered (https://twitter.com/januscapital/status/590519759797530624) and moved markets with his idea to sell German sovereign bonds short (selling without having them) to buy them back later cheaper. He called it "The Short of a lifetime"; the only issue would be the "timing"...

Interest rates will be once raising again but will short seller stay solvent long enough to benefit? The German economy is doing fine, but other EURO zone countries do not perform as well and need low interest rates for a prolonged period of time. Japan has so far not convincingly ended their easy money policy.

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Greece vs. Lehman Brothers

Is it fair to compare Greece with Lehman Brothers? May be not, but in fact many would want to figure out, what would happen if sometime later, e.g. in summer Greece would default. Will it be like Lehman? Wouldn't a country's default be more serious than a bank's?

Thus the question is how to compare the size of a country with a size of an investment bank? Surely not exactly but some figures are indeed interesting:

The economy of Greece has a national income of USD 242 billion (nominal gross domestic product) according to World Bank statistics for the year 2013. And the GDP to Debt ratio is said to be around 174%.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Greece

Lehman Brothers back in the 2007 annual report showed a net income of USD 4 bn. With long term borrowing of Lehman stood at USD 123 bn this would look much worse in terms of income and debt level than Greece. A better comparison for debt sustainability would need to take into account the assets of a country and a corporate of course. Lehman had reported USD 691 bn. What are the national assets of a country???

https://www.zonebourse.com/NB-PRIV-EQ-PARTN-56192/pdf/87896/NB%20PRIV%20...

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How to achieve a soft landing of a deleveraging, while growing economy?

For many years we see in the media experts believing in inflation and even hyper inflation. However, in the same time we face proponents warning against deflation. So far we all noticed.

Only a about a week ago I read an article by Myret Zaki clarifying that unfortunately inflation and deflation co-exists.

Myret Zaki's thesis is that we face inflation on financial markets, and deflation in the real economy (in French):

http://www.bilan.ch/myret-zaki/redaction-bilan/inflation-et-deflation-co...

In my view there is a general major shift in the price matrix and I still try to figure the magnitude and implications thereof. It is a bit irritating as at University we learned about neutrality of money:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutrality_of_money

This means any extra supply will increase prices equally, 5 % more money, all prices going up 5 %. Pretty plausible at first hand. However, it seems it does not work in reality any more (or never did).

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Venture Capital the Islamic ideal?

Dear Readers,

Venture Capital has often been regarded as the ideal tool for Islamic finance, particpating in profits and losses of innnovative companies.

Now a major assessment has been done by Cambridge Associates in terms of performance, comparing it to the wider stock market. Result: No outperformance. Considering the lack of liqudity it seems to be much less attractive to professional investors than thought.

See: http://www.cambridgeassociates.com/pdf/Venture%20Capital%20Index.pdf

The lack of success also is induced by lack of transparency and fee models taking away the eventual outperformance. This is for the US market of course. Experiences in less advanced markets could be better or even much worse.

It still has other benefits, as diversifying risk, promoting overall growth and eventuall fostering social benefits.

In order to protect the investor, proper disclosures must be integrated to grow this industry in a healty manner. Further the focus on impact investing will ensure that value is created and risk better managed. What impact investing means could be read here:

See: http://www.thegiin.org/cgi-bin/iowa/home/index.html

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Outlook & Review 2012/2013

Dear Reader,

Islamic finance had another great year. Many of its market segments progressed, like for example the Sukuk market gaining more maturity. Despite the ongoing debt crisis a good sign of hope and happiness.

Nevertheless we are - as an industry - still not satisfied with the achievements. Islamic finance shall grow stronger in terms of social impact and in terms of substance:

Hence, please allow me to re-iterate my call for participating in international initiatives beyond just our own industry to learn and spread knowledge and experience:

Calling Islamic financial institutions to become member of the United Nations Finance Initiative
http://www.islamicfinance.de/?q=node/811

Inshallah we see more Islamic financial institutions taking a lead in SRI, Social Impact Investing and other approaches while contributing with Islamic finance knowdledge to the conventional industry. The time is now; and there are signs that Malaysia aims for a lead:
http://www.islamicfinance.de/?q=node/4151

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Debt to Equity in Microfinance

Dear Reader,

The issue of debt vs. equity is now going to be increasingly recognised - in microfinance - as I found out today on the cfi blog:

"Debt to Equity. The demand for equity and subordinated debt is huge and continuing to grow, mainly coming from mature MFIs. More MIVs are moving away from debt toward equity, being driven in part by a desire to be more involved in governance, to play a larger role in risk management, and because the regulators are requiring more capital. Also, fund investors increasingly want to know how much of a fund’s return is coming from debt versus equity. Some of the larger DFIs need to disburse large amount of funds, so they have to make debt investments, leaving an unmet demand for equity."

http://cfi-blog.org/2012/11/19/microfinances-new-normal/

An important food for thought beyond microfinance itself in my opinion.

Best regards,

Michael Saleh Gassner

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Why the lack of profit/loss sharing?

Well, repeatedly we read and hear about the lack of profit/loss sharing (equity finance) in Islamic finance. Here my five cents about it:

1) Islamic commercial law, Fiqh Muamalat, per se has no preference of either permissible mode of finance, be it musharaka, ijara or murabaha whatsoever. All is halal. However, the call for modesty of debt in many hadith and the seriousness of being indebted upon death (withholding of death prayer) shows a call for a solid equity portion in business; let's call it a technical preference.

2) If we look up all debt financing modes (e.g.Murabaha, Ijara) there are remaining difficulties to finance wages, rents and installments on fresh debt. This is a true indicator for a required minimum amount of equity in a company.

3) Point 1) and 2) leads us to demand a sound debt/equity ratio.

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Analysis of the JAK interest free loan model

Dear Readers,

aside from Islamic banks there is another model in practice for more than 20 years avoiding the topic of interest. I usually cite it in my seminars to show that even interest free loans can exist along a banking model. Years ago, an in depht analysis was published online:

http://anielski.com/wp-content/documents/The%20JAK%20Bank%20Report.pdf

In the meantime interested groups can seek assistance to set it up by:

http://www.cajasweden.se/downloads/caja_folder_e-version.pdf

And also JAK offers courses and backgrounds for international interested groups from abroad in their first newsletter:

http://jak.aventus.nu/download/JAK_Int/JAK_International_Newsletter_1.pdf

Addendum: A master thesis about JAK Medlemsbank can be downloaded here:

http://www.jak.se/sites/default/files/folkbildning/dokument/MARK_BURTON_...

Enjoy reading and take it as a source of inspiration!

Best regards,

Michael Saleh Gassner

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Islamic finance media - a challenge, and what one could do

Dear Readers,

Islamic finance media are a tricky service. This is true for various reasons: The Internet eats up the revenues, because everything ought to be free. Islamic banks are still a niche phenomena, and international banks like UBS or Deutsche are almost as large as the entire global Islamic finance industry. Consequently the marketing budgets are much lower, too.

Last not least, who should advertise? The banks among themselves or to the clients? Advertising from bank to bank, does usually not make much sense, but real client oriented formats are hard to find, too. May be this is a niche. Others, who could finance Islamic finance media are basically the service providers to the banks, but due to the limited number of Islamic financial insitutions, direct marketing, e.g. face to face meetings will be preferred.

This in short is the background why Islamic finance media are not so well established in terms of journalism and research, but mostly reflecting the press release as criticised by the makers of the Islamic Globe. See: http://www.theislamicglobe.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article...

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Goldman Sachs Sukuk

Dear Reader,

The last weeks we have read about criticism in regard to the Sharia compliance of the Sukuk program of the investment bank Goldman Sachs:

< Mohammed Khnifer reveals, after examining the offer circular thoroughly, three possible flaws in the overall structure.
1- Strong indication from the proposed structure and the prospectus as well that the sukuk is not, as they claim, Murabaha, but a Reverse Tawarruq.
2- Strong indication that Goldman will be using, eventually, the proceeds to fund its conventional activities.
3- The so called Murabaha sukuk is listed on the Irish Stock Exchange (ISE). There are some concernes on how the ISE will make sure that the securities will be traded at par value.>>

http://www.islamicfinance.de/?q=node/3155

Some remarks to this discussion:

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How to balance form and substance - the role of Sharia Scholars

Dear Reader,

Many times I read, and on all conferences we debate on the issue of form over substance - is their a simple solution?

Let's revisit:

Form over substance means that contemporary Islamic finance takes more emphasize on the form of the contracts (in their Arabic terminology like Murabaha, Musharaka etc.) as in their substance, especially their economic substance, which often looks the same after conducting a sequence of Arabic named contracts.

Scholars have to judge the appearance of the form, meaning the contracts in front of them. A judge shall not guess the intentions of the contractual parties but typically has to rely on the text itself to come a decision. Different schools of Islamic law have different degrees on reliance on the form and considering or rejecting to assume 'intentions' . The hesitance to guess about 'intentions' is based on the fear to commit injustice to the parties and a procedural cause to get evidence about them.

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