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#Sukuk remains a key vehicle for infrastructure financing in Asia

Sukuk remains an important segment in Islamic finance in Asia where they are preferentially used to fund large public or private infrastructure or combined public-private projects. Recent estimates by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have put the infrastructure financing needs of developing Asian economies at $22.6tn from now up to 2030, which equates to $1.7tn per year. Looking back, more than ten Asian countries issued a total of $73.1bn in infrastructure sukuk between 2002 and the end of 2015. Malaysia’s ongoing Economic Transformation Programme is expected to accelerate the issuance of Infrastructure sukuk. In addition, China’s Asia-wide Belt and Road Initiative has created a business case for Islamic funding. The Philippines and Indonesia are both seeking to use sukuk for badly needed infrastructure improvements. Kazakhstan and more Central Asian countries are expected to follow.

Sharia Compliant #Cryptocurrency Exchange Sets its Sights on #Malta

Malta continues to take the lead in attracting blockchain and cryptocurrency ventures and now also in the upcoming Islamic finance scene. The new Sharia compliant cryptocurrency exchange Huulk has applied for a digital exchange license in Malta and hopes to partner with several European exchanges in the coming weeks. According to Huulk CEO Ibrahim Mohammed, Malta’s Bianchi Holdings would be an equity partner in the exchange. Bianchi Holdings Chairman Michael Bianchi is also involved in other blockchain and cryptocurrency ventures. The Huulk exchange is aiming to list around 20 Islamic fintech firms, some of which operate in Muslim-majority countries like Turkey and Malaysia. OneGram also plans to list its own sharia-compliant cryptocurrency on the exchange by mid-September. OneGram has sold around $400 million in gold-backed tokens over the past year.

#Qatari Islamic banks grow despite regional rift — IFSB data

Assets and revenues at Qatar's Islamic banks have grown over the past year, but an increase in problem loans and a drop in foreign currency lending underscore the impact of a diplomatic rift in the region. Qatar Islamic Bank, Masraf Al Rayan, Qatar International Islamic Bank and Barwa Bank held a combined 358.6 billion riyals (US$96 billion) in assets in the first quarter of this year, an 8.8% increase from a year earlier. Most of that increase was due to their holdings of Islamic bonds, which stood at 65.1 billion riyals in the first quarter, a 37.7% rise from a year ago. Capital adequacy and profitability measures were mostly unchanged, but foreign exchange financing decreased by 7%.

Financing deals push Gulf earnings to Sh212m

Gulf African Bank's net profit increased to Sh212.42 million from Sh191.60 million in the first half of 2018. It is a 10.86% growth after fees on financing deals quadrupled. Fees and commissions on financing arrangements surged 309.72% to Sh122.89 million from Sh29.99 million. Net profit income rose 7.46% to Sh1.01 billion after the value of the arrangements to customers jumped by a third year-on-year to Sh21.42 billion in June and 7.42% from last December.

#UAE Startup Launches First-Ever Sharia-Compliant Islamic #Crypto Exchange

UAE-based Adab Solutions has announced the launch of the First Islamic Crypto Exchange (FICE). An in-house Sharia Advisory Board (SAB) made up of independent international Sharia experts will be in place to ensure that the exchange is in compliance with Sharia law. In April 2018, Mufti Muhammad Abu Bakar declared that bitcoin is Sharia-compliant, and as such can be used by Muslims. The move potentially opens the cryptocurrency space to a global market of over 1.8 billion Muslims. Adab Solutions is preparing to launch the project ICO in September and tokens will be used as utility keys to access the exchange platform’s services. All commissions within the FICE will be paid exclusively in Adab tokens.

BIMB sets aside RM300m for digital roadmap

BIMB Holdings, the parent company of Bank Islam Malaysia, has allocated RM300 million for investment under its three-year (2018-2020) digital roadmap. Bank Islam CEO Mohd Muazzam Mohamed said digital investment was the group's future focus and it already had a few products in the pipeline. He added that the bank's digital journey includes improving customer service touch points and business efficiency through upgrading back-end processes. Mohamed also said the bank currently had 500,000 Internet banking users, which had been doubling annually, supported by the bank's mobile application. BIMB Holdings was incorporated in Malaysia on March 20, 1997 and was listed on the Bursa Malaysia Securities Main Market on Sept 16 in the same year.

#Qatari Banks May Reveal Merger Plan as Soon as This Week

Barwa Bank and International Bank of Qatar (IBQ) may announce plans to merge as early as this week. Combining Barwa and IBQ would partially salvage a proposed three-way merger with Masraf Al Rayan that was abandoned in June after 18 months of talks. That consolidation would have created the country’s largest Shariah-compliant bank and the Middle East’s third-biggest Islamic lender with more than 178 billion riyals ($49 billion) of assets. The smaller merger will create a lender with about 82 billion riyals in assets, the sixth-largest in the country. Each bank was valued around $1.8 billion in two separate share sales in 2014.

Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank gets nod for $270m rights issue

Shareholders of Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) have approved proposal for a rights issue of AED1 billion ($270 million) by offering 464 million new shares. Shareholders also approved the issuance of a $750 million sukuk and the repayment of its $1 billion sukuk issued in 2012. Khamis Buharoon, ADIB vice chairman and acting CEO, said the bank will continue to focus on expanding its retail business, providing market-leading digital banking services, while capturing opportunities across corporate, transaction and correspondent banking. ADIB reported a 3% increase in net profit for the first half of 2018, which reached AED 1.16 billion.

#Bahrain's GFH Financial Group pays off $200m #sukuk

GFH Financial Group has paid the entire amount of its $200 million sukuk, which was originally drawn in 2007. The facility has now been settled with a recent payment of an outstanding amount of $34 million. With this repayment, GFH said it frees up further assets pledged under the sukuk for potential disposal or exit. In 2008, GFH had financing liabilities in excess of $1 billion compared to $125 million today. According to Chairman Jassim Al Seddiqi, with its prudent approach to managing liabilities, strong cash generation and levels of liquidity, GFH continues to be better placed than ever to deliver value and further build its business lines.

A second look at the performance of Shariah compliant share indices

The Shariah compliant index generally under-performs its conventional analogue before the global financial crisis years of 2007 and 2008, outperforms during the global financial crisis and then under-performs again afterwards. A conventional equity investor should perform better than a Shariah compliant investor, simply because the the conventional investor can pick from the entire universe of shares, while the Shariah compliant investor cannot.

Faisal Islamic Bank of #Egypt to employ women for first time

Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt (FIBE) will start appointing women to all of its branches for the first time since the bank was established in 1979. Egyptian member of parliament Inas Abdel Halim had submitted May 31 a briefing paper to then-Prime Minister Sherif Ismail about reports whereby the FIBE does not employ women. Abdel Halim stressed that the bank is violating Article 9 of the Egyptian Constitution, which stipulates that the state shall ensure equal opportunity for all citizens. She called on both the prime minister and the governor of the Central Bank to investigate the incident. According to Sahar el-Damaty, the first female vice president of Banque Misr, FIBE and its relationship with its founders in Saudi Arabia is the main reason behind the strict rules relating to the appointment of women. It seems the FIBE decision falls within a series of societal changes both in Egypt and Saudi Arabia aimed at granting women their full rights.

New group forming to alleviate poverty in Palestinian territories

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) has established an investment fund aimed at curbing Palestinian poverty. The fund will help finance the Palestinian People’s Economic Empowerment Institution. The Palestinian government has given instructions to the Ministry of Social Development to prepare to launch the institution in mid-2019. The poor inside Palestine are the institution’s first target, and priority will be given to areas Israel has targeted with economic restrictions such as Gaza, the Jordan Valley, Jerusalem, the areas adjacent to the settlements and the West Bank wall. It will also work to empower women and the poor abroad, particularly those living in Palestinian refugee camps.

#Qatari issuers raise $19.97bn, lead GCC bonds and #sukuk market in H1

According to a recent report by Kuwait Financial Centre, Qatari issuers led the GCC aggregate bonds and sukuk market in the first half of this year, raising a total of $19.97bn. The report stated that the aggregate primary issuance of bonds and sukuk by GCC entities, including central banks’ local issuances, GCC sovereign and corporate issuances, totalled $95.25bn in H1, 2018, which represents a 9.64% increase on H1, 2017. Qatar raised $12bn and Kuwait was the only GCC sovereign entity not tapping the international bond markets in H1, 2018. Conventional issuances raised $50.17bn, or 80.19%, of the total amount raised in GCC bonds and sukuk market during H1, 2018. Sukuk raised $12.39bn, 30.84% lower compared to $17.93bn raised in H1, 2017 and represented a share of 19.81% of the market in H1 2018.

Abu Dhabi Investment Council increases Al Hilal Bank's capital

Abu Dhabi Investment Council has increased the share capital Al Hilal Bank by AED 400 million. Al Hilal Bank's CEO Alex Coelho said this move will allow the lender to meet the growing demand for Islamic finance by investing in areas with the greatest prospects. The Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE) raised this year’s economic growth forecast to 2.7% from its previous projection of 2.5% while non-oil GDP growth is forecast to increase to 3.9% this year from 3.4% in 2017.

#Fintech for Good – A feasible dream or just pretty posturing?

Many Fintech firms have sustainability and social impact at the heart of what they do. For example, Omisego has a Blockchain based use case, focused on Financial Inclusion in South East Asia. They offer users a mobile eWallet that runs on the OmiseGO decentralized exchange (DEX) to send, buy, sell, or trade fiat currencies, digital assets, and cryptocurrencies. Konfio focuses on unsecured SME lending delivered digitally in Mexico. Humaniq was originally based in Africa, and has most of its customers in the continent. The Bio-Id capability that Humaniq developed acts as the stepping stone for many in Sub-Saharan Africa to access financial services. The company has recently hit a key milestone of 400k customers across 16 African nations. BIMA is a Swedish-British startup, focused on providing affordable insurance to consumers in the developing world.

In memory of Kofi Annan: Father of the modern corporate sustainability movement

A great son of Africa and a true global leader has passed away. Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary general from 1997 to 2006 and co-recipient, with the UN, of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, is being mourned all over the world. As last great reformer of the United Nations, he managed to modernize its bureaucracy in critical areas such as women empowerment and global health. Kofi Annan not only had the courage to call on CEOs to embed universal values of humanity into corporate strategies and practices. He also played a critical role in the creation of the modern sustainable investing movement. Together with John Ruggie, Kofi Annan paved the way for the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights, now the gold standard in this critical area.

#Indonesia’s Bank Mandiri is on track to list its Islamic finance unit in 2020

Indonesia’s Bank Mandiri plans to list its Islamic finance unit Mandiri Syariah in 2020. According to Mandiri’s president Kartika Wirjoatmodjo, the Islamic bank is seeing 16% to 17% growth in savings, triple the pace of conventional banks. Indonesian authorities are nudging commercial banks to widen the pool of Shariah-compliant products for the nation’s more than 260mn people and the government is aiding the efforts by selling sovereign sukuk. With assets of about 93tn rupiah ($6.4bn), Mandiri Syariah is Indonesia’s largest Islamic finance company. Wirjoatmodjo expects the pool to top 100tn rupiah by the end of this year. Total assets at Indonesian Shariah banks were 426tn rupiah at the end of May, compared with 7,673tn rupiah for conventional banks.

Bitcoin Continues Making Inroads in Islamic Finance

On paper, it will be very difficult for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to gain traction within the Islamic finance industry. Unlike what most people may assume, Bitcoin can still be Shariah-compliant. For example, Adab Solutions has launched the First Islamic Crypto Exchange (FICE), which is fully Shariah-compliant and will expose users to various cryptocurrencies. FICE has its in-house Shariah Advisory Board and will conduct an initial coin offering. Investors purchasing these tokens will be given access to all services provided by the exchange. Additionally, commissions paid to users of the FICE will come in the form of Adab tokens.

Wahed Invest launches #UK’s first easy access digital Halal investment platform

Wahed Invest has launched the UK’s first Halal online investment platform that is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. This way savers from all income brackets can easily invest in a globally diversified portfolio of ethically responsible stocks, Islamic bonds and gold. The platform, which is already available in the USA across all 50 states, allows users to open an account in minutes with a minimum investment of £100. For the first time, mainstream investors can gain access to products not traditionally available to retail investors, such as Sukuk. In order to ensure all returns are Halal, Wahed has a full-time Ethical Review Board. The Ethical Board is chaired by Sheikh Taha Abdul Basser alongside Sheikh Humza Maqbool Chaudhry and Sheikh Musa Furber.

Patterns of light and colour that bear endless repeating

The Monir Museum in Tehran is displaying the work of Monir Sahroudy Farmanfarmaian, first for a female artist in the country. She saw many of her works confiscated and destroyed following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, so she emigrated to New York. In 2004 she returned and felt able to reopen her studio and workshop in Tehran. Geometric patterning is part and parcel of Monir’s visual language. Her work synthesises traditional Islamic art and design and Western geometric abstraction.

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