Saudi Arabia plans a new Islamic bond issue in a sale that could come as early as February. The sharia-compliant sukuk will form part of a pipeline of bond sales to finance the kingdom’s budget deficit and invest in economic diversification away from oil. Last year, Saudi Arabia set a record for developing countries with its first sovereign bond sale, attracting $67bn in investor bids for a $17.5bn issue. Bashar Al-Natoor, global head of Islamic finance at Fitch Ratings, said diversification is natural for any emerging market, but the fall in oil prices have made it a necessity for exporters like Saudi Arabia. Lower oil prices have led to a drop in government reserves held in banks, which in turn has had an impact on their willingness to lend, so they have to look for alternative sources of financing.
Debt issuance from the GCC is expected to surge in 2017 with sovereign issuers leading while conventional bonds outstripping sukuk both in terms of amounts raised and number of issues. The key drivers to bond issuances in the GCC during 2016, which more than doubled to $66.5 billion (Dh244.5 billion), was primarily the sovereign bond issuances by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar. Saudi Arabia’s first international bond issuance valued at $17.5 billion in October last year was the biggest recorded emerging market bond. Saudi Arabia has indicated further bond issuances in the near term and the Kingdom has a target debt-to-GDP ratio of 30% by 2020 as compared to 13.2% for 2016. Banking sector contribution to bond issuance witnessed a steep decline from 22% in 2015 to 15% in 2016, although the size of the total offering increased by 36% $11.7 billion.
Saudi Arabia has met with banks to discuss the potential sale of Sharia-compliant bonds in the first quarter to help plug its budget deficit, according to five people familiar with the matter. The country is considering selling sukuk, or Islamic bonds, with different maturities to the five-, 10- and 30-year debt it sold in October, one of the people said, asking not to be identified as the information is private. This could include tenors of seven and 16 years, the person said. No final decisions on the size or timing have been made.
Financial technology widely referred to as FinTech has grown primarily in the last decade due to growing Internet access worldwide and the emergence of smartphones and apps. According to the Ericsson Mobility Report published last year, 70 %bof the world’s population is expected to be using smartphones by 2020.
As smart devices are increasingly becoming part of everyday life for most people in the digital age, it is essential for the banking sector to become more innovative to enhance its productivity. “We’re transitioning toward a situation where growth for companies and economies will have to depend more on productivity than before,” said Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB).
“To achieve that, you will need better management, better innovations, new distribution channels and new capital.” Increasing the efficiency of digital banking will particularly serve customers in Saudi Arabia, where banks’ working hours overlap with those of most employees.
With the growing demand for Islamic finance, the need for specially-educated professionals in the field becomes crucial. Ahmed Alkholifey, chairman of Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) elaborated this idea in his keynote speech on the second day of the 23rd World Islamic Banking Conference. As an attempt to tackle the lack of human capital in Islamic banking industry, the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance (BIBF) attempts to train individuals on the field providing degrees that combine theory and practice. Ahmed A. Hameed Al-Shaikh, deputy director of BIBF, said one of the most popular courses was Advanced Diploma in Islamic Finance (ADIF), which gives a general yet intensive overview of Islamic finance. Education provided at BIBF is tailored to cater to each group of students as needed.
Mohammed Al-Quwaiz, vice chairman of the #Saudi Capital Market Authority (CMA), underscored the importance of Sukuk and debt instruments for investors. He made the remarks during the opening of Sukuk Conference with the theme of "Sukuk Market: Challenges and opportunities" in Riyadh. The two-day event was organized by CMA in collaboration with the World Bank. Al-Quwaiz noted that Sukuk and debt markets represent important options to provide funding for various projects and facilities. The conference covers the elements of Sukuk markets, the dynamics of Sukuk markets, ways to create an effective environment for Sukuk market, regulatory issues and corporate governance in Sukuk market, and the role of debt markets in economic growth. The conference is discussing the challenges in Saudi Arabia in particular and in the GCC states in general.
The local unit of HSBC Holdings is advising Saudi Arabia’s Public Pension Agency on the sale of its struggling financial hub to the country’s sovereign wealth fund. The Public Investment Fund is offering to acquire the Riyadh district for less than the pension fund’s 30 billion riyals ($8 billion) investment. The wealth fund is being advised by JPMorgan Chase, but a deal hasn’t been reached yet. The King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) is about 70% complete and is failing to attract its target clientele, banks, auditors and lawyers. The sale is meant to rehabilitate the 1.6 million square-meter district which includes over 70 buildings. The district will become a special economic zone with looser visa rules and direct links to Riyadh airport as part of plans to restructure the development.
Saudi Investment Bank closed a 500 million riyals ($133.3 million) Tier 1 sukuk sale on Monday. The subordinated Islamic bond was sold privately. The debt transaction will boost the bank's capital base and its capital adequacy ratio, in addition to diversifying the Saudi bank's funding sources and its maturity profile. The joint lead managers of the transaction were Alistithmar for Financial Securities and Brokerage and J.P. Morgan Saudi Arabia.
The latest #Saudi Arabian survey conducted by Riyali Financial Literacy Program shows that more than 86% of the respondents have suffered from some form of financial distress. This high percentage sheds light on the importance of spreading financial awareness to manage a stable financial life. The survey also showed that most of the commitments that the participants failed to fulfill were finance installments (44%), followed by borrowing from friends and family (34%), and then credit card payments (22%). In addition to that, the survey highlighted another noticeable problem, which is the high debt burden ratio where monthly installments of 42% of the participants exceeded 60% of their monthly salary. In this regard, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) has set the limit at 33% for the monthly debt burden that a customer can afford, to be able to successfully pay off debts.
The Sukuk Conference organized by the Saudi Capital Market Authority (CMA) in collaboration with the World Bank will be held on Dec. 6, 2016. Government officials and representatives from the World Bank and the private sector will participate in the conference. The conference sessions will include topics such as: elements of sukuk markets, dynamics of sukuk markets, establishment of an effective environment for sukuk market, regulatory issues in the sukuk market and the role of debt markets in economic growth. The CMA aims to encourage the issuance of debt instruments and also to promote the economic development of the Kingdom within the 2030 Vision.
The international sukuk market received a major boost when Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Al Assaf confirmed that the kingdom’s public debt issuance programme will not be limited to conventional bonds and that sukuk will play an important role. The global sukuk market had a flat year in 2015, impacted by the slump in the price of crude oil and other commodities. The signs are of a rebound this year, with sukuk issuances already reaching US$50 billion in the first four months of the year. The Saudi announcement augurs well for the sukuk market next year. The Saudi Finance Ministry had also stressed that the kingdom plans to raise US$120 billion from the international markets by 2020. Saudi bankers expect a debut Saudi sovereign sukuk early next year and stress the need for a well-structured public borrowing policy in the international market.
Bank AlJazira (BAJ) has announced an ambitious expansion plan. BAJ currently operates 40 Fawri remittance centers and plans to open several new branches across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Bank's Senior Vice President Sami Hamad Al-Rajhi said Fawri has a vast overseas network of payout locations in more than 200 countries and will continue to expand. He pointed out that money can be sent through Fawri to all major countries like India, Philippines and Pakistan, which are the three top remittance recipient countries, and Bangladesh, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Yemen, Turkey, Jordan, Morocco and many more countries around the globe. In addition, Fawri offers buying and selling of bank notes, namely for dollar and euro currencies. Fawri will be able to deal in all major currencies in the near future.
According to Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, Saudi Arabia may follow its first international debt issuance with an Islamic bond sale. The size of future borrowing hasn’t been determined, but it will not be limited to bonds. Assaf said that part of it will be by the way of sukuk, but he didn’t specify whether the sukuk sale would be local or global. Saudi Arabia raised $17.5 billion this month in the biggest-ever foreign bond from an emerging-market nation. The kingdom is seeking to finance a budget deficit that ballooned to about 15 per cent of economic output last year.
Saudi Arabia is joining forces with Japanese telecom firm Softbank (SFTBF) to form a tech investment fund worth as much as $100 billion, making it one of the largest on the planet. Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son said that over the next decade the fund would be the biggest investor in the technology sector. Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund will put up as much as $45 billion of the money, with Softbank throwing in at least $25 billion. Neither partner appears to be deterred by warnings of potential bubbles in the valuations of big startups and established tech companies in the US. Funding for startups has also plunged recently in India. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced an ambitious plan to create a huge sovereign wealth fund that would be worth 7 trillion riyals ($1.9 trillion) by 2030, which would make it by far the biggest in the world.
Al Rajhi Capital has announced the closing of a private placement subscription for the Al Rajhi European Real Estate Fund after raising SR581 million ($155 million) in equity. The five-year closed-ended fund will invest in income generating properties, such as warehouses occupied by solid tenants with long-term leases. The main geographic focus of the fund will be Western Europe. Gaurav Shah, CEO of Al Rajhi Capital, said that this fund marked the commencement of the global expansion of the company's real estate investment platform. Al Rajhi Capital has managed over $1 billion in transactions across the logistics and community retail space and recently successfully exited a $360 million fund focused on investing in KSA and UAE logistics.
SEDCO Capital announced the acquisition of seven real estate assets over the past 19 months, bolstering the firm’s realty portfolio in Saudi Arabia. The purchased assets include the Hyper Panda retail in Dammam, Olya School in Riyadh, Dar Al Baraa School in Riyadh, an Extra Store in Dammam, Alhamra Plaza retail strip outlet in Riyadh and Irgah Plaza retail strip outlet in Riyadh. The acquisitions collectively total SR473 million in purchase price for approximately 88,000 sqm of built up area. According to Hasan Al-Jabri, CEO of SEDCO Capital, the total assets under management reach the $5.2 billion mark and clearly show clients' confidence in SEDCO.
Saudi Arabia’s central bank has asked local banks to reschedule consumer loans after the government cut bonuses and other financial perks for public sector workers. The cabinet announced this week that it would slash ministers’ salaries by 20% and reduce a range of allowances for public employees. In addition, the government said it would base salary payments on the Western calendar rather than the Islamic calendar; since the latter is about 11 days shorter. This is expected to reduce income further. Banks are currently negotiating with the central bank to be allowed to deduct up to 40% of customers’ salary payments to service their consumer loans, instead of the 33% currently permitted. If the central bank declines, banks will discuss raising interest rates on the loans.
The Lives and Livelihoods Fund (LLF) was officially launched on Thursday. It was first announced two years ago by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and is now supported by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development (ISFD), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The decision-making body approved projects worth $363mn for the first of the five years that the fund will be operational. These projects will be primarily in the Middle East and several Islamic and African countries. The funds will be used to protect communities from the risk of malaria and HIV/Aids, increase access to water and primary healthcare, and empower poor farmers to grow more food. Administered by the IsDB, the fund combines $2bn of IsDB financing with $500mn in grants from donors.
According to a recent Fitch Ratings report, major Saudi banks continue to report liquidity coverage ratios (LCRs) above 100% despite a 30% outflow of government-related deposits. The banks’ ability to withstand such a shock demonstrates that their liquidity positions are resilient. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) released $5.3 billion (20 billion Saudi riyals) of government-related deposits into the banking sector yesterday. According to Fitch Ratings, Saudi banks will continue to adopt careful liquidity management strategies in order to protect their LCRs from falling below current levels.
Retail-focused Islamic banks in GCC countries have strong liquidity coverage ratios (LCRs) due to their large base of core retail customer deposits and low reliance on market-sensitive wholesale funding. According to Moody’s, retail deposits in 2015 comprised around 67% of Islamic banks’ customer deposits for the three GCC countries, compared to 40 for conventional banks. Islamic banks in GCC countries have become systemically important and continue to increase their market penetration, outpacing conventional banks. Sustained lower oil prices continue to reduce the flow of deposits and could lead to a gradual weakening of the LCR metrics for both Islamic and conventional banks.