Offshore jurisdictions have become increasingly popular with Islamic finance institutions in the recent past. Such jurisdictions allow the hassle-free incorporation of trusts, special purpose vehicles or other financial intermediary bodies necessary to be established between parties within an Islamic finance structure. Also, offshore financial centres are usually offering services at lower costs in a favourable tax environment. The most developed in this respect are the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg and Labuan in Malaysia, as Kuala Lumpur-based International Islamic Finance Center pointed out.
Russia is hoping to close deals shortly to attract Islamic banks to invest in Russia to help make up for a shortfall in international finance caused by Western sanctions. The head of Vnesheconombank Sergei Gorkov said funds invested by Islamic banks will be used for infrastructure projects in the country. He added that that Russia is expected to close its first deals to attract Islamic capital in the autumn of 2016. However, the active introduction of Islamic banking is opposed by some Russian lawmakers.
The Islamic world is sizeable market by any global standard: 1.7 billion consumers, with a birth rate growing two times the pace of the world average. Consumer spending in 2014 tallied $1.8 trillion (Dh6.6 trillion) and is slated to surge to $2.6 trillion by 2020 according to a study by Thomson Reuters. The market development is being led primarily by a handful of countries with Malaysia, the UAE and Singapore standing out. The fastest growing sectors are halal food, halal travel and leisure, the pharmaceutical and cosmetics arena and Islamic finance. But the reality is too many countries are being left behind. Poverty rates remain too high, with a quarter of the population for example in Egypt still living on less than $2 a day.
Kenya has a higher percentage of Christians compared to Muslims, but this country is seeing a surge in Islamic financing. According to Rahma Hassan Hersi, Managing Partner at Awal Consulting, the lack of regulations is deterring potential growth. There is a need to address this issue in tandem with the central bank. There is also very limited expertise. The penetration of Islamic finance in Kenya is estimated at 2% with a limited number of banks and insurance companies playing in that space.
Saudi Arabia’s government is investigating the country’s banks for creating structured products which allow traders to speculate on the possible end of the currency’s US Dollar peg. Saudi officials continue to maintain that the country has no plans to devalue, and a number of political analysts say such a move would be a last resort. Saudi Arabia’s oil price driven crisis has seen the country’s budget deficit widening out to 19% of GDP. This caused a collapse in government spending which has slowed economic growth to near zero. A devaluing of the Riyal would increase oil revenues in Riyal terms and provide more domestic revenues for the government, but would make imports a lot more expensive.
Crowdfunding is a way to connect ordinary individuals with the innovative projects they support. It is possible for retail investors to become venture capitalists and probably own shares in the next giant tech company. In Indonesia, however, this method of raising money might face some challenges. Firstly, Indonesians have trust issues with money transactions carried out over the internet. Secondly, there is a lack of crowdfunding education among retail investors. The government needs to undertake supervisory and regulatory functions to respond to the problems.
In Uganda the outgoing minister of Gender and Social Development has advised commercial banks to urgently develop products for Islamic Banking. Muruli Mukasa said the parliament passed the law and the all the communities in Uganda have accepted this model of banking. The Financial Institutions Bill 2015 paved way for the introduction of three new products: Islamic Banking, Bancassurance and Agency Banking. But Bank of Uganda still has to issue regulations that will guide commercial banks on how to manage the new form of banking.
Abu Dhabi Financial Group (ADFG) and Bahrain’s GFH Financial Group are jointly setting up an Islamic bank in Abu Dhabi’s new financial free zone with initial capital of $100 mn. ADFG's CEO Jassim Al Seddiqi said the bank will open very soon, it will be run as a commercial bank accepting offshore deposits and dealing in dollars. ADFG has recently raised its stake in GFH to 11.74% from 10% and the two firms are seeking other joint opportunities for the future.
GFH Financial Group plans to list its Bahraini subsidiary Khaleeji Commercial Bank in Dubai and acquire a financial services company to increase shareholder value. GFH's CEO Hisham al-Rayes said the company wants to regarded by investors as a financial holding company rather than an investment bank. The company aims to generate around 15% of its income over the next two years from real estate investments, which will be managed by a new Dubai-based operation called GFH Real Estate.
The Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) announced the sale of Bank Asya shares for June 24. The TMSF will sell 183.6 million of the total 360 million preference shares, pricing each share for TL 0.70 ($0.23). This represents 51% of the total preference shares, that is the controlling power of the bank. According to the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) the troubles in Bank Asya's financial structure, administration and operations pose risks to depositors as well as the security and stability of the financial system.
Bank Islam #Malaysia has denied rumours that its managing director Zukri Samat would be replaced. Chairperson Zamani Abdul Ghani said the board had decided to renew Zukri’s service contract. His re-appointment has also been approved by Bank Negara Malaysia. Zamani expressed hope that Bank Islam’s staff would continue to give their full support to Zukri.
Saudi Arabia may need to change its currency's peg to the U.S. dollar if economic conditions shift. The riyal's peg at 3.75 to the dollar has been a cornerstone of Saudi policy since 1986. But the collapse of oil prices since 2014, which created a $100 billion state budget deficit, has fuelled speculation in financial markets. Foreign bankers said Saudi authorities had explored the idea of changing the peg in a broad review of economic policy. They concluded that a change would be counter-productive now but conceivable in the far future.
The Swiss start-up Monetas claims a new mobile phone payment technology will transform people’s lives in Africa. The Tunisian National Post invited the Swiss firm to pilot its technology in October in conjunction with local firm DigitUs. Once all integrations with the existing e-dinar system are finalised, the Monetas system will first target retailers before reaching out to the general population. Monetas has big plans for expansion, having started exploratory talks with 12 other African nations with a combined population of 300 million. It is also developing savings accounts and is looking into other financial services, such as micro credits.
The Financial Services Authority (OJK) is considering providing a legal basis for Islamic real estate investment trustees (REITs), hoping that it will attract more property investors, especially from the Middle East. OJK deputy director of sharia market Muhammad Touriq said Takaful companies are interested in investing in the REITs, but have failed to do so as the existing REITs are not sharia-compliant. The Indonesian government is working on an incentive for the Islamic REITs that allows investors to pay only 0.5% income tax. So far 11 developers have expressed their interest including Ciputra, Summarecon and Ciptadana Asset Management.
Azerbaijan and Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) will discuss the opportunities of financing the country's agriculture. The topic will be discussed by ICD's general driector Khaled Al-Aboodiin during his visit in Baku on May 31. The agricultural projects will be financed through the new Food and Agribusiness Fund with an authorized capital of $600 million. The fund will mainly focus on the production optimization of the companies working in agriculture and a decrease in their logistics inefficiency.
The U.S. startup scene has been marked in recent years by an influx of money from venture capitalists. Despite the free-flowing cash, some Muslim entrepreneurs feel they have been excluded, particularly those whose startups focus on the Muslim market. There are fashion startups, food startups, and finance startups. There’s a career website known as Executive Muslim in the works. The Muslim community is diverse, so startups in the market can’t approach consumers with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Many of these companies rely on their networks to promote products, advertising in mosques and online communities. Affinis Labs founder Shahed Amanullah argues that focusing solely on the Muslim consumer isn’t scaleable. If companies appeal to a wider base, everyone wins.
The fates of 1MDB bonds are diverging this month: those guaranteed by Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund have rallied, while notes with support from Malaysia’s own government have dropped. 1MDB's 4.4% 2023 notes, backed by the government, slumped 6.4% in May, set for the worst slide in 16 months. The fund’s 5.99% 2022 bonds, backed by Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment gained 1.9%. The contrast reflects growing investor concern about the Malaysian government backing as Najib grapples with an economy forecast to expand at the slowest pace in seven years amid a collapse in oil prices.
The Indonesian Economist Association (ISEI) and the Indonesia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) have drafted a new scheme to improve the income of 1 mn farmers in various commodity industries by 2020. PISAgro, which stands for Partnership for Indonesia's Sustainable Agriculture, aims to reach more than 445,000 farmers in 2016. ISEI chairman Muliaman Hadad said farmers were currently experiencing stagnant productivity from inadequate access to finance, as well as good quality seeds and fertilizers. Kadin chairman Rosan Roeslani said the program would give support in plantation infrastructure, provision of seeds and fertilizers, mentoring and the strict implementation of good farming practices.
Central banks need to have a stronger role in setting regulations for the region’s Islamic banks. Abdulrahman Al Hamidy, the head of the Arab Monetary Fund, said regulators need to introduce new liquidity management tools. The region’s central banks have moved to offer Islamic banks new, Sharia-compliant liquidity facilities to help shore up their short-term financial positions. The UAE Central Bank introduced a Sharia-compliant short-term lending facility in March last year. It allows banks to sell and repurchase Sharia-compliant securities overnight at profit.
New bond issuance has swept the Gulf but there is still not enough volume to support the number of banks vying for the business. The number of banks hired to run deals in the Middle East is shooting up from the typical five or six arrangers. Qatar has hired 10 banks for an upcoming trade, DP World and Emirates Islamic Bank nine each while Noor Bank seven. For investors, having so many banks makes deals more cumbersome and potentially cuts into the allocation if each bank brings its own buyers.