Islamic financial system is a real economic activity based financial systems. It is a part of a broader Islamic economic system that deals with the questions of allocation of resources, production and change of goods and services and distribution of wealth in fair, equitable and socially beneficial ways. It is part of a consistent and integrated framework which considered finance as a supporting factor in the smooth functioning of real economic activity and in carrying out of the social goods as defined by the objectives of Shariah. In this system, finance does not exist for the finance per se. Therefore financing itself is not allowed to be an income generating activity unless it is combined with some real economic activity and involves taking the requisite risks associated with it. The nature of Islamic finance is aptly summarized by Shamshad Akhtar, Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, at Georgetown University on October 18, 2007.
Islamic economic system is accompanied by a rich and elaborate set of tenets, which among others, recognize the right to property supported by elaborate obligations of stakeholders, principles and rules of conduct, a contract system and institutional framework and procedures for enforcement of rules which all together lay the foundation for Islamic business and financial architecture. It is this substantive Islamic ideology and legal framework; governed by Shari ah injunctions and principles that have translated into defining the public and private economic and social affairs that eventually help frame the business and financial relations. The core of these relationships is baked by solid principles of contracts, rights and obligations for parties to the contractual arrangements.
The main driver of enforcement of contract and rules- compliance in Islamic system is ideology and faith which is in turn influenced by Islam’s emphasis on establishing an equitable, ethical, just and fair socio-economic system. It is this feature which shapes Islamic finance and also distinguishes it from the conventional finance. This clear understanding of the objective and nature of Islamic financial system (i.e. justice and close link to real economic activity) is essential for taking any further steps towards the development of Islamic financial sub-sectors, be it Islamic capital market, Islamic banking sector or the insurance sector.
In this chapter we will start from the introduction of Islamic capital market and would also highlight some of the challenges faced in the development of it. We will then venture into the origins and the growth of this Islamic version of capital market and then extend our voyage to the overview of it briefly discussing the products already on offer in this young and fast growing market. Further discussions on the continued growth in this sector will make-up the concluding part of this chapter.
Over the past decade or so Islamic financial sector has grown gained strength by creation of various support and infrastructure institutions, and expanded from being a banking-based industry to more wider areas incorporating financial market-based products and practices. As a result, Islamic financial markets have become probably the fastest growing sector in the Islamic finance industry. A number of innovative products, instruments and practices have been added that allow a larger range of risk-return combination to suit a wider investor base. There is no unique measure to gauge this increased significance of capital markets in the Islamic finance, however a number of facts point to its fast growth.
Like any capital market, the primary function of Islamic capital market too is to allow people, companies, and governments with surplus funds to transfer them to people, companies, or governments who need funds. The Islamic capital market functions as a parallel market to the conventional capital market for capital seekers and providers. The Islamic capital market attracts funds from outside as well as inside the market. The international sources might include high-net-worth individuals, predominantly Muslims from the oil-rich countries, and others involved in the corporate and business sector. The Islamic capital market does not prohibit participation by non- Muslims, which has increased the growth potential for Islamic products. Little, if any, consensus exists about the size of the Islamic capital market.
Cerulli Associates has estimated the market value of Shariah-compliant assets at year-end 2008 to be US$65 billion, a figure much smaller than often estimated. This amount does not include the market capitalization of equities that are not specifically “Islamic” but in which Islamic financial institutions are permitted to invest (because the business activities of the companies are Shariah compliant). Standard & Poor’s (S&P) estimated that as of the third quarter 2008, roughly US$5.2 trillion in market value of Shariah-compliant equities was lost as a result of the global financial crisis that unfolded in 2008. If approximately 40 percent of market value disappeared during the crisis, by inference the current market value would be in the range of US$6 trillion to US$7 trillion.
In contrast, as noted, some analysts estimate Islamic banking assets to range between US$500 billion and US$700 billion and expect bank assets to rise to US$1 trillion in 2010 (“Morgan Stanley 2008). Banks have yet to move most of these deposits into managed investments. If the banks require Shariah-compliant products for such investments, the implication is that the Islamic capital market has significant potential for continued growth.
Although the origins of contemporary Islamic banking and finance may be traced to the early 1960s, the first wave of oil revenues did not wash over the Middle East until the 1970s, when the idea of investing in products conforming to Islamic principles really gained momentum. Individuals in the region began to accumulate large amounts of wealth by the 1980s and began to seek Shariah-compliant financial products in which to invest their savings. Western banks began servicing. Muslim clients through their Islamic “windows” were quickly joined in the marketplace by newly organized Islamic banks eager to participate in the growing faith-based demand for Shariah-compliant financial products. As of the end of 2008, the Islamic capital market has largely resulted from retail, not institutional, demand (De Ramos 2009).
Institutional demand has developed, however, as Islamic banks and takaful (Islamic insurance) operators have sought to invest their surplus funds in Shariah-compliant instruments that are liquid and have long-term maturities to match the long-term liabilities of these institutions. Through the 1990s, Islamic banking deposits sufficed to provide the capital demanded by the Islamic financial markets, but demand for funds was quickly outstripping the supply of funds. New Islamic financial products that could compete with the flexibility and innovation of conventional financial products were needed, but two factors hindered the ability of the Islamic capital market to deliver such products.
The first was that the conventional financial markets were developing with tremendous speed and in many different directions. Challenge to adapt these new products to Shariah, the Islamic financial markets struggled to maintain a competitive pace. The second factor slowing the pace of Islamic capital market development was the conflict surrounding interpretation of what constitutes Shariah compliance (Iqbal and Tsubota 2006; Khan 2006). Yet, for the Islamic capital market to achieve sustainability, finding new and competitive products was imperative. Deregulation in several Muslim nations opened the door to the creation of two products largely responsible for the serious growth of the Islamic capital market-Shariah-compliant equity funds and sukuk (Islamic bonds) (Iqbal and Tsubota 2006; Khan 2006).
Since 1999, the Islamic capital market has attracted non-Muslim as well as Muslim issuers and investors, and it now includes numerous products that can replicate the returns and characteristics of conventional financial products. In addition to equity and bond products, the market has expanded to include exchange-traded funds, derivatives, swaps, unit trusts, real estate investment trusts (REITs), commodity funds, and a range of Islamic indices and index products. The Islamic capital market comprises active primary and secondary markets that deal in the Islamic products described in this section.
Not all the financial products discussed in this overview are acceptable to all Muslim investors. The controversy over what is and what is not Shariah compliant is a by-product of the existence of different schools of Islamic thought. No single body is currently in place to mediate these differences of opinion.
Islamic equities are shares of halal companies-that is, securities of companies operating in activities permissible under Shariah principles and approved and periodically reviewed by Shariah scholars through a process known as Islamic stock screening. For a company to be considered halal, the majority of its revenues must be primarily derived from activities other than the trading of alcohol, arms, tobacco, pork, pornography, or gambling or from profits associated with charging interest on loans. The determination of Shariah compliance rests with the judgment of Islamic scholars. In Malaysia, one of the most innovative providers of financial products, the body of Islamic scholars is the Malaysia Securities Commission Shariah Advisory Council (SAC). Malaysia is one of only a few nations that have established a single governing body for this purpose. Other nations’ decision making regarding Shariah screening procedures is much more fragmented. The SAC has enumerated detailed criteria to be used in screening companies for compliance with Islamic principles. The SAC states that non-halal activities include manufacturing and trading of non-halal goods; banking and financing involving interest or usury; hotels and resorts involved in the sale of liquor or alcoholic beverages; gambling or related activities; and activities involving elements of uncertainty (gharar).
The Islamic equity investment market is growing at a much faster rate than the overall Islamic sector as a whole because it started from a lower base. The total of funds under management in the Islamic finance sector is estimated at US$1 trillion. Only about an estimated US$20 billion of this is in equities, which is modest in comparison with the conventional equity sector. Global conventional equities are about US$20 trillion, even after the crash (Parker 2008). Malaysia is seen as aggressive in listing Islamic equities; more than 80 percent of the stocks listed on the Bursa Malaysia are classified as Shariah-approved by the SAC. These securities have a total market capitalization of 426.4 billion Malaysian ringgits (RM), or US$129 billion, which is 64.2 percent of the total Malaysian stock market as of December 2008 (Ngadimon 2009). In Kuwait, Islamic and Shariah compliant companies make up 57 percent of the country’s total market capitalization (“Islamic, Sharia Firms” 2009). Despite the recent huge decline in the financial markets, Islamic equity funds have been attracting global investors and more and more financial institutions are offering such funds to meet investor demand.
One of the fastest growing sectors in the Islamic capital market is the sukuk, or Islamic asset-backed bond, market. The sukuk market grew at about an 84 percent per year compound rate between 2001 and 2007 and was estimated to have a market value of US$80 billion to US$90 billion before the 2008 market crisis (Cook 2008). Over the first eight months of 2008, global sukuk issuance totaled roughly US$14 billion, down from US$23 billion for the same period a year earlier, mainly because of the global credit crunch (“Sukuk Issuance” 2008) and the statement from AAOIFI. Sukuk are issued primarily by corporations, although sovereign issuers are becoming more common than in the past. About half of outstanding sukuk, mainly large U.S. dollar-based issues and Malaysian debt, are actively traded in the secondary market.
Sukuk are a relatively new financial instrument, first issued in the late 1990s. Sukuk were created in response to a need for Shariah-compliant medium-term to long-term debt-like instruments that would have good liquidity in the marketplace (Iqbal and Tsubota 2006). The word “sukuk” is the plural of the Arabic word “sakk,” which means “certificate,” so sukuk may be described as certificates of trust for the ownership of an asset, or certificates of usufruct. Sukuk differ from conventional bonds in that they do not pay interest. Islam forbids the payment of interest, but a financial obligation or instrument that is linked to the performance of a real asset is acceptable.
Sukuk returns are tied to the cash streams generated by underlying assets held in special purpose vehicles (SPVs). The cash stream can be in the form of profit from a sale, profit from a rental, or a combination of the two. The conventional asset securitization process is used in structuring sukuk. An SPV is created to acquire the assets that will collateralize the sukuk and to issue financial claims on those assets over the defined term of the sukuk. The asset collateral must be Shariah compliant (Iqbal and Tsubota 2006). Sukuk are, therefore, monetized real assets that enjoy significant liquidity and are easily transferred and traded in financial markets.
A sukuk issue can be structured in a variety of ways and can offer fixed- and variable-income options. Several classes of assets typically collateralize sukuk issues. The first class has financial claims arising from a spot sale (salam) or a deferred-payment (bai’ mu’ajjal) and/or deferred-delivery (bai’ salam) sale. These securities are typically short term in nature, ranging from three months to one year, and are used to finance commodity trading. Because the risk-and-return characteristics of the structure are somewhat delinked from the risk-and-return characteristics of the underlying asset, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries hold that trading these sukuk in the secondary market involves riba; hence, it is prohibited. Therefore, salam-based sukuk and the likes are typically held to maturity (Iqbal and Tsubota 2006).
A second class of assets that collateralize sukuk is leased, or ijarah-based, assets. The cash flows generated by the lease-and-buyback agreement, a combination of rental and principal payments, are passed through to investors. Ijarah-based sukuk have medium- to long-term maturities (Iqbal and Tsubota 2006), carry a put option, and can be traded in the secondary market. This type of sukuk has gained increasing acceptance by Shariah scholars, particularly those from Middle Eastern countries. Recent successful issues include those by the Malaysian-based companies Al-Aqar Capital (RM500 million, or US$153 million) and Menara ABS (RM1.1 billion, or US$337 million).
A derivative, a financial instrument whose value is a function of the value of another asset, typically takes the form of a contract in which the investor promises to deliver, or take delivery of, an asset at a specific date and at a specific price. Conventional derivatives include call and put options, futures, forwards, and swaps and are used for hedging, arbitrage, and speculation. Islamic finance seemingly allows derivatives for the first two purposes hedging and arbitrage, but prohibits their use for speculation or gambling (maisir). As long as riba (interest) and gharar (uncertainty) are avoided, the Islamic derivative structure used in hedging and arbitrage enjoys significant freedom of design. The size of the Islamic derivative market is not known but is quite small. Islamic derivative products include the structured murabahah deposit, structured options that operate on the principle of waad (promise), profit rate swaps, and cross-currency swaps, such as the foreign exchange (FX) waad (a Shariah-complaint FX option) and the Islamic FX outright (a Shariah-compliant FX forward contract that locks in the price at which an entity can buy or sell a currency at a future date). Islamic derivatives are based on contracts that are supported by the principles of bai’ salam, bai’ istisna, or urbun.
The Islamic swap market is a subset of the overall Islamic derivative market. A swap is a derivative instrument that is used to transfer risk. The two major Islamic swap structures are the profit rate swap, which is similar to a conventional interest rate swap, and a cross-currency swap. Total return swaps are also being used.
The Islamic profit rate swap is used as a hedge against fluctuations in borrowing rates. The swap is an agreement to exchange fixed for floating profit rates between two parties and is implemented through the execution of a series of underlying contracts to trade certain assets under the Shariah principles of bai and bai’ bithaman ajil.
The Islamic cross-currency swap is a vehicle through which investors can transfer the risk of currency fluctuation that is inherent in their investment or inventory positions. The structure involves two simultaneous murabaha transactions-one is a term murabaha and the other, a reverse murabaha. The parties to the swap agree to sell Shariah-compliant assets to each other for immediate delivery but on deferred-payment terms in different currencies. The first cross-currency swap was done in July 2006 for US$10 million between Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia and Bank Muamalat Malaysia.
An Islamic unit trust is similar to a conventional unit trust in the United Kingdom and an open-end mutual fund in the United States except that the Islamic unit trust invests only in Shariah-compliant securities; that is, the unit trust manager gives precedence to securities (stocks or bonds) of Islamic banks and financial institutions, securities of companies operated in accordance with Islamic principles, and securities included in Islamic equity indices. Islamic mutual funds (unit trusts) vary by investment type and financing method (murabaha, musyaraka, bai’ salam, bai’ istisna, or ijarah); field of investment (public works, real estate, or leasing); period of investment (short, medium, or long term); risk involved (low, medium, or high risk); whether they are open or closed funds (Tayar 2006).
The contract governing the exchange of units between the unit trust manager and the investor usually conforms to the principle of bai’ al-naqdi (buying and selling on a cash basis). When an investor purchases a unit of the trust, the investor is actually sharing pro rata with other investors in ownership of the assets held by the trust. The manager receives a management fee under the concept of al-ujrah (or fee) for managing the unit trust. An equity unit trust is the most common type of Islamic unit trust, but corporate and sovereign sukuk unit trusts are also available. Certain equity unit trusts invest in assets that closely track a particular index and are known as “index trackers.” Specialist unit trusts invest in a single industry or similar group of industries. Balanced funds incorporate both equity and sukuk securities and are rebalanced periodically to retain the initial asset allocation.
Islamic fund managers have less autonomy than conventional fund managers because they are usually accountable to a Shariah committee or adviser who rules on the screening criteria for stock selection and how the criteria are to be interpreted in changing market conditions and company circumstances. In addition, Islamic unit trusts may offer a better risk profile than Islamic investment products that expose investors to the counterparty risk of a bank (“Islamic Unit Trusts” 2007). For example, investors who place their money in restricted or mudharaba investment accounts, in which legal ownership lies with the bank, are exposed to the risk that the counterparty bank will go bankrupt. A unit trust structure in which investors own a pro rata share of the investment portfolio, however, does not expose the investor to such counterparty risk.
The first Islamic equity unit trust, Tabung Ittikal Arab-Malaysian, was established in Malaysia in 1993 (AMMB 2006). In recent years, growth in the equity funds market has been strong, particularly in Malaysia because of the country’s tax incentives and favorable regulatory environment, although Saudi Arabia is the largest Islamic equity funds market in terms of asset size and number of funds.
An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is an open-ended fund composed of quoted securities-stocks or bonds-that are selected to closely mimic a benchmark, rather like an index-tracking mutual fund. Unlike an index mutual fund, an ETF is bought and sold on an exchange. The price of an ETF should closely track the weighted net asset values of its portfolio of securities throughout the trading day. An Islamic ETF is structured exactly like a conventional ETF except that the benchmark used in constructing the fund is an index of Shariah-compliant securities; that is, the index includes only those securities that have passed Islamic filters to ensure that companies are primarily engaged in permissible business activities and do not have high levels of debt.
Islamic ETFs made their debut in February 2006. Although it is a nascent market, Islamic ETFs have been issued by several major players in the global capital markets, such as i-Shares, BNP Paribas Bank, Daiwa Asset Management, and Deutsche Bank. As of year-end 2008, the three i-Shares ETFs totaled US$25.8 million. JETS (Javelin Exchange Traded Shares), which is the first Islamic ETF expected to be issued in the United States and is to be made available by Javelin Investment Management and the Dow Jones Islamic Market (DJIM) International Index Fund, has been filed with the U.S. SEC and was launched on NYSE in early 2009.
Participating dealers or market makers deliver the exchange-traded securities selected for the ETF to the fund manager in exchange for units in the ETF.
The ETF units, representing an ownership interest in the basket of securities, are then sold to investors via an exchange. When ETF units are redeemed, market makers return them to the fund manager in exchange for a proportionate share of the basket of securities. The advantages of ETFs from the investor’s viewpoint include tax efficiency, low cost, transparency, trading flexibility, and diversification. ETFs are often used as a hedging instrument as well as a means to obtain access to an asset class cheaply and quickly.
Islamic REITs (I-REITs) are similar to conventional REITs. They are typically structured as property trusts except that they must hold investments that adhere to the principles of Shariah. This requirement means that lease financing (ijarah) is used in lieu of an outright purchase of property. The economic, legal, and tax ramifications are effectively the same as in a conventional REIT. An Islamic REIT invests primarily in physical real estate, but it may also hold sukuk, private companies whose main assets comprise real estate, Shariah-compliant securities of property and non-property companies, and units of other I-REITS, Shariah compliant short-term deposits, and cash. I-REITs vary from country to country. The Malaysia Securities Commission defines an I-REIT as “an investment vehicle that proposes to invest at least 50 percent of its total assets in real estate, whether through direct ownership or through a single purpose company whose principal asset comprises a real asset” (Securities Commission 2005).
The key benefits of I-REITS are similar to those of conventional REITs and include the following advantages over physical properties (Jaafar 2007):
Higher current yields because of the requirement to distribute at least 90 percent of income annually,
lower transaction costs and greater liquidity because most REITs are listed and traded on stock exchanges,
Scalability, unlike property investment companies,
Diversification across properties with different lease periods and geographical locations.
I-REIT returns are earned through rental income, capital appreciation of physical property, and securities held as investments. I-REIT investments must be reviewed, monitored, and approved as complying with Shari’a principles by a Shariah committee or adviser. In addition, an I-REIT is required to use a takaful (Islamic insurance) scheme to insure the real estate. The Malaysia Securities Commission permits up to 20 percent of REIT rental income to be derived from non-permissible, or non-Shariah-compliant, activities. The first Islamic REIT, the Malaysian Al-‘Aqar KPJ Healthcare REIT, was launched in Malaysia in 2006 with initial issuance of US$130 million (Lerner 2006). Malaysia was the first country, in 2005, to issue Shariah-compliant REIT guidelines. Malaysian issues are listed and traded on Bursa Malaysia and may also be dual listed (that is, listed on Bursa Malaysia and on another exchange). They are liquid securities that trade as any other stock trades. Having been in existence for only two years, the Islamic REIT market still remains quite small.
An Islamic commodity fund, like all Islamic financial products, must comply with Shariah principles; therefore, commodity fund transactions are governed by the following rules (Usmani, 2008):
The commodity must be owned by the seller at the time of sale because short selling is not permitted under Shari’a but forward sales, allowed only in the case of bai’ salam and bai’ istisna, are permitted.
The commodity traded must be halal (permissible), which means that dealing in, for example, wine and pork is prohibited.
The seller must have physical or constructive possession (that is, actual control without actually having physical control) of the commodity to be sold.
The price of the commodity must be fixed and known to the parties involved.
Any price that is uncertain, or that is determinable by an uncertain event, renders the sale invalid.
The performance of commodity prices in the years leading up to the 2008 bull market peak has been attributed to favorable demand conditions for raw materials and, in most cases, inelastic supply responses because of years of underinvestment in production capacity. This bull market was followed by an extremely sharp commodity price decline in 2008_2009, illustrating how volatile and unpredictable commodity prices are.
The advantage of a commodity fund is that it is not highly correlated with equity and fixed income asset classes. Hence, it acts as a diversifying asset, particularly when the other assets held are equities and bonds (but commodities did not diversify equity risk in 2008_2009). A commodity fund aims to provide investors with regular income over the life of the fund-income that is linked to the performance of commodities through investments that conform to Shariah principles. The commodity funds generate income from the potential appreciation in commodity prices.
Financial products that barely existed a few years ago have now penetrated the broad Islamic capital market. But some products, such as Islamic hedge funds, remain controversial in large portions of the Muslim community, which view hedge fund activities as simply simulating short selling in ways designed to be compatible with Shariah. The five schools of Islam vary in their definition of what complies with Shariah, which raises a key obstacle to the creation of universally acceptable Islamic hedging schemes. Nevertheless, two investment firms, Barclays Capital and Shariah Capital, have launched a Shariah-compliant hedge fund product that
The current global crisis has allowed the Islamic Finance industry some time for reflection, and as such, when considering the future of the Sukuk market, we explore in detail the issue of substance over form. Sukuk structures are being tested for the first time by originator insolvency and proposed restructurings. In these more difficult periods it is important that all investors understand that very few existing Sukuk have asset ownership or security -the majority are unsecured. Asset-backed Sukuk or Islamic securitizations generally perform very differently from asset-based under stress.
Most Islamic market participants are aware that Sukuk, sometimes known as Islamic bonds, should grant the investor a share of an asset or business venture along with the cash flows and risk commensurate with such ownership. However, while this is indeed the Shariah ideal’, most current structures have more in common with conventional fixed income or ‘debt’ instruments from a risk/return perspective. The recent highly successful Indonesian sovereign Sukuk ($650 million) shows there is still heavy demand for these unsecured, asset ‘based’ structures, although the recent bonds of Qatar and Abu Dhabi were not Sukuk.
The assets in the structure are commonly for Shariah compliance only, and ultimately have little or no bearing on the risk or performance of the Sukuk. Investors should note that, while all conventional asset-backed securities (ABS) are not Sukuk, a true asset-backed Sukuk is accessible to the whole universe of global ABS investors, and not just to the much smaller Shariah compliant investor base.
The disparity between the ‘ideal’ and the ‘reality’ of Sukuk was highlighted by AAOIFI in February 2008, when it published six principles regarding Sukuk structures (refer to Annexure I) and initially noted that around 85 percent of existing Sukuk were not in compliance with these principles. Subsequently, many sources attributed the market decline to these statements. In reality, the decline in Sukuk market volume in 2008 probably had also to do with the prevailing global credit market conditions (it was a very difficult time to raise funds, whether conventional or Islamic) rather than to any direct reaction to the AAOIFI statements.
As we strive to strip away the sometimes excessive structural and legal complexity and confusion surrounding Sukuk products, getting to the real ‘substance’ of the Sukuk without being distracted by the ‘form’. This focus on the substance of the risk and return is helpful when trying to assess a product’s compliance with a given set of Shariah principles or views. While terms such as Mudarabah, Musharaka and Ijarah are widely applied, the actual legal structure behind the ‘name’ and Sukuk risk characteristics can vary significantly -even within a single ‘type’. Thus, until there is some broad consensual standardization on terminology or form, investors will need to look at each structure individually to understand the cash flow, risk and return profile, irrespective of the name/type of Sukuk structure used. The common theme of ‘form over substance’ throughout modern Islamic finance has, in our experience, created confusion for some market participants. ‘Asset-backed’ and ‘asset-based’ are semantically similar descriptions but mask significant differences in credit risk. ‘Shariah-based’ and ‘Shariah-compliant’ are two more recent terms that seem to add some confusion.
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