Archive for the 'Islamic finance' Category

Rising debt tide threatens credit ratings across Africa

Credit quality across Africa has been declining, according to analysts speaking at a credit ratings event in London. Global rating agency Moody’s says the last 12 months saw 7 downgrades out of its 21 African sovereign ratings. Seven credit ratings are on negative outlook and only Morocco and Egypt are on positive outlook.
Several countries including South Africa stayed with high Baa3 ratings. South Africa has a Moody’s sovereign release date (updated on rating) on 12 October. Other rating agencies S&P and Fitch downgraded its local currency bonds to “junk” status, meaning below investment-grade, according to this story from Bloomberg. Namibia has Ba1 status, with a negative watch following an August review.
Zambia’s long-term issuer rating has been downgraded to Caa1 stable in July, below Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which was rated B3 negative in June. Mozambique is rated Caa3 negative. Other countries which have seen rating downgrades are Angola and Kenya, while Tanzania and Cameroon are on negative outlook.
The bad news comes despite good growth in some parts of Africa. Key concerns are the ways governments manage fiscal policy, with elevated budget deficits and rising debt levels, after many governments issued large amounts of foreign currency bonds. Some countries which have borrowed heavily to invest into developing infrastructure face governance questions on whether prices are inflated – Zambia is particularly affected. Debt problems are worse because of local currency declines.
Investors into Africa at a Moody’s event in London on 26 September are also worried about global financial conditions and shocks, but are more confident on domestic politics.
Lucie Villa, Moody’s Vice President-Senior Credit Officer, commented that South Africa’s economy is likely to accelerate in 2019 but to remain timid, while recognizing the challenges faced by National Treasury meeting different fiscal and social objectives. Most foreign investors into South Africa use the ZAR currency.
Daniela Re Fraschini, Assistant Vice President in the Sovereign Risk Group, says East Africa remains the fastest-growing region, with Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania all forecast to grow well. Kenya and Tanzania are more resilient because their economies are more diversified. Rwanda has been consistently more competitive.
Rising oil prices could bring good news for Nigeria, Gabon, Congo and Angola.
Moody’s has increased its credit ratings from 31 to 51 African banks and Akin Makejodunmi, Vice President and Senior Credit Officer at Moody’s, says Islamic finance could double its share of the sector, from 5% to 10%, given that 40% of the population are Muslims.

For more on Moody’s credit ratings on African governments and many corporate issuers, see

Britain raises £200m through sale of Islamic sukuk bond

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul (credit: Wikipedia)

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul (credit: Wikipedia)

Britain attracted £2.3 billion ($3.9 bn) in orders when it became the first western country to issue an sharia-compliant bond, that obeys Islamic religious rules. The £200 million ($340m) 5-year Islamic finance bond does not pay interest but instead shares profits based on rental income from three properties owned by Her Majesty’s Government. The return is 2.036%, the same as the yield on UK 5-year Government bond or gilt.

The bond was marketed by HSBC, Malaysia’s CIMB, Qatar’s Barwa, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Standard Chartered Bank. HSBC said that more than a third of the issuance went to UK investors.

A story in the Financial Times says London is aiming for a place as a global centre for Islamic finance. The bond attracted orders from investors in UK, Middle East and Asia for more than 10 times the amount sold. It was launched a few days before Ramadan. According to Dealogic, so far this year global sukuk issuance has totaled $21bn. The UK bond is considered high-grade debt.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, was reported as saying the sukuk is part of a long-term economic plan to make Britain the centre of the global financial system. “We have seen very strong demand for the sukuk, resulting in a price that delivers good value for money for the taxpayer.”

The FT reported Farmida Bi, European head of Islamic finance for law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, saying: “The UK government bond will be particular attractive to Islamic banks because they need to hold highly rated paper to meet the requirements of Basel III.” There have only been 4 Islamic bonds rated AAA since the start of 2013, of which 3 were issued by Islamic development bank in Saudi Arabia and one for public-sector finance in Malaysia.

Several African countries including South Africa have expressed strong interest in introducing sharia-compliant bonds and have altered tax and other rules to allow this.

Osborne hopes this will pave the way for future corporate issues. In 2007 British grocer Tesco issued a sukuk through its Malaysian arm and in 2009 online grocer Ocado borrowed £10m in a sharia-compliant loan. Only one domestic manufacturer, International Innovative Technologies in northern Yorkshire, has borrowed money in UK through a sharia-compliant bond.

London heads world as financial centre, aims for global islamic finance

London is back at the top of the world’s international financial centres, pushing out New York again, according to a world ranking of IFCs prepared by The Banker magazine. London excelled in factors such as business friendliness and the depth of the various business clusters present. It generates the largest value of outward as well as inward foreign direct investment in the financial sector.
A recent article in The Economist says international trading in China’s yuan currency has tripled over the past three years to $120 billion a day, with London accounting for a third.
On 29 October, speaking at a World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) meeting in London, Prime Minister David Cameron said that the UK also intends to become the first country outside the Islamic world to issue its own Islamic bonds, known as sukuk. A new Islamic index is to be launched on the London Stock Exchange to establish the City as one of the world’s leading centres of Islamic finance. According to Reuters, The bond, expected in 2014, will be £200 million ($321m), smaller than earlier planned and would provide a much-needed liquidity management tool for Britain’s six Islamic lenders and could encourage local firms to consider issuing sukuk of their own.

Africa’s IFCs – Johannesburg and Mauritius

Among The Banker’s IFCs, Mexico City has jumped 15 places to a world ranking of #15. At the end of 2012 Mexico City hosted its largest initial public offering with the $4.1bn listing of the Mexican operations of Spanish bank Santander. Johannesburg is the only African IFC to feature on the main list, coming in at 35th which puts it ahead of Munich (36) and Bangkok (37) but behind Copenhagen (14), Stockholm (24), Edinburgh (30) and Madrid (34).
Mauritius is ranked 6 out of 13 specialized financial centres, up one place and now following Cayman Islands, Jersey, Guernsey, Bahamas and Bermuda.
The Banker’s ranking of IFCs is based on data ranging from financial markets indicators to economic potential to business environment factors. The ranking focuses on the level of international business and the value offered to institutions seeking to expand their international operations as well as international appeal. Different data is used for the specialized centres.
London had a similar score to last year’s winner, New York on a financial markets data category. London led in various components that contributed to its financial markets score, such as: the number of new foreign listings (a total of 36 against New York’s 29) and the issuance of international debt securities ($3,401bn against New York’s $1,977bn). New York has the largest volumes of assets under management ($920bn) among firms that it hosts.
Singapore and Hong Kong are in third and fourth positions, respectively, the latter displacing Frankfurt (now 5). Beijing is the most improved Asian IFC, moving from #36 in 2012 to #32 this year in the overall ranking. It is now ranks #7 among Asian IFCs, overtaking Kuala Lumpur (8). Bangkok has also climbed 4 positions in the global ranking and comes in ninth regionally.
Number one global IFC by cost is Copenhagen, with office occupancy costs lower than many emerging markets and low employment-termination costs.

South Africa to change tax and boost Islamic banking

South Africa is proposing amendments to the Income Tax Act to level the playing field between Islamic banks and conventional banking, although no date has been set for their implementation.
Business Day newspaper ( quotes Amman Muhammad, MD for Absa Islamic Banking saying the new laws are to encourage foreign direct investment into SA. He says current tax laws prejudice Islamic finance and undermine SA’s financial role in non-western markets as a regional financial centre.
Countries such as UK, France and Hong Kong have changed their tax laws to make them compliant with Sharia law. In South Africa in 2004 and 2005 First National Bank and Absa introduced Sharia banking. Albaraka Bank and the Islamic Bank were the first Islamic banks to be granted a licence by the SA Reserve Bank (1980s) but the Islamic Bank was liquidated in the late 1990s due to allegations of reckless trading.
There are about 500 million Muslims in Africa, including just over 1 million South Africans (2% of the population).
According to the news report, Islamic finance forbids the paying and receiving of interest (riba), including investing in certain industries. Sharia law says interest-bearing transactions result in economic ills, such as unemployment and high inflation. Trading in derivatives and speculative investment also is forbidden, as Sharia law requires that all transactions be backed by tangible assets.
Mr Muhammad says the proposed laws could increase the tax base and bolster the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The Banking Association of SA estimates that the “unbanked” in SA have put about R12bn (US$1.7 billion) “under mattresses”. The new laws could have a great effect if some of that money came back into that market, says Mr Muhammad. He believes many Muslims, due to the restrictions on Islamic banking, have had to keep their money at home.
The proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act take into account 3 different types of Islamic financing on which one can develop products.
1. Mudurabah, a form of deposit where the client invests with a bank and, the bank invests deposits in Sharia-compliant enterprises or products.
2. Murabaha, which is a mark-up financing transaction offered by a bank so that a client can obtain financing for various assets, such as property and equipment.
3. Diminishing musharaka, a partnership arrangement usually used for project financing.
Wouter Scholtz, a director for tax at audit, tax and advisory firm Mazars, told the Business Day, that the proposed tax laws adopt the principle of “substance over form” as the basis for the analysis and regulation of Sharia-based financial transactions. In terms of this, for tax purposes an amount will be taken to be interest if it replaces interest under conventional transactions. He acknowledged that the treatment of such a transaction might be construed as offensive, but it should be appreciated that if the amounts in question were not to be treated as interest, the client might be deprived of the right to claim a tax deduction, Mr Scholtz points out. Emil Brincker, a tax director at commercial law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, says in Islamic law the time value of money is not recognised. It regards money as a measuring tool for value and not an asset, he says.
Mr Muhammad also hopes that the Government will issue a sovereign sukuk (Islamic bond), which has been done in some other African countries.

Sharia-compliant finance grows in Kenya

Finance compatible with Islamic investment principles is taking further root in Kenya. There has been take up of sukuk portions of infrastructure bonds launched by the Government, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK – has announced that it is working on plans to launch sharia-compliant treasury bills in the money market and it is reported in local media that a sharia-compliant unit trust is applying for registration.
According to the bank, including sukuk bonds and bills (structured in compliance with sharia law), is likely to increase the amount of cash flowing into Kenya from the Gulf region. CBK Governor Prof Njuguna Ndungu said the 2 sharia-compliant banks in Kenya – First Community Bank ( and Gulf African Bank (GAB – have contributed to the development agenda by participating in the sukuk component of infrastructure bonds issued by the central bank on behalf of the Kenyan government. GAB invested KSh500 million (US$6.2 million) in the sukuk portion of a government infrastructure bond issue last year and received a 13.5% rate of return, according to CBK figures.
In Ndungu’s reported speech during the opening ceremony of the Second Gulf African Bank Annual East and Central Africa Islamic conference in Nairobi, the entry of Islamic banking institutions in the country meant CBK was developing new regulations: “Islamic banking prohibits interests and allows profit sharing; however, our prudential returns and disclosure report formats were tailored for institutions which have an element of interest in their financials. We have therefore tailored our returns and disclosure formats to cater for the new market niche,” Ndungu said.
He said the CBK grants exemptions to Islamic banking institutions upon request in transactions that involve wholesale trading and holding land and buildings, since the Banking Act prohibits these activities. He also commended the 2 full sharia-compliant banks in Kenya, both founded within the last 2 years, for enabling formerly unbanked Kenyans, specifically those in the Muslim community and rural areas, to access financial services. The 2 banks have 1,570 loan accounts and 58,548 deposit accounts and control 0.8% of the banking sector’s net assets, according to the report. Islamic banks still require research and innovation to grow and be competitive.
“We are still waiting for ’structured sukuk’ to cover the bonds and T-bills market,” Ndungu said.
According to a report in Business Daily (, ApexAfrica Capital Ltd, recently rebranded from Apex Africa Investment Bank Ltd (the website, does not reflect this) is the issuer and is undergoing approval as required by the Capital Markets Authority. The product is a collective investment vehicle in the form of a unit trust that will require a minimum of KSh25,000 ($311) to start.
Bank Managing Director Kassim Bharadia (listed as Chief Executive on the website) reportedly said the product is in response to investor demand.
According to Islamic finance principles it would avoid interest and gain profits from capital gains and dividends paid by companies whose shares that the unit trust has invested in. It would also target companies that companies that fit within the interpretation of Shariah. Thus it should avoid companies that deal in, for example, alcohol but shares such as plantations will be compliant.
The report says Hamilton, Harrison and Mathews is guiding the issuer in the legal process of issuing the unit trust.
Unit trusts are popular in Kenya, despite a few frauds in the past, according to the news report.