November 24, 2008

VoxEU: Quo Vadis Islamic Finance?

A good article on Islamic finance (if you're interested in the subject) at VoxEU, the European economics blog. The three authors, all of whom work for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), give a brief analysis of the state of the Islamic finance market, a listing of significant challenges facing the industry, and some concluding remarks. Below are some excerpts, primarily from the introduction and the conclusion; the section on challenges is significant and noteworthy, but I'll let my readers go to the original post to read it if they're interested.

BTW, in case you're unfamiliar with the Latin phrase, "Quo Vadis?", it means, "Where are you going?"

Since the summer of 2007, the global financial system has undergone a period of dramatic turbulence, which has caused a widespread reassessment of risk in both developed and emerging economies. The global financial turbulence appears to have had a limited impact on the Islamic finance industry, which has been in an expansionary phase in recent years (Economist, 2008; Financial Times, 2008). This rapid growth has been fueled not only by surging demand for Sharia’ah compliant products from Muslim financiers but also by investors around the world, rendering the expansion of Islamic finance a global phenomenon. In fact, there is currently over $800 billion worth of deposits and investments lodged in Islamic banks, mutual funds, insurance schemes (known as takaful), and Islamic branches of conventional banks.


...[P]erhaps the most striking has been the growth of sukuk, the most popular form of securitized credit finance within Islamic finance. sukuk commoditize capital gains from bilateral risk sharing between borrowers and lenders in shari’ah-compliant finance contracts into marketable securities without interest rate charges.

The sukuk market has held its own amid groundswell concern about the credit crunch and dysfunctional money markets. Although the current level of issuance remains a fraction of the global volumes of conventional bonds and ABS, the sukuk market had soared in response to growing demand for alternative investments before the first episode of severe market disruptions in 2007 showed first effects (Jobst et al, 2008). Gross issuance of sukuk has quadrupled over the past few years, rising from $7.2 billion in 2004 to close to $39 billion by the end of 2007, owing in large part to enabling capital market regulations, a favorable macroeconomic environment, and large infrastructure development plans in some Middle Eastern economies (see Figure 1).

By 2008, however, sukuk volumes dropped to $15.2 billion (about 50%) while the structured finance market dried up with just $387 billion issued (down by about 80%) during the same time. Factors contributing to this decline include the presentation of new rules on sukuk, the global financial crisis, and Gulf states’ currency risk. The slowdown in issuance was most pronounced in Malaysia, where fewer domestic transactions at smaller volume have balanced the market shares of Gulf Cooperation Council and Southeast Asian countries.

The rapid evolution of Islamic finance activities points to the available profit opportunities that beckon. This in turn has prompted a vetting process among a number of jurisdictions around the world to establish themselves as leading Islamic financial centres. In this regard, the case of London is perhaps the most remarkable insofar as it has managed to extend its leading position in world financial markets to become a center for Islamic finance. Similarly, Hong Kong, New York, and Singapore are also making important advances to accommodate Islamic finance within their jurisdictions and aspire to join the ranks of the more established Islamic centers such as Bahrain, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur.


Islamic finance faces many challenges, including recent regulatory changes, illiquidity issues, liquidity risk management concerns, need for harmonized regulation, regulatory disparity amongst national supervisors, and a potentially unlevel playing field.


Despite the number of challenges outlined above, the long-term prospects look promising for Islamic finance. Financial institutions in countries such as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia have realized considerable demand for shari’ah-compliant assets and are gearing up for more shari’ah-compliant financial instruments and structured finance. In addition, financial innovation, driven by both domestic and foreign banks, will promote alternatives modes of intermediation and contribute to further development and refinement of shari’ah compliant derivative contracts.

As Islamic finance comes into its own, greater regulatory harmonization will be inevitable. Recent efforts have addressed legal uncertainty imposed by Islamic jurisprudence, discrepancies of national guidelines, and poorly developed uniformity of market practices. The Islamic Financial Services Board has moved ahead with its standardization efforts of the Islamic financial services industry that will foster the soundness and stability of the system. Globally accepted prudential standards have been adopted by the Islamic Financial Services Board that smoothly integrate Islamic finance with the conventional financial system.

Finally, despite the declining global sukuk issuance in 2008, emanating from both the Accounting and Auditing Organization of Islamic Financial Institutions decision and the impact of the financial crisis, the sukuk market will regain momentum, driven by demand from financial institutions, insurance companies, and pension funds across Islamic and non-Islamic countries. Many challenges still lie ahead, but the banks’ search for profitable opportunities and the ensuing financial innovation process in tandem with favorable regulatory developments at domestic and international levels will ensure that the Islamic finance industry will continue to develop at a steady pace in the long-run. The jury is still out how Islamic finance will be affected in the short-run by the repercussions of the global financial crisis.

HT: Economist's View

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