Tag Archives: interest rates

Islamic Banks Relatively Safe During Global Financial Crisis

15 May




Islamic finance must resolve inner tensions

By Roula Khalaf

Published: March 30 2009 18:22 | Last updated: March 30 2009 18:22

A small idea is developing into a big hope in the Middle East. It is that the answer to the global financial crisis lies in Islamic finance.

Proponents of the $800bn industry argue that the prohibition on dealing in interest has saved Islamic institutions, preventing them from investing in all the dubious structures that have brought down high-flying international institutions.

“But I’m pleasantly surprised. The inquiries we’ve been receiving are numerous,” he says.

On the surface, the story of Islamic banking as a haven in a world torn by financial mayhem is an attractive tale. But is it more than what one analyst describes as “good marketing”?

To be clear, many of the Gulf’s Islamic banks have not been immune to the financial crisis – the liquidity squeeze in the region has put pressure on these banks just as much as their conventional counterparts. The volume of sukuk, or Islamic bonds, has dramatically declined, though predictions abound that it will take off again later this year.

But it is true that Islamic banks have been relatively protected because they had no exposure to securitised debt-based assets.

This fortunate condition, however, may be due to the immaturity of the industry. The financial wizards who flocked to Islamic banks in recent years had not yet engineered the synthetic structures that would pass muster with sharia (Islamic law) scholars, whose job is to sign off on the probity of products.

As Emmanuel Volland, analyst with Standard & Poor’s, the rating agency, says: “Islamic banks were not caught by toxic assets as sharia law prohibits interest. At the same time, you can create and invest in very risky assets and be sharia compliant.”

In fact, Islamic banking is all about taking risk. Depositors keep their money in profit-sharing accounts and so, in theory at least, they participate in both the profits and the losses of the banks. In practice, however, banks have consistently given depositors returns that are on a par with the interest rates that conventional banks deliver.

Now, as their profits decline, banks are dipping into “profit equalisation reserves” to keep depositors satisfied. But they will face a dilemma if the economic downturn continues. Devout Muslims have increasingly migrated to Islamic banks in recent years, but will the trend survive if some of them start losing their money?

Islamic banking has always struggled to balance the pressure to safeguard deposits against the need to abide by religious principles. Now the balancing act is more difficult to manage.

Last year a leading sharia scholar questioned a popular type of sukuk that promised to pay back the face value of the bond at maturity or in case of default. The scholar argued – and others had to agree – that this guarantee ran counter to the spirit of Islamic finance, which stipulates that risk must be shared.

For those who closely watch the industry, there are more pressing concerns. As a recent S&P report noted, because of a lack of liquid sharia-compliant asset classes, some Islamic banks invested in equities, exposing themselves to the correction of recent months. The leading risk today, however, comes from the exposure to the real estate market. The rating agency estimates that this amounts to 20 per cent of total loans.

When the short-term risks and the longer-term uncertainties are put together, the outlook for the Islamic finance industry looks less rosy than its supporters claim.

It may have been lucky so far, and perhaps it will learn lessons from the troubles of conventional banks. But Islamic bankers will also have to think harder about how the industry can develop, and how it can resolve the tensions within.






Islamic banks less affected in global recession

Published: February 10, 2009

LONDON (APP) – Islamic banks have been less affected than many conventional banks in the current global recession as they are prohibited from activities that have contributed to the credit crunch such as investment in toxic assets and dependence on wholesale funds.

The International Financial Services London report notes that the industry has felt the influence of the credit crunch and downturn in the global economy with Sukuk issuance being more than halved and the fall in the value of equity funds.

In 2007, the global market for Islamic financial services rose by 37% to US $ 729 billion but by 2008 the industry began to feel the impact of the credit crunch as it enveloped the globe.

Nevertheless, London has been consolidating its position as the key western centre for Islamic finance in 2008. Two Islamic banks, Gatehouse Bank and European Finance House, have been granted licences bringing to five the number of fully Sharia compliant banks in the UK .

Principal Insurance became the first Shariah compliant independent company authorised to offer Takaful to UK residents. In capital markets, four new exchange traded funds and two new equity funds were launched.

IFSL’s report indicates that the UK ‘s offering includes a total of 22 banks, far more than in any other Western country. Professional services are provided by 18 law firms and the Big Four accounting firms.

A cumulative total of 18 Sukuk issues raising $10bn have been listed on the London Stock Exchange, second only to Dubai. With 55 institutions offering educational and training products in Islamic finance, the UK has more providers than any other country worldwide.

Duncan McKenzie, IFSL’s Director of Economics said: The UK has benefited considerably from supportive government policies intended to put Islamic services on the same footing as conventional services. Evidence of London’s growing role in Islamic finance is shown in the UK being the only western country to feature prominently, 8th with assets of $18bn, in a global ranking of Sharia compliant assets by country. Added Sir Andrew Cahn, UK Trade & Investment’s Chief Executive Officer:  Despite its origins overseas, Islamic finance has found a natural home in the UK. Though no sector is immune to the global financial crisis, Islamic finance has shown great resilience. It is important we continue to work with our Islamic finance partners to maintain our position as the leading western centre for Islamic finance service providers.

Islamic Mortgages Boom During Recession

15 May



Buying in good faith
Alternative home finance that adheres to Islamic principles is thriving
April 22, 2009, 6:53PM

Johnny Hanson Chronicle
As part of its Islamic-based business model, Guidance Residential featured a recitation from the Quran by Noorulhuda Khalid, 10, during a recent gathering for prospective borrowers at the Mezban Curry and Grill restaurant in Houston.

Share  Print Email Del.icio.usDiggTwitterYahoo! BuzzFacebookStumbleUponFor five years after moving to Houston, Pakistani immigrant Abdul-Jabbar Khan rented an apartment even though he had saved enough money to make a down payment on a house.

The 43-year-old kidney specialist at Methodist Hospital is a devout Muslim, and worried that a conventional mortgage would violate his faith’s prohibition against paying interest on loans.

“For a long time I kept on saving money,” Khan said. “I kept thinking I would buy a house with cash, but it just never happened.”

The doctor feels like he found the literal answer to his prayers in the form of a “lease to own” agreement from American Finance House Lariba of Pasadena, Calif., one of a handful of Islamic mortgage companies in the U.S.

“It made me more comfortable,” said Khan, who financed a four-bedroom house near Rice University with Lariba. “I was happy to pay even more because I was abiding by the rules of Islam, but it turned out to be comparable.”

At a time when most of the mortgage industry is still reeling from the real estate crisis, alternative home financing arrangements designed to adhere to Islamic principles are thriving.

Guidance Residential, which conducted a recent series of seminars at Houston-area mosques and restaurants, is recording its best quarter ever so far this year, with business up 45 percent over the same period last year. The Virginia company has closed more than 6,300 contracts and provided $1.4 billion in financing nationwide since its inception in 2002.

“People are realizing Islamic financing is here to stay, and it is a viable option right now, and it is competitive,” national sales manager Aijaz Hussain said.

Alternative structure
Because Islam forbids interest payments on monetary loans, or riba, Islamic mortgages are advertised as alternatives to the borrower-lender structure of conventional mortgages.

In Guidance’s model, the home buyer forms a limited liability entity with the mortgage company. The entity purchases the home and splits shares in the property according to the percentage paid by each partner. For a $100,000 home, for example, the buyer might put down $20,000, while the mortgage company pays the remaining $80,000. The buyer then pays a monthly “rental fee” for unrestricted use of the home, as well as a monthly “acquisition” payment to buy out the mortgage company’s shares over time until the buyer has full ownership.

Since the “rental fee” is fixed to the market interest rate, the costs are roughly the same as a conventional mortgage, Hussain said. However, the buyer pays an additional $18.75 per month to maintain the limited liability entity.

“If your ultimate goal is to find the cheapest possible payment, then you should consider another lender,” Hussain said. “A customer is buying the peace of mind that when he moves into his home it will be financed in a proper Islamic way.”

Under sharia, or Islamic law, Guidance cannot profit off a customer’s financial distress, so the company does not charge interest or percentage-based fees on late payments, only a fixed amount of $50 to cover processing costs. A “non-recourse” clause protects the customer’s other assets beyond the house in the event of foreclosure.

Hussain said that Islamic mortgage companies fared well during the economic downturn because they eschewed subprime loans in favor of co-ownership agreements that required customers to go through extensive pre-purchase counseling. Guidance boasts a delinquency rate at less than half the industry standard, he said. “Because we are partners, we choose carefully who we want to work with,” he added.

Like Lariba and other Islamic mortgage companies, Guidance has boards of Muslim scholars to supervise its financial arrangements and issue fatwas, or legal rulings, to certify that its mortgages comply with sharia.

Risk of IRS audits
But Mahmoud Amin el-Gamal, chair of the Rice University economics department, isn’t convinced. El-Gamal says Islamic mortgage companies use “smoke and mirrors” to entice pious Muslims into paying more for less.

“All they sell them is holy water sprinkled over the mortgage,” he said.

El-Gamal believes Islamic mortgages are “grossly inefficient replications” of conventional mortgages with more legal and tax risks. The structure has not been tested in bankruptcy court, he said, and the Internal Revenue Service has yet to rule whether the “rental fees” are a legitimate tax deduction, so buyers could expose themselves to the risk of being audited.

El-Gamal, a Muslim, holds a conventional mortgage on his own home. He sees no problem with the arrangement because it’s tied to the purchase of a physical asset and isn’t an interest-bearing loan in the traditional sense.

“It’s a whole new transaction that did not exist in ancient times,” el-Gamal said.

Khan has no regrets about his Islamic mortgage. He said he would happily pay more to satisfy his conscience.

“I’m sure there’s a difference of opinion,” the doctor said. “It’s hard for me to say if it was completely halal or not, but I felt it was closer to what I wanted to do.”