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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

GCC Sukuk issuance drops 15% in 2018 on rising cost of borrowings, S&P says

Lower funding needs of issuers from the region is another reason for the slowdown

S&P says Islamic lenders in the GCC still have good fundamentals. Bloomberg
S&P says Islamic lenders in the GCC still have good fundamentals. Bloomberg

The issuance of Sharia-compliant bonds in the Arabian Gulf region have slowed by around 15 per cent in the first three quarters of this year and are likely to remain lower than $95.9 billion in 2017 on the back of tightening international liquidity and rising borrowing costs as the US Federal Reserve hikes interest rates.

Sovereigns, financial institutions and the corporate issuers in the region are expected to sell about $70bn to $80bn worth of Shariah-compliant debt in 2018, said Mohammed Damak, senior director and global head of Islamic finance at S&P Global Ratings. The number may climb to as high as $100bn if other sukuk deals are included as part of total sales in 2018, he added.

“Global liquidity is becoming more scarce and more expensive," said Mr Damak who was speaking in Dubai on Tuesday. "The Fed is increasing the rates and the ECB [European Central Bank] will start to reduce its asset purchase programme base…. because of that we think the cost of funding for the issuers is increasing,” he said. “All the liquidity that used to be channelled to emerging markets, including the GCC is, somewhat, reduced because of that.”

Issuers in the GCC, home to about a third of the proven global oil reserves, sold $95.9bn worth of sukuk last year, a 41 per cent year-on-year rise. With re-openings of issues, the number at the end of last year climbed to $118.9bn, a 37.2 per cent jump from a year earlier. The drop in issuances this year is even greater, about 34 per cent, if only foreign currency sukuk transactions are taken into consideration, Mr Damak said.

Lower financing needs of the issuers, especially sovereigns in the region, was cited among the reasons for a slowdown in sukuk sales by S&P.

The GCC, which still relies heavily on the sale of hydrocarbons for revenues to fuel its economies, resorted to raising capital from domestic and international markets in the wake of a three-year oil price slump that began in mid-2014. The price of crude, which fell below $30 per barrel in the first quarter of 2016, has since recovered significantly, breaching $80 per barrel this year. The stability in prices and increased revenues have lowered the financing needs of the Gulf states, which is visible in the sukuk market this year.

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Last year “was a great year for sukuk, underpinned by jumbo issuances from some of the sovereigns in the region,” Mr Damak noted.

In the UAE, the region’s second-biggest economy, sukuk transactions have almost doubled from $3.7bn in 2017 to $6.4bn this year.

Mr Damak expects the global and GCC sukuk markets to maintain the 2018 trends going forward into 2019.

The growth of assets for Islamic banks in the GCC in 2018 has also slowed down considerably and is more or less on par with the conventional banks, he noted.

“We expect that situation to continue in 2019, with around 4 per cent growth of total assets," he said, adding that an increase in the geo-political risk or a significant drop in the oil prices are the two factors that could result in much slower growth in Islamic banking assets in 2019 and beyond.

GCC Shariah-compliant lenders still have good fundamentals and their profitability is adequate at around 1.5 per cent return on assets on average. The headline figure of non-performing loans at Islamic lenders is about 3 per cent, Mr Damak said.

“People were expecting the NPLs to grow after the oil price crash, but paradoxically it did not happen," he said. "What happened was that we saw an increase in the restructuring of loans by the banks to their clients to adapt to the new reality of the economy.”