Britain aims to be first Western country to issue sovereign Islamic bond

Cameron says he wants London to be one of the great capitals of Islamic finance.

By REUTERS
October 29, 2013 15:27
2 minute read.
British Prime Minister David Cameron.

British Prime Minister David Cameron 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett)

 
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British Prime Minister David Cameron made a bid to position London as a leading hub for Islamic finance on Tuesday, announcing plans for Britain to become the first Western country to issue a sovereign sukuk, or Islamic bond.

The planned issue, worth around 200 million pounds ($323 million) and expected next year, would be much smaller than an originally planned sukuk but 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.

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Britain's push to promote itself as a leading Islamic finance hub comes as competition heats up with other financial centers in Asia, led by Malaysia, and in the Middle East.

Britain first announced plans for a sovereign sukuk five years ago but that issue never materialized as the country's Debt Management Office decided the structure was too expensive.

The new proposal is less than a fifth of the size of the original and is designed to boost London's status rather than to diversify Britain's investor base.

"I don't just want London to be a great capital of Islamic finance in the Western world, I want London to stand alongside Dubai and Kuala Lumpur as one of the great capitals of Islamic finance anywhere in the world," Cameron told the World Islamic Economic Forum being held in London.

Sukuk are investment certificates which follow religious principles such as a ban on interest and gambling.



The global Islamic banking industry is expected to tip $1.8 trillion by the end of this year, according to consultancy Ernst & Young, and is starting to attract interest among big Western banks because of rapid growth of trade involving wealthy Gulf economies.

Malaysia, the world's largest marketplace for sukuk, is shifting efforts from local market development towards attracting global issuers, while Dubai is revising regulations to attract sukuk issuance and trading.

Britain is the European base for several Middle East banks and a major center for Middle East investors, whose assets include Harrods department store and Manchester City football club.

London has sukuk legislation in place and has attracted more than $34 billion in sukuk listings from around the globe over the last five years. Sizeable issuance from local firms, however, has remained elusive.

The government sukuk, by enhancing London's status as an Islamic finance hub, should not stumble on the Debt Management Office's "value for taxpayer" objective, a test which the original plan of five years ago failed.

"The government was previously looking at a relatively large program of sukuk issuance as part of its regular financing program, but has now changed its strategy to look at a more modest sukuk issue in order to derive wider benefits such as instigating activity in the Islamic finance industry," a Debt Management Office spokesman said.

A smaller issue was also more likely to be cost effective, he added.

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