Shariah Banks Targeted to Lift Senegal, Pakistan Poverty: Islamic Finance

Senegal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, among the world’s 50 poorest nations, are turning to Islamic banking to spur economic growth by encouraging people to take out loans and open savings accounts.

Outstanding domestic bank lending accounted for 3.5 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product in 2008, 25 percent in Senegal, 27 percent in Nigeria and 46 percent in Pakistan, according to data compiled by the World Bank. The rates compare with 224 percent in the U.S. and 115 percent in Malaysia, a global hub for finance that conforms with Shariah principles.

Developing Islamic nations have shunned banking in part because of the religion’s ban on interest, limiting access to funds for project financing and stunting business growth, according to the International Monetary Fund. Governments should improve regulations, products and institutions that comply with Shariah law to accelerate the industry’s development, Patrick Imam and Kangni Kpodar, economists at the IMF, said in a telephone interview from Washington on Sept. 14.

“Islamic banks provide access to finance to a segment of the population that is underbanked,” said Imam. Once “they start putting money in these banks you start a process of financial intermediation, where savings are channeled from individuals via Islamic banks to investments,” he said.

‘Closer to Religion’

Senegal is reviewing legislation that would allow lenders to set up Islamic units in a nation where 94 percent of people don’t have savings accounts, Birahim Seck, chief executive officer of SYM International Finance Corp. in Dakar, said in a Sept. 14 interview. Pakistan’s central bank is pushing Shariah banks to boost financing to small- and medium-sized businesses, Saleem Ullah, the director of Islamic banking, said on Sept. 16.

Afghanistan is planning to issue three banking licenses, the first to offer a full range of financial services that comply with Muslim tenets, paving the way for its first sale of Shariah-compliant debt, Aimal Hashoor, a central bank spokesman in Kabul, said in an interview on Aug. 15.

Global sales of sukuk, which use asset returns instead of interest to pay investors, fell 24 percent to $10.7 billion so far this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Issuance will increase in the second half as international market conditions improve, Standard & Poor’s said in a statement on July 28.

“In poorer countries, people are generally closer to the religion so it is much easier to attract them toward anything associated to their belief,” Pervez Said, chief executive officer of Dawood Islamic Bank Ltd. in Pakistan, said in a phone interview from Karachi on Sept. 14.

Legal Issues

Afghanistan had a per capita gross national income of $370, compared with $590 in Bangladesh, $1,040 in Senegal, and $1,140 in Nigeria, according to World Bank 2009 data published in July. In contrast, the figure was $47,240 in the U.S. and $7,230 in Malaysia. About 99 percent of Afghanistan’s 33 million population practice Islam, while 95 percent of people in Senegal are Muslims, according to the 2009 CIA World Factbook.

Nigeria, which has 112 million Muslims accounting for 75 percent of the total population, drafted Islamic banking guidelines last year, including the types of Shariah-compliant products and risk recommendations for banks.

Jaiz International Bank, based in Abuja, Nigeria, has yet to start its Islamic banking operations after receiving a license from the country’s central bank this year, Muhammad Mustapha Bintube, the lender’s managing director, said in an interview on Sept. 18.

“There are still some legal and regulatory issues to be sorted out,” he said. “There’s a lack of skills and a lack of knowledge” about the industry, he said, adding that between 50 percent and 60 percent of the population don’t use banks.

Assets to Increase

The Islamic Financial Services Board, a global standard- setting body, and the Islamic Development Bank predicted in April that assets held by Islamic financial institutions may climb to $1.6 trillion by 2012 from about $1 trillion this year. The IMF and the World Bank are members of the IFSB.

The United Arab Emirates accounts for 22 percent of total Islamic banking assets, followed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, according to a September report from the IMF.

Sukuk have returned 10.6 percent this year, compared with 24 percent in the same period in 2009, according to the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index. Debt in developing markets gained 12.6 percent, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBI Global Diversified Index shows.

The spread between the average yield for Islamic bonds and the London interbank offered rate has narrowed 92 basis points this year to 375, according to the HSBC/NASDAQ Index. The gauge climbed five basis points yesterday. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

Reward and Failure

Malaysia’s 3.928 percent dollar-denominated Islamic bonds due June 2015 have returned 4.2 percent this quarter, compared with 6.4 percent for the Dubai Department of Finance’s 6.396 percent sukuk, according to prices from Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc. Yields on the Malaysian and Dubai notes were little changed at 2.71 percent and 6.36 percent today.

The extra yield investors demand to hold the Dubai November 2014 bonds rather than Malaysia’s narrowed 52 basis points, or 0.53 percentage point, to 365 in the quarter.

Senegal would lure funds from the Middle East with a system to facilitate Islamic financing, said Seck at SYM International. A lack of regulation and sufficient knowledge are hampering growth, said Seck, whose company helps bring investment from members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference into West Africa.

“You have to have a strong system in place and most West African countries do not have regulation that can allow Islamic banking to operate,” he said.

The concept of risk-sharing in Shariah banking that prohibits interest payments would be more useful in Muslim countries because their economies are less diversified, the IMF economists said.

“In the Islamic banking system, both the bank and entrepreneur share the reward and failure, and in many developing countries such risk sharing might allow entrepreneurs to undertake projects that they couldn’t otherwise contemplate,” said Kpodar at the IMF.

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