A consortium of central banks from Asia, the Middle East and Africa has taken a first step towards developing a cross-border market in Islamic financial instruments by issuing a $490 million sukuk.
The three-month Islamic bonds, denominated in U.S. dollars, were issued by the Malaysia-based International Islamic Liquidity Management Corp (IILM).
Its debut issue was fully subscribed, the IILM said in a statement on Monday.
Islamic finance, which obeys religious principles such as a ban on interest payments, has grown rapidly since the global financial crisis and is now estimated to have well over $1 trillion of assets around the world.
But its expansion has been limited by a shortage of highly liquid, investment-grade financial instruments which Islamic banks can trade to manage their short-term funding needs.
The IILM, founded by the central banks in 2010, aims to address that weakness by issuing sukuk which banks can trade across borders. The IILM sukuk received a high A-1 credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, and the IILM has said it plans to increase its issuance eventually to as much as $3 billion.
The sukuk, priced at 30 basis points over the London Interbank Offered Rate, was auctioned off to seven institutions from around the world: Kuwait Finance House, Europe’s KBL Private Bankers, Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank), National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Qatar National Bank , Standard Chartered Bank and AlBaraka Turk, which is the Turkish unit of Bahrain’s AlBaraka Banking Group.
These primary dealers will now be responsible for selling the sukuk on to other Islamic banks and institutions in an effort to create an active market in the instruments.
Sukuk are backed by assets which generate returns for investors. The IILM previously said its sukuk would be backed by sovereign assets from member countries, but it has not revealed more information about them.
The issue was delayed several times over the past two years by technical obstacles and friction among IILM members. Because of the sukuk’s multinational structure, multiple boards of Islamic scholars needed to rule on its religious permissibility.
The IILM replaced its chief executive in October last year, and this year reshuffled its sharia board, losing four of its original six members including senior Saudi and Qatari scholars.
In April, the unexpected and unexplained withdrawal of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency from the IILM deprived the body of a key founding country which is home to some of the world’s largest Islamic banks.
Current shareholders of the IILM are the central banks of Indonesia, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank.
Iran is a member of the IILM but not a shareholder.