Business | Banking

Japan's interest in Islamic finance grows

In Asia, both Singapore and Hong Kong are making moves to become financial centres alongside Malaysia (by far the biggest), competing to attract petrodollars.

  • Financial Times
  • Published: 23:53 June 17, 2008
  • Gulf News

Islamic financing is the buzzword in many financial centres these days.

In Asia, both Singapore and Hong Kong are making moves to become financial centres alongside Malaysia (by far the biggest), competing to attract petrodollars.

So where does Japan lie in this push forward?

Japan's Financial Services Agency says it recognises the need for its financial institutions to become competitive in the area and there are amendments to the banking law slated to be in place within about six months that should make it easier, at least for these institutions' subsidiaries, to become more involved in this area of finance.

However, it may be that despite these observations, the FSA and the Ministry of Finance have more pressing issues to deal with.

"Japan, and the FSA in particular, is trying to improve the competitiveness of Japan's capital markets, both as a global/regional centre and for the Japanese market," says Stuart Porter, a partner at PwC in Tokyo.

"While Islamic finance is quite an interesting subject, it is simply one area they'll want to encourage."

"They have their hands full trying to break down the firewalls between the banking/securities sector, tightening up compliance, adding new opportunities for investment and access and effectively trying to stop a large part of the asset management industry migrating any further to Singapore and Hong Kong."

There has been some interest shown by companies looking to diversify funding and tap markets where they operate, but to date examples of Sharia-compliant bond issues and other areas of Islamic financing are few and far between.

Planned foray

Last month, Toyota announced a planned foray into the Islamic bond market, saying it intended to issue M$1 billion ($306 million) to raise funds for its auto leasing and loans business in Malaysia.

Aeon Credit was the first Japanese corporate to issue a sukuk (which it did in 2007) when it raised a total of $45.3 million in two issues in Malaysia.

The Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ acted in effect as a middleman, introducing Aeon to Commerce International Merchant Bank, which was the book runner.

Daiwa Asset Management last month launched the Singapore Stock Exchange's first Sharia-compliant exchange traded fund, called the Daiwa FTSE Shariah Japan 100, which includes Japan's top 100 Sharia-compliant companies by market capitalisation, and screened by Yasaar, according to a press release.

Last November, Kuwait's Boubyan Bank completed what is believed to be Japan's first property deal using Islamic financing, when it bought three office buildings in Tokyo for 4.38 billion yen ($41.4 million) - its first real estate investment in Japan.

Boubyan used special purpose vehicles to buy and lease back the properties, working with the asset management company Atlas Partners Japan, and Hypo Real Estate Capital Japan.

Mitsubishi UFJ says it is preparing for when Japanese legal amendments are in place and has been building up a team in anticipation of these changes.

Nomura Asset Management, a member of the Islamic Financial Services Board, is also planning to introduce products in the area.

Standard & Poor's has a Japan 500 Sharia index, which is part of the family of S&P Sharia index series, and Sharia-compliant.

Malaysia has by far the largest market share in the issue of sukuks, or Sharia-compliant bonds, in the world, with a cumulative market share of 50.8 per cent worth $29.1 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data. Next is the UAE with a 29.4 per cent share worth $16.9 billion.

The US ranks fourteenth, having issued $331.6 million, then Australia with $264.4 million and the UK follows with $238.6, according to the data. Japan's issues total $71.6 million.

One issue for financial centres such as Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong with regards to setting themselves up as financial centres is the lack of a domestic market, given the majority of their respective populations is not Muslim.

However, Ritesh Maheshwari, a senior director at Standard & Poor's in Singapore, points out that while Malaysia has the domestic market, it still has capital controls, so is not a completely open offshore market, unlike Hong Kong and Singapore.

At the very least, interest by Japanese companies and the government in tapping investors who prefer working with Sharia-compliant investments should grow, not least because Japan imports the vast majority of its oil from the Middle East and shipments of its trucks, cars and other exports to the region are rising fast, creating stronger links.

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