Islamic bond sales are expected to slow next year across the region as Arabian Gulf governments trim spending amid weaker oil revenue, according to Standard and Poor’s.
The ratings agency has joined the chorus of voices predicting slower growth in the sukuk market in 2016, as looming interest rate rises and falling public spending hits demand from government-related entities.
S&P expects regional sukuk issuance to grow in “single figures” next year – after a run of double-digit growth between 2008 and 2014.
“There will be a more pronounced slowdown in sukuk issuance,” said Mohamed Damak, head of Islamic finance at S&P, “assuming that there will be a slowdown in government spending because of the [fall in the] oil price.”
This follows a year of retrenchment in sukuk markets. Globally, the value of new Islamic bond sales fell by 41 per cent in the year to September. That was driven partially by the exit of one of the market’s largest issuers, Bank Negara Malaysia, the Malaysian central bank. But sukuk sales were down 22 per cent year-on-year even without BNM.
Arabian Gulf governments have been forced to tighten their belts after the decline in oil prices from $110 in June last year to about $48 now.
Saudi Arabia has run up a budget deficit of about 16.7 per cent of GDP, according to estimates from Fitch. It has also recently tapped local bond markets in a bid to slow the depletion of its currency reserves, as well as announcing cuts to capital expenditure in 2016.
The UAE has not announced plans to cut government capital expenditure, but has effectively cut spending on fuel and utilities subsidies.
Sultan Al Mansouri, the Minister of Economy, told The National in June that the UAE plans to draw down on its reserves instead of cutting infrastructure spending.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar each have significant pipelines of high-profile infrastructure projects pending over the next few years. The kingdom plans to boost capacity in its power and water industries.
Dubai aims to complete a raft of logistics megaprojects, including the $32 billion expansion of Dubai World Central. Qatar is also investing billions of dollars on infrastructure ahead of the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
But whether these major investment programmes stoke demand for Islamic debt is not clear.
“Banks are the obvious choice” for this kind of project, but “are governments going to turn to banks, or to capital markets?” said Karim Nassif, an infrastructure finance analyst at S&P.
The weaker oil price environment may also encourage governments to turn to capital markets to fund spending commitments instead of relying on reserves. Oman will this week open subscriptions for its first sovereign issue of Islamic bonds.
Another factor likely to influence demand for debt is the expected rise in US interest rates which will raise the cost of borrowing.
All of the Arabian Gulf states tie their currencies to the dollar, with the exception of Kuwait, which pegs the Kuwaiti dinar to a basket of international currencies. This means that the coming rise in US interest rates will lead regional central banks to also push up rates, making borrowing more expensive.
“A rate hike may choke demand and choke growth in real estate” in the region, Mr Nassif said.
Originally published on www.thenational.ae