Salman Ahmed Shaikh
Islamic finance industry assets are now worth more than $2.3 trillion by 2019. The industry has shown resilience and double digit growth even in the face of global economic slowdown. After substantial double digit growth in assets, customer base and profits, Islamic banks are expected to embrace the vision to provide an egalitarian financial system which is inclusive for all and avoid the pitfalls which the conventional banking based on interest could not avoid.
Financial sector earnings increased manifold in developed markets after Breton Woods system ended in 1971. These earnings are transaction costs for the productive sector. Even amidst these high earnings, the financial sector still could not do its job of matching credible business sector investors with savers. Why? It is because financial intermediation grew in massive proportion and became increasingly delinked with productive sector. Financial institutions that were just supposed to be playing a supportive role to the productive economy got much bigger and unregulated through shadow banking practices in the West.
Greed in capitalism is permanent. But, the very allowance and room to securitize financial obligations and be able to sell them to other financial intermediaries provided the necessary impetus for being reckless in credit penetration and pass on the toxic assets later on to others. Now, what are the lessons to be learnt by Islamic finance from all this?
First, all product vetting and engineering must take into account the fact that entrepreneurial risk is the cornerstone of permissible earnings from any allowable business venture in Islam. This is best ensured through as direct a financial intermediation model as possible. It is hard to ensure it in a complex nested financial framework. This risk can only be eliminated at the cost of compromising the basic distinctions of Islamic economic principles.
Second, it is not necessary to use derivatives in most cases in Islamic Finance. Floating rate rentals can substitute use of interest rate swaps. Credit Default Swaps (CDS) are not needed in most cases since almost all financial assets credit creation is backed by real assets and the bank has recourse to them.
It is quite hard to distinguish between hedging and speculation because it depends on intention which is unobservable. Delivery based trade contracts ensure that the transaction is not for speculative purposes only. Price hedging can be ensured through Salam and Murabaha already which are used for short term financing. In long term financing as discussed before, the rentals are mostly floating. It is advisable to price products based on specific asset’s market fundamentals rather than using an interest based benchmark for all types of asset financing. This will not only be better from hedging perspective, but is also preferable from Islamic perspective.
Third, rather than waiting for the demand side changes, Islamic financial institutions having gained tremendous growth and penetration in recent past, must offer change from the supply side. They must begin offering equity financing and follow them up with standardized instruments with equity contracts as underlying. For instance, initially established portfolio comprising equity financing assets could pool funds from other institutions and general public through issuing Musharakah certificates. These can not only increase widespread use of equity financing, but can also contribute towards better distribution of income and wealth and horizontal spread of risk and return.