Business

Goldman Sachs gets strong demand for landmark sukuk issue

Goldman Sachs raised US$500 million (RM1.61 billion) with its debut sale of Islamic bonds on yesterday, becoming the first conventional US bank to issue sukuk as Islamic finance develops beyond its traditional homes in the Middle East and southeast Asia.

The bank drew about US$1.5 billion of orders for the five-year sukuk, reflecting heavy demand among cash-rich Islamic funds for new credits.

An initial attempt by Goldman to sell sukuk in 2011, when it registered a US$2 billion issuance programme with the Irish Stock Exchange, ran into suspicions among some analysts that it might violate Islamic bans on interest payments and monetary speculation.

Although the bank insisted that those concerns were unfounded, it never went ahead with the 2011 issue.

This time, Goldman adjusted the sukuk structure and enlisted several heavyweight Gulf banks to arrange the sale, and it appeared to avoid any controversy.

"I think they have worked hard to address the issues people had the last time around," said Abdul Kadir Hussain, who oversees about US$700 million as chief executive of Gulf financial firm Mashreq Capital (DIFC).

The Goldman sukuk, which will be listed on the Luxembourg Stock Exchange, is only the second such deal from a conventional bank outside a predominantly Muslim country; HSBC issued US$500 million of sukuk in 2011.

Other conventional banks, and possibly Western corporations, may follow as they seek to tap into a large new source of funding: France's Societe Generale and Japan's Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ set up sukuk programmes in Malaysia this year.

The governments of Britain and Hong Kong made debut sukuk issues earlier this year, while South Africa and Luxembourg are poised for their first sovereign issues.

"Having these kinds of issuers broadens the issuer base in the sukuk market, which will be positive for the market," Hussain said of Goldman's sale.

Year-to-date, sukuk issuance totals US$88.9 billion through 475 deals globally, up from US$76.4 billion through 574 deals a year earlier, according to Zawya, a Thomson Reuters company.

Goldman priced its issue at a spread of 90 basis points over midswaps, a document from lead arrangers showed, tighter than initial guidance in the area of 95 bps. The sukuk carry a profit rate of 2.844%.

The pricing represented a small premium to Goldman's conventional 2.625% 2019 bonds, which were trading at a Z-spread of 80 bps, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Goldman picked itself, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Emirates NBD, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Qatar's QInvest and the investment banking arm of Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank <IPO-NACO.SE> to arrange the issue. Investor roadshows took place only in the Gulf.

While Goldman's 2011 sukuk plan envisaged using a murabaha structure, this week's issue is predominantly based on wakala, in which one party manages assets on behalf of another; many scholars consider it a less controversial structure because of its clearer link to the assets backing the sukuk.

Proceeds of the issue will be used in the commodities business of J. Aron & Co, a Goldman unit.

The sukuk were to be issued through a vehicle called JANY Sukuk Co and guaranteed by Goldman Sachs.

They were expected to be rated A-minus by Standard & Poor's and A by Fitch Ratings, identical to the ratings of the investment bank. – Reuters, September 17, 2014.

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