Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Dana Gas Restructuring: Collateral Damage - "Islamic" Finance

By asserting that changing Shari’ah interpretations can void a borrower’s existing legal obligation to pay principal and “profit” as well as adhere to covenants, DG’s strategy strikes directly at the heart of “Islamic” finance by creating fundamental uncertainty about the legal validity of “Islamic” transactions. 
Simply put, the result of a DG victory is that “Islamic” legal documentation couldnot  be relied on.
Who is affected? 
Here are three potential key affected parties along with some idea of potential injuries. 
  • Existing investors whose Sukuk become subject to fundamental uncertainty.  If the market in general were to mark down these transactions due to the uncertainty, investors (including financial institutions that hold Sukuk as investments) could suddenly lose substantial amounts.  For those investors unlucky enough to be holding the Sukuk of DG or a copycat obligor, value loss could be more substantial as debts and interest are repudiated. 
  • Existing and potential borrowers who prefer or depend on this form of financing could well find it much more expensive (higher required profit rates, additional collateral, etc.), assuming that finance were available at all.   In some cases skittish investors may decide to exercise rights to accelerate repayment rather than forebear to avoid being caught by a surprise alleged re-interpretation of Shari’ah.  
  • Shari’ah experts, commercial and investment banks, legal firms, and other entities who structure and place “Islamic” finance transactions could well see a significant drop in business.
All of the above have a strong motive to oppose DG’s maneuver as well as individuals and entities with primarily religious and not economic reasons for promoting “Islamic” finance. 
At least three parties have already spoken out.
  • Shari’ah law experts have begun to challenge DG’s position.  Sheikh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo (USA) and Mohamad Akram Laldin (Malaysia) as per Reuters both not based in the GCC.  For those who don’t know, there is no central Shari’ah authority.  There is no Rome or Pope in Islam. 
  • In a 22 June press release Fitch Ratings have in effect stated that they do not accept DG’s interpretation/assertion: “We believe our current assumption that sharia compliance typically does not have credit implications for Fitch-rated sukuk remains appropriate”.  More importantly Fitch have noted the results if DG’s position is legally upheld: “For this reason, if non-compliance had credit implications and such implications cannot be quantified under our criteria for rating sukuk, instruments may not be rateable”.  If instruments are not rateable, the impact is twofold: (1) higher pricing and (2) less demand.  
  • On 27 June Moody’s issued a statement (because this is paywalled, I’m using a press report) which quoted it as follows:  Although Dana Gas is a small issuer in the UAE market, the credit implications of a court decision in its favour would test Sukuk regulatory and legal frameworks beyond Dana Gas as an issuer or the UAE as a jurisdiction.”  And “The implications [of “illegality” voiding responsibility to repay] include concerns about the legality of existing Sukuk and the effect on their issuers, the role and authority of Shari'ah boards, the responsibilities of the lead arrangers’ due diligence on the issuances, our approach to analysing Sukuk structures, and the liquidity of Sukuk markets.
AA suspects that many more third parties will join the chorus.  

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