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Sat, Aug 19, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Japan set to enter Islamic banking

OIL CASH The government-backed JBIC said it was studying the possibilities of issuing Islamic bonds to help Japanese businesses diversify their fund raising

AFP , TOKYO

Japan is looking to become the first major industrialized nation to issue Islamic bonds in hopes of attracting money from oil-rich Muslim countries, a bank official said yesterday.

Islamic financial practices ban the payment or receipt of interest or any transactions that include alcoholic beverages or gambling, which are banned by the Koran.

"The bank is studying the possible issuance of the bond with Malaysia," said Hiromi Inukai, a spokeswoman of the government-backed Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

"The bank has had talks with the central bank of Malaysia with the intention to attract ample petro-dollars not only to Japan but also to the whole of Asia," she said.

She declined to give further details such as how much of the bond JBIC officials, with the support of the finance ministry, would place with Bank Negara Malaysia, the Malaysian central bank, and when.

Japanese news reports have said that the JBIC has formed an advisory board of Islamic legal scholars to study Islamic financial practices. Britain's Financial Times said the bond would be valued at US$300 million to US$500 million and launched around January.

First G7 nation

Japan would be the first G7 nation to issue the Islamic bond, called sukuk, bond on a national basis, although companies in the developed world have already done likewise.

Hideki Nukaya, a researcher at the Institute for International Monetary Affairs, said JBIC's envisaged Islamic bond placement would help diversify funding sources for many large Japanese businesses.

"Japan and its companies could get a foot in the door and become more active players in Islamic financing by gradually making progress and learning the methods," Nukaya said.

"Once JBIC places the sukuk bond and learns the methods, Japanese companies would be able to have more options for financial resources when they need a bulk of money, not only through conventional but also through Islamic bond issuance," he said.

"But compared with conventional projects, Islamic banking requires more preparation, which the Japanese financial institutions are doing right now," Nukaya added.

Japanese companies will likely need to study up on religious regulations, such as rules on interest, as the country has a miniscule Muslim community.

Demand for Islamic financing is growing in countries with significant Muslim populations, particularly in the Middle East.

Largely Muslim Malaysia is the current Asian leader in Islamic banking after introducing services in 1983.

Leading position

To cement its leading position, the country is liberalizing its Islamic financial system and promoting itself as a center for education about Islamic finance.

Total worldwide assets of Islamic financial institutions exceed US$250 billion and are growing 15 percent annually, according to the IMF.

In 2003, the Islamic Bank of Britain opened in London and last year Britain's fifth-largest bank, Lloyds TSB, said it would introduce personal bank accounts compatible with Islamic law.

In 2004, the impoverished eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt became the first in Europe to issue an Islamic bond in hopes of finding new sources of financing.

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