Islamic finance has been facing headwinds stemming from high interest rates, slowing growth, and geopolitics. However, it is well placed to overcome these challenges given its focus on sustainability and social responsibility.
Amid tepid markets and tighter liquidity, global sukuk issuance declined in 2023 to levels not seen in the past two years. Still, outstanding sukuk expanded by 10.3% year-on-year to reach US$850 billion, according to Fitch Ratings. Close to 70% of the issuance came from Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, the two largest sukuk markets.
The sector has continued to experience growth underpinned by Shariah-compliant products, partnerships and innovation initiatives. Global Islamic finance assets were estimated to have crossed US$3.3 trillion in the first half of 2023.
With its deep-rooted commitment to the public good, Islamic finance is ideally positioned to play a vital role in the global sustainability movement. Many Islamic countries are pursuing decarbonization strategies, signalling growth potential for sustainability-linked sukuk and sustainability-linked loans. Rising awareness of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles among issuers should underpin the continued growth of this asset class. Fitch Ratings indicated that ESG sukuk outstanding has crossed US$36 billion at the end of 2023.
S&P Global expects sustainable sukuk volume to rise further in the next 12 months especially following the successful conclusion of COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, which was attended by some 85,000 participants. The event highlighted the role of Islamic finance in the fight against climate change and in addressing social issues.
Islamic finance is also drawing interest from new issuers. Egypt and the Philippines both entered the market with their debut sukuk in 2023. In terms of the local currency channel, the federal government of the United Arab Emirates started to issue dirham T-sukuk tapping on domestic appetite for the fundraising instrument. More local issuances are expected in the coming years as the UAE continues efforts to develop the local capital market.
Closer ties developing between investors and issuers in Asia and Middle East are likely to bolster Islamic finance. Meanwhile, more international companies are tapping the liquidity of Islamic investors.
In the medium term, the sukuk market is set to benefit from increased automation and digitalization. Funding activities for start-ups are accelerating in the Middle East. In Asia, Malaysia’s first digital bank has launched operation while Indonesia is looking at the prospects of digital finance. Even outside Islamic countries, cross-border digital platforms are now providing a venue for Islamic finance offerings.
The Asset is pleased to be hosting the 7th Global Islamic Finance Issuers and Investors Leadership Dialogue. The dialogue gathers industry leaders, experts, and scholars to share their knowledge for the advancement of Islamic finance. It will also discuss how the sector will effectively address some of the most pressing challenges confronting the global economy.