Saudi Market Surprise Sparks Speculation of Sukuk Access

Saudi Arabia’s plan to open its $531 billion stock market to foreigners is prompting speculation that Islamic bonds will be next.

The government’s approval of overseas financial institutions to trade equities may herald a similar relaxation of rules in the local-currency primary debt market, according to Mashreq Capital DIFC Ltd. and Rasmala Investment Bank Ltd. The nation’s Capital Market Authority said yesterday that the stock-market change would take place in the first half of next year.

Capital markets are a package, you can’t have one part without the other,” John Sfakianakis, chief investment strategist at Riyadh-based investment company MASIC, said by phone yesterday. “The fact is that Saudi sukuk eventually should also be open to everyone.”

Opening the local-currency sukuk market would give foreign investors access to companies that sold 42 billion riyals ($11.2 billion) through a dozen sales in the past year. That’s more than three times the amount of dollar Islamic bond sales, which are open to overseas buyers.

In the 12 months through yesterday, only four dollar-denominated sukuk have been sold in Saudi Arabia. Those came from two issuers, Dar Al Arkan Real Estate Development Co. and Saudi Electricity Co., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Twelve different borrowers, including National Commercial Bank and Almarai Co. (ALMARAI), each issued a riyal-denominated Islamic security in the period.

Pricing Tightly

“It’s a step in the opening up of Saudi capital markets overall, and that benefits sukuk investors because there will be more potential product if we can get access,” Abdul Kadir Hussain, who oversees about $700 million as chief executive officer at Mashreq Capital in Dubai, said in a phone interview yesterday. It will also make it easier for domestic borrowers to issue Islamic bonds, he said.

Access to the kingdom’s debt market may appeal more to investors wanting to broaden their exposure than to those seeking yield, according to Doug Bitcon, a Dubai-based fund manager at Rasmala.

“Lots of Saudi debt prices very tightly,” Bitcon said by phone yesterday. “I’m not sure how attractive that will be to international investors beyond portfolio diversification.”

The average profit rate, equal to a bond’s interest rate, of 41 outstanding sukuk from Saudi Arabia was 3.11 percent yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with 5.06 percent for 44 Islamic bonds outstanding from the neighboring United Arab Emirates, the data show.

Saudi Growth

Gross domestic product in Saudi Arabia will probably expand by 4.15 percent in 2014, versus 3.8 percent last year, economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg show.

The world’s biggest exporter of oil and de facto leader of OPEC is removing barriers to one of the most restricted major stock exchanges as the government pursues a $130 billion spending plan to boost non-energy industries. The move may lead to the country’s inclusion in MSCI Inc.’s indexes, which are used to measure performance by money managers with an estimated $9 trillion of assets.

“Opening the debt market would be part of the openness and all inclusiveness that the policy makers want to demonstrate,” Sfakianakis said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Samuel Potter in Dubai at spotter33@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Samuel Potter at spotter33@bloomberg.net Marie-France Han, David Papadopoulos

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