China eyes Southeast Asia push with $10 billion Manila airport project

Above, passengers disembark from a Saudi Arabia Airlines plane parked at the tarmac of Ninoy Aquino International airport. Capacity at the Philippines’ main aviation gateway is at critical levels, although private sector proposals have been put forward for the airport’s expansion. (Reuters)
Updated 08 March 2018
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China eyes Southeast Asia push with $10 billion Manila airport project

HONG KONG: CLSA, the offshore platform of Chinese investment bank CITIC Securities, is working on the finance for a new $10 billion airport in Manila as part of its push into Southeast Asia and China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.
In an interview this week, CLSA chairman Tang Zhenyi said that CLSA also planned to open new offices in Vietnam, Pakistan and Dubai this year as the Asia-focused broker continued its expansion into investment banking.
Introduced in 2013, the Belt and Road project is aimed at building a modern-day economic “Silk Road,” connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Pakistan and Central Asia, and beyond to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
Beijing has called on financial firms to develop overseas lending businesses to help connect China with old and new trading partners including the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The Manila airport project, to be developed south of the Philippine capital, is still awaiting government approval but CLSA has held preliminary talks with potential Chinese backers for the deal, Tang said.
“It looks like we are in good shape to do this. It’s a $10 billion minimum project,” he said. “Citic and CLSA are in the perfect position to talk with all the Chinese financial institutions.”
Tang and CLSA did not give the location or further details of the project. Local media have reported competing airport proposals are currently being studied by the Philippines government.
The involvement in the airport project by CLSA, which was bought by CITIC Securities in 2013, comes at a time it is aggressively expanding its investment banking advisory services beyond its broking origins, by leveraging its China ties.
“China has the capital, has the market. These countries have the need,” he said, referring to the ASEAN countries’ push to boost infrastructure investments.
Tang, who worked for China’s Ministry of Finance and for the World Bank in Washington before joining Citic Group in 2011, became chairman of CLSA in November 2016.
Last year, the company returned to its CLSA branding, dropping the name Citic CLSA, although it does operate as the international arm of CITIC Securities.
As part of its strategy to grab a bigger share of investment banking deals in Asia, CLSA is also in talks with Pakistan’s ministry of finance to help the country sell Panda bonds — debt sold by foreign entities to investors in mainland China.
Tang said CLSA is in the middle of a transformation, and plans to add up to 15 bankers in Southeast Asia this year as it seeks to diversify from its Chinese roots. Of its 120 current bankers, about 80 are involved with China-related projects and 40 with ASEAN business.
“We are hoping by adding more ASEAN content into the whole company, we will see it more 50-50 (between ASEAN and China).”


Liquidity squeeze hits sukuk sector

Updated 12 December 2018
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Liquidity squeeze hits sukuk sector

  • US interest rate rises and the end of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program have lessened dollar availability
  • Investors from developed markets are more reluctant to park their money in assets from further afield because the returns they can achieve nearer to home are increasing

BARCELONA: Shrinking liquidity as central banks rein in years of ultra-loose monetary policy is crimping both demand for sukuk as well as supply.
Last year, issuance of Islamic bonds, or sukuk, reached a record high of $95.7 billion, up from $68 billion in 2016, according to S&P Global Ratings, which forecasts 2018 issuance will total up to $80 billion.
US interest rate rises and the end of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program have lessened dollar availability, while the European Central Bank’s decision to lower and then stop its own bond-buying program in December is exacerbating liquidity constraints.
“Liquidity that used to be channelled to the global sukuk market is becoming scarcer and more expensive,” said Dr. Mohamed Damak, senior director and global head of Islamic Finance (Financial Services Research) at S&P Global Ratings, who estimates Europe and the US provide 20-40 percent of sukuk investment.
“That will impact the capacity of sukuk issuers to the tap the sukuk market over the next 12 months.”
Investors from developed markets are more reluctant to park their money in assets from further afield because the returns they can achieve nearer to home are increasing in line with higher rates and a strong dollar.
“Whereas before when there was so much liquidity, investors were almost desperate in the hunt for yield and sukuk. Now, they’re a bit more discerning and spreads on emerging markets, including sukuk instruments, have started to widen,” said Khalid Howladar, managing director and founder of Dubai’s Acreditus, a boutique risk, ratings, regulatory and Islamic finance advisory practice. “You’ll see more discrimination coming into sukuk pricing.”
In the first nine months of 2018, sukuk issuance in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries totalled $26.9 billion, down from $39.8 billion in the prior-year period, according to S&P. GCC sovereign issuance fell by nearly half over the same period to $14.8 billion from $27.9 billion, although issuance by regional corporations rose 2 percent to $12.1 billion.
The decline in government sukuk issuance is partly due to the rebound in oil prices, analysts said, with crude now trading at more than $70; Gulf governments had historically funded their spending through energy receipts and conventional bank lending, with little need to issue debt, but the slump in oil prices from mid-2014 forced a rethink.
Saudi Arabia began issuing debt for the first time since the 1990s after falling into deficit and has now sold $11 billion of sukuk — $9 billion in April 2017 and $2 billion in September 2018, plus $41 billion of conventional bonds since 2016, according to Reuters. These have helped Saudi Arabia fund its budget shortfall, while the Kingdom has also spent some of its foreign reserves, which fell from 2.75 trillion riyals at 2014-end to 1.90 trillion riyals in September 2018.
Although now less of a necessity, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf governments may issue more sukuk do so in order to support their fledgling Islamic capital markets.
“Bahrain, Oman and to a lesser extent Saudi (Arabia) are still facing deficit pressures,” said Howaladar. “But nonetheless, the pressure is less and so that borrowing urgency has diminished.”
Bank lending has always dominated the market, but the private sector is increasingly keen on diversifying its funding sources so as to not be as dependent on banks, he said. “Globally, Islamic banks are growing faster than their conventional counterparts, so whether you want to do a sukuk or Sharia-compliant financing the bank market is still open,” added Howaladar. “Bond and sukuk markets get more attention, but banks are still able to offer Sharia-compliant financing for their customers.”
UAE sukuk issuance has grown in 2018, rising to $6.4 billion as of Sept. 23, versus $3.3 billion in the prior-year period, according to S&P. The country’s markets regulator this year issued new sukuk regulations that have helped bolster supply, said Raffaele Bertoni, head of fixed income investment at Kuwait-based Gulf Investment Corporation, a supranational financial institution co-owned by the six nations of the GCC.
A large part of the UAE’s 2018 issuance is from real estate companies seeking to optimize their financing structure with a better mix of sukuk and bank debt ahead of Dubai hosting the multibillion-dollar Expo 2020, he said.
“Several new real estate projects are in the last phase of completion, and sukuk represents an efficient and more convenient financing structure compared to conventional bonds or even bank loans,” Bertoni added.
Corporations that prefer sukuk funding due to religious considerations will continue to issue Sharia-compliant debt despite the growing expense, said Sharjil Ahmed, a Dubai-based Islamic finance specialist and fintech strategist.
“But other issuers who opted for sukuk because of attractive pricing may shift to wherever they can obtain cheaper funding,” he said.
As well as tightening liquidity, a lack of standardised Sharia regulations and geopolitical concerns have slowed sukuk issuance in 2018.