Green sukuk market won’t ignite without Gulf governments backing, warns top Fitch Ratings analyst

Green sukuk market won’t ignite without Gulf governments backing, warns top Fitch Ratings analyst
Fitch's Bashar Al Natoor sees promising green sukuk market. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 September 2021

Green sukuk market won’t ignite without Gulf governments backing, warns top Fitch Ratings analyst

Green sukuk market won’t ignite without Gulf governments backing, warns top Fitch Ratings analyst
  • The market has grown despite the pandemic
  • However, just 2.5 percent of total outstanding sukuk is green or sustainable

Gulf countries need to lead by example with ambitious infrastructure projects to unlock the true potential of a growing green and sustainable sukuk market that doubled this year, a leading analyst at credit ratings agency Fitch Ratings has told Arab News.

Bashar Al Natoor, the global head of Islamic finance at the agency, pointed to the rapid growth in the Sharia-compliant green sector, which saw issuances rise from $3 billion in 2020 to $6 billion in the first half of this year alone.

But he warned that without leadership from governments in the Gulf region, this branch of the sukuk market may fail to properly “ignite”.

A green sukuk is similar to a conventional Islamic bond, except the proceeds from the product can only be used to fund environmentally-friendly projects. 

The sukuk was first issued in 2017, but despite the global economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the market has continued to grow.

However, Al Natoor says the rise still represents just 2.5 percent of total outstanding sukuk.

He told Arab News: “We’re not yet there, we don’t even have enough projects to push this ahead. 

“We don’t have incentives from the government, we don’t have infrastructure, we don’t have a lot of governments themselves even in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] issuing green and sustainable [sukuk], it continues to be efforts either by a bank or a company rather than a government."

Focusing on green and sustainable projects is very much pushing against an open door in the Kingdom, with the Saudi government putting those areas at the heart of its Vision 2030 programme. 

This includes making renewable energy produce 50 percent of all consumed in Kingdom by 2030, reducing carbon emissions by more than 4 percent of global contributions, and planting 10 billion trees.

Saudi companies are following the government’s lead by pushing ahead with projects to contribute towards these goals.

Saudi Electricity Company became the first corporation in the Kingdom to issue green sukuk in September 2020, raising $1.3 billion in the process.

The proceeds from the offering are set to fund a smart meter rollout scheme, as well as helping to shift the company to a low-carbon footing — in line with Vision 2030. 

Another Saudi-based institution to make use of green and sustainability focused sukuk is the Islamic Development Bank, which raised $2.5 billion through issuances in March. Some 90 percent of the proceeds are earmarked for social development projects, with the remaining 10 percent financing green enterprises.

Despite these examples, Al Natoor believes unless Gulf governments start to embrace the products, the sector will not achieve its full potential.

He added: “We have some regulations, we have some strategies but not yet to the extent that is required to ignite this market. 

“If I were to say one [thing], it’s the topdown element. Awareness is important in general, availability of projects is important in general, understanding of these issues and moving it to a more priority. 

“You need to have the mindset and the culture changing towards sustainability and green to say this is actually a priority. 

“I’m not talking about the government, but in general, corporates, it’s not yet on their radar. It’s good to have, and when it moves from ‘good to have’ to a priority then also you see another ignition to make this market move further.” 

One of the issues facing the sukuk is trust. Not only must investors be confident the bonds are Sharia-compliant, they must also be sure the projects they are funding meet green and sustainability criteria.

Al Natoor called for greater regulation from Gulf governments in these area to help instil confidence in the market.

He said: “All of these are improving, but not yet there to reach a level [of confidence]. 

“So even lack of disclose of issuers, and ‘what do you mean when you issue green?’ and ‘how is that really tested?’ and ‘what’s your framework?’. Disclosure is relatively not advanced in the region compared to other more developed markets, let alone sustainability which is already having an additional issue. 

“I think going the extra mile, and this is key, there’s a lot that needs to be done in general, but you need to go the extra few miles to be focused on sustainable, and additional miles to be focused on Islamic finance and sukuk and what have you, and I think that’s an important message.”


Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies

 Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies
Updated 6 sec ago

Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies

 Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies

MOSCOW: Russian gas consumption is running at a record high but Moscow is still ready to increase supplies to Europe should it receive such requests, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Saturday.

European spot gas prices have surged by 800 percent this year as demand has recovered after the coronavirus pandemic. Prices eased earlier this month after Russia, Europe’s key gas supplier, said it could deliver more, but these supplies have yet to materialize.

“I want to underline that we in Russia have record high gas consumption figures this year, which is also due to active economic recovery,” Novak said in an interview with the Rossiya 1 TV channel broadcast, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia, whose gas production and exports to EU are already near record highs, has said it needs to finish filling its own gas storage reserves before it increases supplies to Europe’s spot market. It plans to complete this by the end of October.

Novak did not say how large Russia’s gas reserves were but estimated that European underground facilities were short of around 25 billion cubic meters of gas.

He insisted high domestic demand would not stop Russia offering more supplies to Europe if it received such requests.


China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’
Updated 8 min 28 sec ago

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’

BEIJING: China's central bank said on Friday that financial risks from China Evergrande Group’s debt problems are “controllable” and unlikely to spill over, amid growing investor concerns that the crisis could ripple through other developers.
Evergrande is the world's most indebted developer, with over $300 billion in liabilities. The company missed a third round of interest payments on its offshore bonds this week, spooking investors globally and sparking concern that other companies in the sector may also default on payments.
“Of the total liabilities of Evergrande Group, financial liabilities are less than one-third. Creditors are also relatively dispersed, and individual financial institutions have little risk exposure,” People’s Bank of China official Zou Lan said at a news briefing on Friday.
“Overall, the risk of the spillover to the financial industry is controllable,” he added.
Evergrande came under pressure after Chinese authorities ordered property developers to reduce their debt levels. The authorities are trying to direct the industry toward a more sustainable pace of development after many years of stimulus-fueled growth.


PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project
Updated 12 min 35 sec ago

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund on Saturday launched “THE RIG,” first-of-its-kind tourism destination inspired by offshore oil platforms.

Located in the Arabian Gulf, the innovative project will span a combined area of more than 150,000 square meters, said a statement issued by the sovereign wealth fund.

The tourist destination will provide a multitude of hospitality offerings, adventures, and aquatic sporting experiences.

 

The PIF said to ensure sustainable preservation of the environment, the project will follow global standards and best practices in line with the Kingdom’s efforts to ensure preservation of environment.

“THE RIG” will feature a number of touristic attractions, including three hotels, world-class restaurants, helipads, and a range of adventurous activities, including extreme sports.

The project is in line with PIF’s strategy 2021-2025 to modernize Saudi Arabia’s tourism and entertainment sectors and introduce innovative ideas to boost the number of local, regional and international tourists in the Kingdom.


El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes

 El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes
Updated 40 min 51 sec ago

El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes

 El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes
  • Geothermal power accounts for about a quarter of the country’s total energy mix

BERLIN, EL SALVADOR: At a geothermal power plant near El Salvador’s Tecapa volcano, 300 computers whir inside a trailer as they make complex mathematical calculations day and night verifying transactions for the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
The pilot project has inspired a rash of volcano emojis from President Nayib Bukele, who made bitcoin legal tender in September, and promises of cheap, renewable energy for so-called bitcoin “mining.” Bukele and others say El Salvador’s geothermal resources — generating electricity from high-pressure steam produced by the volcano’s subterranean heat — could be a solution. But the picture in the tiny Central American country is more complicated.
“We don’t spend resources that contaminate the environment, we don’t depend on oil, we don’t depend on natural gas, on any resource that isn’t renewable,” Daniel Alvarez, president of the Rio Lempa Hydroelectric Executive Commission, which oversees the plant, said during a tour on Friday.
Cheap power and a supportive government are the two critical factors for attracting bitcoin mining operations, said Brandon Arvanaghi, a bitcoin mining consultant.
Two years ago, China provided about three-quarters of all the electricity used for crypto mining, with operations flocking to take advantage of its cheap hydroelectric power. But the government began restricting mining and in September declared all transactions involving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies illegal.
That has led to a scramble to set up mining operations in other countries.
It would appear to be fortuitous for Bukele, who shocked the nation and many around the world with his announcement last summer that bitcoin would become legal tender beside the US dollar in El Salvador. The president sold the plan in part as a way for Salvadorans living overseas — mostly in the US — to send money home to their families more cheaply. It also made him a darling of the bitcoin world.
Bitcoin mining in El Salvador would appear to have a supportive government in Bukele, but cheap electricity is so far just a promise.
El Salvador imports about one-fifth to one-quarter of its electricity. The rest of production is divided among hydroelectric, geothermal and plants fired by fossil fuels.
Geothermal accounts for about a quarter of the country’s energy. El Salvador has 23 volcanoes.
“When you add these renewable sources like these vast abundant areas, a ton of renewable sources and a friendly regime it can be very attractive and El Salvador may very well fit that model,” Arvanaghi said.
Right now, El Salvador’s electricity is not considered particularly cheap.
The website GlobalPetrolPrices.com, which publishes retail energy prices around the world, puts electric costs to households and businesses in El Salvador well above the global average.
Arvanaghi said that bitcoin mining incentivizes the expansion of renewable energy production by providing high demand for cheap power and that miners have shown themselves to be willing to pause a portion of their machines at times when there is less power available from the grid.
Bukele’s promise of cheap power for bitcoin mining then would have to involve a subsidy, at least until renewable capacity expanded and rates declined.
 


US regulators slap $41m fine on company behind Tether ‘token’

US regulators slap $41m fine on company behind Tether ‘token’
Updated 16 October 2021

US regulators slap $41m fine on company behind Tether ‘token’

US regulators slap $41m fine on company behind Tether ‘token’

NEW YORK:The company behind a digital token called Tether has agreed to pay $41 million to settle charges that it misled investors by claiming the token was fully backed at all times by US dollars and other fiat currencies.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Friday it charged Tether Holdings Limited with making untrue or misleading statements and omissions in relation to its claims. Specifically, the US regulator found that since launching the token in 2014, Tether Holdings represented that its was a “stablecoin” with its value pegged to fiat currency, including US dollars and euros.

A stablecoin is a digital currency backed by real-world assets such as national currencies or other commodities. Unlike Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, stablecoins are designed to not fluctuate wildly in value.

However, the CFTC determined that at least from June 1, 2016 through Feb. 25, 2019, Tether misrepresented to customers and the market that it maintained sufficient US dollar reserves to back every Tether token in circulation with the equivalent amount of “corresponding fiat currency.”

The agency also found that Tether failed to disclose that it included unsecured receivables and non-fiat assets in its reserves, and that the company falsely represented it would undergo regular audits to prove it was maintaining the fiat currency reserves it needed to back Tether tokens.

In a statement, Tether, which is headquartered Hong Kong and maintains an office in Santa Monica, California, said the CFTC’s findings pertained to certain disclosures about the company’s reserves that were “fully resolved” in February 2019, when the company updated its terms of service.

“As to the Tether reserves, there is no finding that Tether tokens were not fully backed at all times — simply that the reserves were not all in cash and all in a bank account titled in Tether’s name, at all times,” the company said, noting that it has “always maintained adequate reserves and has never failed to satisfy a redemption request.”

Separately, the CFTC also ordered Bitfinex to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty after finding that the cryptocurrency trading platform made illegal, off-exchange retail commodity transactions involving digital assets with US investors and operated as a futures commission merchant without registering to do so.