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Investing With Allah’s Approval: German Bank Eyes Muslim Customers

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Islamic investors must obey the Koran's prohibitions on dealing in a variety of activities. That can include everything from trading in derivatives to hocking pork products. Düsseldorf-based commercial bank WestLB has just launched an investment product in line with Sharia law.


By Christian Euler


Berlin: There are special rules for Muslim investors, who believe certain types of investing are immoral and thus forbidden by the Koran. It is off limits, for example, to invest in companies where interest, derivatives, insurance, alcohol, tobacco, pork, arms, or gambling are involved. The same goes for hedging instruments like gold and silver, or investing in the entertainment industry.


Keen not to alienate any potential clients, Germany's WestLB bank has just launched an investment product that conforms to Sharia law: the Islamic-Strategy Index Certificate (WKN WLZ5SH). The reduced-risk certificate was listed on the Frankfurt and Stuttgart exchanges as of Jan. 20.


The instrument created by Structured Solutions includes stocks quoted on the Dax and Mdax indices exclusively, and is controlled twice yearly. Ideal Ratings, an institute specialized in Islamic investment, checks the financial situations of all potential buyers, whose debts against total assets cannot exceed 30%.


There is a fee of 1.5% per year for structuring the certificate. The starter mix in the Islamic basket includes – in equal numbers -- Adidas, BASF, Bayer, Deutsche Post, E.on, Linde, RWE, SAP, Siemens and ThyssenKrupp stocks. Buyers of the certificate, which has been approved by the Central Committee of Muslims in Germany as being in line with Islamic precepts, automatically become contributors, at least modestly, to social causes. Five percent of dividends go to a charitable cause selected by WestLB.


"Airbag" included


To protect investors from serious loss, WestLB has built an airbag into the certificate. If a closing rate on the Islam Index is at least 8% lower than opening price or closing rate of the last adjustment, then on the following business day all capital is moved to a no-interest money account.


Only when the level of the back reference price is again reached does the capital flow back into shares. If rates hover at modest levels for a longer period of time, full investment takes place at the latest during the six-month check.


If WestLB goes bankrupt, however, the airbag doesn’t work – the certificate is a debenture. WestLB has an A-rating from Fitch. The insurance premium against risk of WestLB loan default is – with its present 401 basis points – significantly higher than it is with most issuers.


The bottom line, however, is that WestLB’s Islamic Strategy Index Certificate, thanks to its strict selection criteria (subject to a few small reservations), is meant to be a sustainable investment. The starter package contains Dax members only, so investors are getting a fat-trimmed Dax certificate at higher rates but with built-in risk reduction. It remains to be seen if the selection made in accordance with Sharia law performs better.


(Courtesy: WorldCrunch.com)
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