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Islamic financial system shows inherent resistance to global crises

Pakistan is a fast growing country with regards to Islamic finance. Starting from scratch in 2002, it is now about 8% of the local banking industry.

Islamic finance is one of the fastest growing segments of the global financial industry. In 2008 the size of the global Islamic banking industry was estimated about $820 billion. Now it is closer to $1.35 trillion according to Global Islamic Finance Report (GIFR), and is expected to cross $1.6 trillion before the end of the current fiscal year.

The Islamic financial industry now comprises 430 Islamic banks and financial institutions and around 191 conventional banks having Islamic banking windows operating in more than 75 countries, according to the GIFR.

Pakistan is also a fast growing country with regards to Islamic finance and growth has been phenomenal. Starting from scratch in 2002, it is now about 8% of the local banking industry.

While Islamic banks play roles similar to conventional banks, fundamental differences exist. The central concept in Islamic banking and finance is justice, which is achieved mainly through the sharing of risk. Stakeholders are supposed to share profits and losses, and charging interest is prohibited.

There are also differences in terms of financial intermediation, the paper notes. While conventional intermediation is largely debt based, and allows for risk transfer, Islamic intermediation, by contrast, is asset based, and based on risk sharing. One key difference between conventional banks and Islamic banks is that the latter’s model does not allow investing in or financing the kind of instruments that have adversely affected their conventional competitors and triggered the global financial crisis. These include toxic assets, derivatives, and conventional financial institution securities.

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Analysis done by the IMF suggests that Islamic banks fared differently, if not actually better than conventional banks during the global financial crisis. Factors related to the Islamic banking business model helped contain the adverse impact on their profitability. In particular, smaller investment portfolios, lower leverage, and adherence to Shariah principles—which precluded Islamic banks from financing or investing in the kind of instruments that have adversely affected their conventional competitors — helped contain the impact of the crisis when it hit in 2008.

The study used bank-level data covering 2007−10 for about 120 Islamic banks and conventional banks in eight countries — Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. These countries host most of the world’s Islamic banks (more than 80% of the industry, excluding Iran) but also have large conventional banking sectors. The key variables used to assess the impact were the changes in profitability, bank lending, bank assets, and external bank ratings.

While the study showed that Islamic banks were able to better withstand the initial impact of the crisis, the following year (2009), weaknesses in risk management practices in some Islamic banks led to a larger decline in profitability compared to that seen in conventional banks. The weak 2009 performance in some countries was associated with sectoral and name concentration—that is, too great a degree of exposure to any one sector or borrower. In some cases, the problem was made worse by exemptions from concentration limits, highlighting the importance of having a neutral regulatory framework for both types of banks.

Despite the higher profitability of Islamic banks during the pre-global crisis period (2005–07), their average profitability for 2008–09 was similar to that of conventional banks, indicating better cumulative profitability and suggesting that higher pre-crisis profitability was not driven by a strategy of greater risk taking. The analysis also showed that large Islamic banks fared better than small ones, perhaps as a result of better diversification, economies of scale, and stronger reputation.

Islamic banks contributed to financial and economic stability during the crisis, given that their credit and asset growth was at least twice as high as that of conventional banks. The IMF paper attributes this growth to their higher solvency and to the fact that many Islamic banks lent a larger part of their portfolio to the consumer sector, which was less affected by the crisis than other sectors in the countries studied.

However the post-crisis years have also shown where the Islamic banking sector is relatively weak. It lacks as efficient a structure for liquidity management as seen in conventional banking. The IMF report also recommended that the sector needs a stronger supervisory and legal infrastructure, including bank resolution.

The paper also recommended that Islamic banks and supervisors work together to develop the needed human capital, saying expertise in Islamic finance has not kept pace with the industry’s growth.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2012.

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Amazon, Google and Starbucks attacked by MPs over tax avoidance

Report also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for leniency in dealing with corporations that pay little or no corporation tax

Amazon, Google and Starbucks have been accused of an “immoral” use of secretive jurisdictions, royalties and complex company structures to avoid paying tax on British profits by a committee of MPs.

A hard-hitting report released on Monday by the Commons public accounts committee, the parliamentary spending watchdog, also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for being “way too lenient” in negotiations with corporations which pay little or no corporation tax. It calls on the government to draw up laws to close loopholes and name and shame companies that fail to pay their fair share.

The report’s scheduled release, following a humiliating parliamentary session for the three multinationals’ executives, prompted a flurry of media activity over the weekend. On Saturday night, Starbucks announced that it is reviewing its tax approach to Britain with a view to paying more following widespread criticism of the coffee chain’s tax regime.

George Osborne will on Monday announce an extra £77m a year for two years for more staff at Revenue & Customs to pursue companies which avoid paying tax. The chancellor said the extra investment would help secure an extra £2bn a year in unpaid tax.

He is also expected to confirm a deal with Switzerland which the chancellor hopes will raise more than £5bn in previously uncollected taxes from Swiss bank accounts over the next six years.

Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, said of the Starbucks statement: “I am delighted they are taking this issue seriously and they are listening to the feedback from their UK taxpaying customers.” He too had been boycotting Starbucks. “I might be able to buy a coffee from Starbucks again soon.”

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the PAC, said its report showed that corporations had been allowed to get away with “ripping off” taxpayers because of a weak tax authority, poor legislation and a lack of international co-operation.

“Global corporations with huge operations in the UK generating significant amounts of income are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here. This is an insult to British business and individuals who pay their fair share.

“Corporation tax revenues have fallen at a time when securing proper income from taxes is more vital than ever.

“The inescapable conclusion is that multinationals are using structures and exploiting current tax legislation to move offshore profits that are clearly generated from economic activity in the UK,” she said.

Executives from the multinationals who appeared before the committee last month were singled out for criticism.

Responses to questions by Andrew Cecil, Amazon’s director of public policy, were “evasive”, “unprepared” and lacking credibility.

The company’s UK website reported a turnover of £207m for 2011, but its tax bill was just £1.8m.

Amazon avoids UK taxes by reporting European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit, MPs alleged. This structure allowed it to pay a rate of less than 12% on foreign profits last year – less than half the average corporate income tax rate in its major markets.

Troy Alstead, Starbucks’ global chief financial officer, claimed that the firm has lost money in the 15 years it has been operating in the UK except in 2006.

The world’s biggest coffee chain paid £8.6m in total UK tax over 13 years during which it recorded sales of £3.1bn.

Alstead’s claim was “difficult to believe” when contrasted with boasts of success sent to shareholders, according to the report.

Starbucks has been able to cut its tax bill, MPs said, by paying fees to other parts of its global business, such as royalty payments for use of the brand.

Google had £2.5bn of UK sales last year, but despite having a group-wide profit margin of 33%, its main UK unit had a tax charge of £3.4m in 2011.

The company avoids UK tax by channelling non-US sales via Ireland, an arrangement that has allowed it to pay taxes at a rate of 3.2% on non-US profits. It also diverts some profits through Bermuda.

Revenue & Customs has been asked by the committee to be bolder in challenging tax avoidance by multinationals and to be ready to prosecute if necessary.

“Top officials need to challenge the status quo and be more assertive, for example in accepting that excessive levels of royalty payments are appropriate when businesses are making a loss,” the report states. Benchmarks for common charges such as royalty payments and intellectual property rights could be published by the Treasury or tax officials. A company’s tax practices should also be made part of its mandatory reporting requirements, which would increase transparency, the MPs say.

The government and the tax authorities should also take a greater lead internationally in closing loopholes and increasing transparency in tax havens, particularly across Europe, the report concludes.

Osborne told BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show that he will work closely with France and Germany to close tax loopholes. “It will be a big priority for the G7, G8, which we host next year,” he said.

A spokesman for HMRC said it had reduced tax avoidance by large businesses in recent years. “We relentlessly challenge those that persist in avoiding tax and have recovered £29bn additional revenues from large businesses in the last six years, including £4.1bn in the last four years from transfer pricing inquiries alone. These figures speak for themselves.”

Source: Guardian News