Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes Highlight Fears of a Double-dip Economy

The Dow Jones Islamic Market (DJIM) Indexes posted losses across the board in May. Only two composites gained territory (as of the close of trading of 25 May): the DJIM Amana Sri Lanka Index (up 1.30%, closing at 1,766.82 points) and the Dow Jones Citigroup Sukuk Index (1% higher at 120.21 points). The latter index measures the performance of dollar-dominated Islamic bonds with investment grade. In contrast to conventional bonds, sukuk do not pay interest rates to investors, because interest, or riba, are considered to be un-Islamic, or haram, as stated in the Holy Quran (Sura 2, 275). Sukuk distribute a profit rate based on a tangible asset. A Sukuk Al-Ijarah, for example, is a financial vehicle with the aim to provide capital to real estate lease projects and its investors.

The hot topic in May was the Greece debt crisis that transformed into a euro crisis. With a government deficit of 9.3% of its gross domestic prodcut (GDP) 2010, and a gross debt of over US$350bn – of which foreign holders have a 75% share – Hellas became the problem-child of the EU. Only a US$1 trillion rescue package and ‘protection shield’ for Greece launched by the IMF and the EU could save the euro currency from collapsing against the US dollar.

In the wake of the turbulences at stock markets, Germany issued a ban on short-selling for certain financial stocks, a move that is coincidentally in line with Islamic law. Short-selling is haram since Islam, in addition to riba, denies excessive speculation (i.e. gambling) called maysir. Selling stocks and buying them later back at a cheaper price puts entities under stress and can force them to downsize business and staff, thus hurting society.

Germany’s move proofs that Islamic finance is not a conventional investment style ‘dressed up in halal-clothes’, as critics of the Islamic banking model frequently state. In fact, Islamic investing protects capital as highly leveraged firms are considered haram as well. These publicly listed firms are excluded from the Dow Jones Islamic Market Index, as are companies from the conventional finance industry and alcohol, tobacco, and weapons producing and those from the entertainment industry.

On the bottom of the charts were the Islamic indexes of the emerging markets of Turkey (off 20.05% at 2,874.58 points) and Indonesia (20.47% lower at 1,084.92 points). The euro debt crisis is mirrored in the monthly loss of 16.39% of the DJIM Europe Titans 25 Index (ending at 1,714.05 points). Turkey, which is not member of the EU, suffers from the weak euro currency, making Turkish goods expensive in its main export market. The Islamic index in South Korea was also down. It dropped 17.21% at 696.15 points due to war threats from North Korea.

The conventional global bellwether Dow Jones Industrial Index in New York, which measures the performance of 30 US blue chip shares, was down mildly, closing 8.76% lower at 10,043.75 points on 255 May. Meanwhile, the euro debt crisis continued in Spain, where real estate collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis, forcing the relatively small bank CajaSur to ask by the Spanish government for a rescue initiative.

With fears of a global double dip rising, oil prices lost 16.60% in May, trading around US$70 per barrel. This led to a DJIM Oil and Gas index loss of also 16% in May, the largest sector index loss. All sectors weakened significantly. Although primarily an oil reliant country, Kuwaiti halal stocks continue to outperform their Islamic peers in other markets. The DJIM Index of the Northern Gulf state lost only 6.78% (closing at 880.89 points), and with a year-to-date performance of 2.20%, is one of the best indexes in the Dow Jones Islamic index universe.

The markets are in a new-found ‘wait and see’ stance. There is much anticipation to find out whether the bulls will break and continue their run; or whether the bears will be proven right after all.


Related reading