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First-ever Shariah compliant ETF is here

January 30, 2009 17:30 IST

The market for Shariah funds is set to grow with Benchmark Mutual Fund launching the first-ever Shariah Benchmark Exchange-traded scheme in India. It's an open-ended listed index scheme.

The scheme will be benchmarked against the S&P CNX Shariah index, an index that was launched by Standard & Poor's and India Index Services & Products. Each unit is priced at 1/10th of the S&P CNX Nifty. The scheme will open for subscription on February 4 and close on February 25.

The S&P CNX Shariah index comprises stocks that are Shariah compliant. As a result, the fund will not invest in business activities related to pork, alcohol, gambling, financials, advertising and media (newspapers are allowed and sub-industries are analysed individually), pornography, tobacco and trading of gold and silver.

At present, the Nifty Shariah Index comprises 37 constituents as on January 13, 2009 and includes stocks such as Reliance Industries, Infosys Technologies, ONGC, Gail, Hindustan Unilever, Reliance Capital, State Bank of India, Tata Motors, HDFC, ICICI Bank among others.

Shariah-based equity investments do not allow investors to invest in excessive debt companies (no investments in companies that have debt-to-marketcap exceeding 33 per cent), companies with high outstanding receivables (net receivables in excess of 45 per cent of market cap) and companies that do not have at least 25 per cent of its capital in fixed assets.

"There is a big Muslim population here. We hope they will be interested in investing in this fund especially since this is the first fund of its kind," said Rajan Mehta, executive director at Benchmark asset management.

While Shariah funds have had a limited run in the Indian markets so far, they could pick up given the kind of products that are coming into the market. HSBC Asset Management has also launched a Shariah portfolio scheme for affluent Indian investors.

The HSBC Amanah India Shariah Portfolio is an actively managed open-ended equity offering wherein investors can invest in conformity with Islamic Shariah principles. The minimum investment amount for this customised product in Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2.5 million).

In November 2008, markets regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India also gave the go-ahead to Taurus mutual fund and its joint venture partner, Parsoli Corporation to set up a Shariah-compliant mutual fund. However, the fund house is yet to launch the product.

Globally, Shariah-compliant investments total around $65 billion. Of these, around 53 per cent of the assets or $35 billion, is held in mutual funds out of which $33.6 billion is managed by local fund managers and $1.4 billion is managed by foreign fund managers, according to the Asia Investor magazine website.

Saudi Arabia is the largest market in the world for Shariah mutual funds measured in terms of number of funds or by assets.

In Asia, Malaysia is also the most important market for Shariah funds. Internationally, other prominent markets for Shariah products are Middle East countries, Indonesia, Pakistan, United States and South Africa.

BS Reporter in Mumbai
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