Can it be done? Yes, well, maybe, or depending on our viewpoint, definitely not. There are two standard methods for delivering structured product cashflows to investors that are in common use today. Both are exceptionally simple and banks seem to believe they are applicable in a wide variety of cases. As we have already spoken at some length on the Wa'd Swap (see here, here, and here), we will focus on the Rolled Murabaha.
Sample Structured Product
We take as a case in point a principal protected commodity-linked range-accrual. The example structure will be as follows with initial price of $100.
Final Payoff in year 5: $100 + (LIBOR(t)+Spread)x Num x $100
where Num = (1/252) number of days over the 5Y of the product that
Commodity(t) is between LB (Lower Bound)
To structure this conventionally we need the following:
- We purchase a zero-coupon bond. With prevailing rates at 5% and the structure maturing in 5Y, the cost is around $75.
- With the remaining $25, we enter into the risky trade, effectively purchasing a warrant/option linked to this range accrual cashflow. If we simplify the structure to say that it pays (HighFixedInterestRate)xNum x $100, we note that this is merely a set of daily digital options on the commodity, struck at LB and UB. The payoff of each daily digital is exactly HighFixedInterestRate x $100 x 1/252. Each payoff is tiny, so the premium for each daily digital is also tiny. Combined it will be $25 worth.
- In reality, nobody would hedge using daily digitals. The trader uses a model to determine greeks (deltas, gammas, vegas) with respect to the commodity and commodity vol, etc. The structure is a bit tricky since the gamma switches signs at the boundaries, effectively leading to more erratic hedging behaviour. Nonetheless, it is a very standard product.
We should fully expect that Spread is relatively large to make this attractive, and that in a backtest the structure will appears to have some amazing return over the last 10 years (as though someone actually offered us the structure for the last 10 years? NOT!).
Rolling Murabaha: Shariah Compliant Alternatives
This would be a standard commodity-linked range-accrual product. Unfortunately, we cannot deliver it exactly as is, but with some very minor modifications.
- First we enter into a 5Y murabaha which matures at value $100 (the principal protection). The markup will be prevailing 5Y swap rates (since there is no 5Y LIBOR). If rates are close to 5%, then we effectively use $75 for this.
- The bank offers the investor a unilateral undertaking to enter into a subsequent murabaha starting in 5Y for the duration of 1M. This second murabaha will have a markup of (LIBOR+Spread)xNum x $100 where this markup is determined from today to year 5 at which point it is fixed.
- If the markup is less than or equal to 0 (it will not be negative in this specific example but we can devise cases where it easily could be), the client receives $100 in year 5 and chooses not to roll into the second murabaha.
- If the markup is in fact positive , the client will choose excercise the wa'd and roll into the second murabaha, receiving $100 + (LIBOR+Spread)xNum x $100 in 5Y and 1M.
The deconstructionalist approach
Now, principal protected product can easily be decomposed into a risk-free principal protection piece (well, not exactly risk-free since it is usually financial paper!), and a risky option/warrant. Oftentimes this warrant can and will be traded separately, depending on the risk-profiles of the end-user. In Europe, most retail want principal protection, while in Asia, warrants are quite common.
In this specific case, we can split off the first murabaha as an ordinary murabaha (i.e., a zero-coupon bond). In the above example we invested $75 in the first murabaha. Where did the remaining $25 go?
It was spent on the warrant. Effectively, we spent $25 to purchase a wa'd (promise) to enter a murabaha starting in 5Y time, maturing in 5Y1M, with a markup linked to a particularly off-market rate of (LIBOR+Spread)xNum x $100.
We have effectively purchased a promise. And this undertaking allows us to enter into a murabaha not at the prevailing rate of 1M LIBOR at that time, but instead some odd range-accrual-linked cashflow.
Note that unlike the conventional structure which can be sold to a third party or resold to the bank, this rolled murabaha is not transferrable. Otherwise it would be bay' al dayn (sale of debt). The wa'd swap structure is fully transferrable.
The Criticism: Short but Sweet
We state the criticism of this structure succinctly.
- The structure involves entering a murabaha with a markup linked to a possibly non-shariah-compliant underlying/cashflow. The muslim investor, by buying this product, enables, enjoins or effectly invests in non-compliant products. (that extra $25 that was set aside to buy daily digitals in the conventional case? Well, here it 'buys a promise to enter a murabaha'. Effectively, it allows/compels the hedging bank to hedge using options and futures, etc, all haram assets. Consequently, Sh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo's objection to the Shariah-Conversion Technology applies here (see here). NB: If the second murabaha had a markup linked only to halal underlyings then Sh Yusuf's objection does not apply.
- The structure involves a purchase of a promise (to enter a second murabaha). Can promises be purchased? Wa'd is a unilateral promise with no consideration under virtually all definitions. Can it be purchased? I believe most shaykhs would say no. A promise is an intangible which cannot be owned and cannot be the subject matter of sale in Islam. One cannot even buy usufruct, let alone intangibles such as promises. Instead the nomenclature is that the offering bank asks to charge an 'upfront fee' to offset expenses for offering this wa'd/undertaking. But a 'fee' is consideration. The wa'd has suddenly been turned into a unilateral promise for consideration.
Note that this method for packaging structured product is in fact very common. Many if not most structured product are delivered this way. The wa'd swap is playing catchup.
Note as well that all the interesting and more intricate structures we have talked about in this blog are rarely used for structured product cashflows. Why? Because they are more costly and not nearly as general!
The wa'd swap and the rolled murabaha are so simple we can even devise platforms for their issuance and standardized legal matter for each new product. It has revolutionized Islamic Structuring. No need to think of how to adapt this or that Islamic Contract and combine them to deliver interesting end-results. Instead we can just jam it all into Murabahas or Wa'd swaps.
Mass production on the way!