The Gulf Arab emirate of Sharjah will arrange investor meetings this week and next in Asia, the Middle East and Europe ahead of a potential debut issue of sovereign sukuk, the director of its debt management office told Reuters on Monday.
Sharjah, the third largest of seven United Arab Emirates, is keen to expand its investor base; although it is growing robustly, it lacks the big oil reserves of Abu Dhabi or the commercial glamour of neighbouring Dubai.
“It will be U.S. dollar, ijara structure. It is going to be benchmark-sized,” Tom Koczwara said, adding that the exact size and tenor would be determined later.
Benchmark size is usually understood to be upwards of $500 million. The ijara structure is a leasing arrangement commonly used by Islamic bonds.
Sharjah appointed HSBC, Kuwait Finance House , National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Sharjah Islamic Bank and Standard Chartered to arrange the roadshows.
The access to international markets will help Sharjah diversify its funding base, reduce costs and extend its debt maturity profile, the emirate said in a presentation for investors seen by Reuters.
“The government plans to continue to use borrowing to fund priority capital investment, particularly where it generates a financial and/or economic return,” it said.
“Although the government aims to reduce the overall deficit over the coming years, there will continue to be a gross financing requirement as a result of the remaining deficit and maturing existing debt.”
Some $1.3 billion worth of government debt will mature between 2014 and 2019 and $133 million after 2019, the presentation showed. Some 74 per cent of the debt is in UAE dirhams while the rest is in U.S. dollars.
Sharjah’s gross government debt rose to 6.8 per cent of gross domestic product last year from 5.9 per cent in 2012. Total public sector net debt stood at 16.8 per cent of GDP in 2013.
In January, when the emirate obtained sovereign credit ratings from international agencies, Moody’s Investors Service projected Sharjah’s government debt-to-GDP ratio would stay below 10 per cent in 2014.
Moody’s assigned on Monday a provisional rating of A3 to the proposed sukuk issue, noting that the emirate’s debt repayment ability was constrained by a narrow revenue base as it lacks a value-added tax, sales tax or income taxes. Standard & Poor’s rates Sharjah’s government debt at A.
“Moody’s A3 government bond rating and stable outlook on Sharjah is primarily supported by the emirate’s very strong fiscal and government debt position, which benefits from the emirate’s membership in the United Arab Emirates,” Steffen Dyck, Moody’s lead sovereign analyst for Sharjah, said in a statement.
The Sharjah government has recorded small fiscal deficits of around one to two per cent of GDP on average since 2008. Last year, its budget deficit widened to $270.7 million from $233.9 million in 2012 as expenditures jumped over 13 per cent to $1.6 billion.
With a population of under one million, Sharjah is developing its tourism and manufacturing industries; the $22 billion economy accounts for only a little over five per cent of total UAE output.
Bond issues in the Gulf have attracted strong demand this year from international investors because of instability in other emerging markets and the region’s healthy economy.
The last sovereign debt issue from the UAE came from the unrated emirate of Dubai, which sold $750 million of 15-year sukuk in April, drawing $2.3 billion of investor demand.