AMERICAN Express Bank and Faisal Finance (Jersey), part of the Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Group (DMI), have launched an Islamic umbrella fund which will invest in equities, trade finance, currencies and commodities. The fund’s sponsors hope to raise at least $100 million in the next 18 months.

The Islamic Multi-Investment Fund will be a portfolio of five mutual funds for investors outside the US. The five are labelled Islamic market opportunities, emerging markets equities, global equities, trade finance and the parallel purchase and sale of currencies and commodities. Investors will be able to choose a mixture of the funds or spread their money among the five. The trade finance fund will invest mainly in the OECD countries, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, while the currency and commodity fund will invest in countries where DMI has business interests.

Like all such Islamic investment vehicles, the fund will not invest in gambling, alcohol or foodstuffs forbidden by Islam, and will not take interest income. The fund’s sharia adviser will be the sharia board of DMI, and will be managed by American Express Asset Management.

One area where Islamic funds often vary is in the level of debt or debt- related income that they will accept in a given company before investing in it. An American Express spoke-sman says that this fund will set a 1:1 debt/equity ratio as a maximum. Interest income is typically stripped out of an Islamic fund’s earnings and paid to charity.

American Express has branches in Cairo and Beirut and a representative office in Dubai. It also controls one of Egypt’s bigger private-sector banks, Egyptian American Bank.