Saudi Arabias largest bank by assets, National Commercial Bank (NCB), is pushing forward with plans to list on the kingdoms stock exchange (Tadawul), despite criticism from some Islamic clerics.
The lender, which is launching its offering on 19 October, has issued a statement saying the share offer is acceptable under Islamic law, according to its sharia advisory council.
After much thought and deliberations regarding the issue, the bank considers the initial public offering (IPO) in the banks stock to be permissible according to sharia, the statement read.
The offering came under fire from Islamic clerics, who said the IPO was not permitted under Islamic law because the bank had investments in sectors or businesses considered haram or forbidden. They said it was a sin and against lslamic teachings to buy shares in a company that was involved in usury.
In response to criticism, NCB has said more than two-thirds of its business is already sharia-compliant, and that it plans to be wholly compliant within a reasonable time period.
NCB is the last remaining unlisted bank in Saudi Arabia and aims to raise SR22.5bn ($6bn) with its IPO. The subscription period is set to close on 2 November.
The bank plans to sell 300 million shares to individual Saudi investors, which is equivalent to 15 per cent of the banks capital, according to a note on the Saudi bourse.
A further 200 million shares, the equivalent of 10 per cent of the banks capital, will be allocated for subscription by the state-owned Public Pension Agency. The shares are priced at SR45 each.
The shares were priced lower than expected and are seen as a means by the Saudi government to redistribute wealth in the kingdom.
If you add the fact that the Saudi Capital Markets Authority announced plans to open up the market to foreigners, this translates into a huge influx of capital and a corresponding rise in the value of NCB, distributing further wealth, says Akber Naqvi, executive director of Al-Masah Capital, based in Dubai.
The Tadawul is set to be open to foreign investment in 2015. Following this, the exchange could be upgraded to emerging market status on US-based MSCIs index by 2017.