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|13 August, 2018

Saudi refinance firm plans Islamic bond issues to fund mortgage drive

Saudi Real Estate Refinance Co plans to begin issuing Islamic bonds in coming months to finance its drive to expand the kingdom's home mortgage market

Image used for illustrative purpose.

Image used for illustrative purpose.

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RIYADH  - Government-owned Saudi Real Estate Refinance Co (SRC) plans to begin issuing Islamic bonds in coming months to finance its drive to expand the kingdom's home mortgage market, its chief executive said on Monday.

Founded in 2017 by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the country's top sovereign wealth fund, SRC has so far operated with financing from the PIF and short-term deals with banks.

It will now begin issuing sukuk to raise money, first in Saudi riyals but eventually in foreign currencies to attract international investors, Fabrice Susini said in an interview.

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Initial issues will be private placements but SRC aims to make its first public sukuk issue in late September or early October, probably of at least 300 million to 500 million riyals ($80 million to $133 million), he said.

SRC is part of a government-backed effort to solve one of Saudi Arabia's biggest social and economic problems, a shortage of affordable housing, by developing the market for home loans, which is small by international standards.

The company aims eventually to refinance 20 percent of Saudi Arabia's primary home loans market, which authorities hope to expand to 500 billion riyals by 2020 and 800 billion riyals by 2028 from 290 billion riyals now.

So far, SRC has signed memorandums of understanding to provide banks and home finance companies with slightly less than 6 billion riyals of financing, through portfolio acquisitions and short-term deals.

Susini said increasing the availability of long-term, fixed-rate residential mortgages (LTFRs) would be key to growing the market. This month SRC began offering LTFRs of 15-20 years through banks and other finance firms.

So far, banks have generally offered such mortgages only to employees of major companies and other people with stable cash incomes. Susini said that with SRC's intervention, LTFRs could ultimately account for half or 60 percent of the mortgage market rather than their current level of a third.

“We want to create a situation in which access to LTFRs is no longer restricted and they are available to the mass of people," he said.

Another goal of SRC, which models itself partly on U.S. housing finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is to jump-start a securitisation market in Saudi Arabia by packaging home loans into mortgage-backed securities for sale to domestic and international investors.

Susini, previously global head of securitisation at French bank BNP Paribas, said technical and legal preparations and other work on the project could take two or three years.

(Reporting by Andrew Torchia; editing by Andrew Roche) ((andrew.torchia@thomsonreuters.com; +9715 6681 7277; Reuters Messaging: andrew.torchia.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))