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Wed 27 Jun 2007 11:55 PM

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Gulf bankers cancel holidays for Sukuk rush

Holidays 'subject to deal closure' as bond desks work overtime to cope with deluge of sukuk this summer.

Gulf bankers arranging Islamic bond sales have had to cancel or postpone holidays to cope with a deluge of deals during the summer, traditionally a quiet time for business in a region winding down to cope with the heat.

Sales of Islamic bonds, or sukuk, have surged in the last year as more of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims seek investment vehicles that comply with their beliefs.

"We thought summer was going to be very quiet. We applied for our vacation ... all of us just cancelled. We are not going to go anywhere. There's a huge number of sukuk coming," Jaafar Badwan of Bahrain's Unicorn Investment Bank said.

Bankers' estimates for global sukuk sales this year range from $27 billion to $50 billion, up from $10.2 billion last year, according to ratings agency Moody's.

Sukuk comply with Islam's ban on lending on interest and the trading of debt, and are backed by physical assets.

Gulf petrodollars have been driving growth as oil prices tripled in the last five years, catching the attention of many non-Muslim investors.

Only a quarter of port operator DP World's $1.5 billion of sukuk last week was bought by Middle Eastern investors.

Earlier this month, Deutsche Bank told Reuters it expected $10 billion of sukuk to hit the market in the first two weeks of July alone, and that global sales may more than double this year to $50 billion.

"We were hoping ours would clear by the summer, but for various reasons it just rolled over to next month... The volume of sukuk is several times that of last year," Afaq Khan, head of Islamic banking at Standard Chartered, said.

"All holidays are subject to deal closure."

HSBC Holding Plc expects to arrange the sale of as much as $3 billion in Islamic bonds in the Middle East in the third quarter, Hissam Kamal Hassan head of Islamic finance in Saudi Arabia, said.

Gulf businesses usually turn quiet during the summer as executives try to escape the heat of the desert.

The summer lull has now becalmed stock markets and other parts of the financial industry but bond desks are working overtime, partly because banks are trying to close deals before the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, bankers said.

Most people will be more reluctant to travel to roadshows during Ramadan, due to start in mid-September, when Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk.