25 February 2009

Murabahah Trade Financing

Originally, Murabahah is a particular type of sale and not a mode of financing. However, in the perspective of the current economic set up, there are certain practical difficulties in using Mudarabah and Musyarakah instruments in some areas of financing. Therefore, the contemporary Syariah experts have allowed, subject to certain conditions, the use of Murabahah on deferred payment basis as a mode of financing. But there are two essential points which must be fully understood in this respect:

1. It should never be overlooked that, originally Murabahah is not a mode of financing. It is only a device to escape from “interest” and not an ideal instrument for carrying out the real economic objectives of Islam. Therefore, this instrument should be used as a transitory step taken in the process of Islamization of the economy, and its use should be restricted only to those cases where Mudarabah or Musyarakah are not practicable.

2. The second important point is that the Murabahah transaction does not come into existence by merely replacing the word “interest” by the words “profit” or “mark-up”. Actually, Murabahah as a mode of finance, has been allowed by the Syariah scholars with some conditions. Unless these conditions are fully observed, Murabahah is not permissible. In fact, it is the observance of these conditions which can draw a clear line of distinction between an interest bearing loan and a transaction of Murabahah. If these conditions are neglected, the transaction becomes invalid according to Syariah.

Basic Features of Murabahah Financing:

1. Murabahah is not a loan given on interest. It is the sale of a commodity for a deferred price which includes an agreed profit added to the cost.

2. Being a sale, and not a loan, the Murabahah should fulfil all the conditions necessary for a valid sale, especially those enumerated earlier in this chapter.

3. Murabahah cannot be used as a mode of financing except where the client needs funds to actually purchase some commodities. For example, if he wants funds to purchase cotton as a raw material for his ginning factory, the Bank can sell him the cotton on the basis of Murabahah. But where the funds are required for some other purposes, like paying the price of commodities already purchased by him, or the bills of electricity or other utilities or for paying the salaries of his staff, Murabahah cannot be effected, because Murabahah requires a real sale of some commodities, and not merely advancing a loan.

4. The financier must have owned the commodity before he sells it to his client.

5. The commodity must come into the possession of the financier, whether physical or constructive, in the sense that the commodity must be in his risk, though for a short period.

6. The best way for Murabahah, according to Syariah, is that the financier himself purchases the commodity and keeps it in his own possession, or purchases the commodity through a third person appointed by him as agent before he sells it to the customer. However, in exceptional cases, where direct purchase from the supplier is not practicable for some reason, it is also allowed that he makes the customer himself his agent to buy the commodity on his behalf. In this case the client first purchases the commodity on behalf of his financier and takes its possession as such. Thereafter, he purchases the commodity from the financier for a deferred price. His possession over the commodity in the first instance is in the capacity of an agent of his financier. In this capacity he is only a trustee, while the ownership vests in the financier and the risk of the commodity is also borne by him as a logical consequence of the ownership. But when the client purchases the commodity from his financier, the ownership, as well as the risk, is transferred to the client.

7. As mentioned earlier, the sale cannot take place unless the commodity comes into the possession of the seller, but the seller can promise to sell even when the commodity is not in his possession. The same rule is applicable to Murabahah.

8. In the light of the aforementioned principles, a financial institution can use the Murabahah as a mode of finance by adopting the following procedure:

(i) The client and the institution sign an overall agreement whereby the institution promises to sell and the client promises to buy the commodities from time to time on an agreed ratio of profit added to the cost. This agreement may specify the limit up to which the facility may be availed.

(ii) When a specific commodity is required by the customer, the institution appoints the client as his agent for purchasing the commodity on its behalf, and an agreement of agency is signed by both the parties.

(iii) The client purchases the commodity on behalf of the institution and takes its possession as an agent of the institution.

(iv) The client informs the institution that he has purchased the commodity on his behalf, and at the same time, makes an offer to purchase it from the institution.

(v) The institution accepts the offer and the sale is concluded whereby the ownership as well as the risk of the commodity is transferred to the client.

All these five stages are necessary to effect a valid Murabahah. If the institution purchases the commodity directly from the supplier (which is preferable) it does not need any agency agreement. In this case, the second phase will be dropped and at the third stage the institution itself will purchase the commodity from the supplier, and the fourth phase will be restricted to making an offer by the client.

24 February 2009

Step To Mitigate Trade Risks

Since the establishment of the UCP, it has never been intentionally to address or mitigate issues on fraud. The primary purpose of formulating the UCP is to provide a set of uniformity governing the conduct of trade activity in commerce. It is aimed at ensuring smooth transition of goods, services and payment. As the life blood of commerce, money, regardless of currency is what the protection needed the most and not be compromised at any cost.

Article 4 and article 5 of UCP 600 formed what is known as the principle of autonomy where it is solely to protect the integrity of payment obligation by banks. In other words, it means the letter of credit only guarantees the payment provided that the terms and conditions of the credit are complied with.

But, what about the integrity of the beneficiary or seller? How does buyer establish the performance capability of the seller, credit standing, business history and other important aspects related to trade?

This is an issue which is not covered in the UCP and there are no official guidelines on how to go about in establishing the integrity of the seller especially when the seller is domiciled in different country.

The buyer is always advised to conduct independent checking through Chamber of Commerce or by obtaining confirmation letter from the seller’s bank before concluding any agreement. This method however, is not favourable by most traders as the turn around time to get a reply is considerably long and in most cases it is viewed as not practical. Not only time, but the genuineness and precision of information are also very important to buyers in making business decision especially in establishing a first time trade relationship. Replies received from banks in most cases are not helping the buyer in making business decision.

A reputable third party private company, American Heritage is a good source of obtaining information on companies registered in the United States. Buyers may easily access to millions of active company through their marketing list. Information like owner of the company, business type, branches, number of employees and others can be easily obtained from their mailing leads. Financial information on the other hand is available from their mortgage mailing list.

Although this may not provide a guarantee but, it gives a very good overview of who the buyer is dealing with and what is the next course of action to be taken.

11 February 2009

Original And Copies

This is a very confusing topic for most of traders as well as bankers. The difference is only technical. In fact, I had tough time checking documents under letter of credit when it comes to establishing original or copies. 

Documents like Insurance Certificate, transport documents, official documents issued by third party do not require so much of scrutinizing as they are issued regularly on a daily basis to traders. 

These documents are always issued in original and copies. The problem is with the beneficiary or seller when issuing invoice or packing list.

What is original?

From the letter of credit point of view, original document is a document which does not bear any statement saying “copy” on the face of the invoice, for example. 

Even if the invoice is issued using preprinted stationery complete with address, contact number, seller’s trading mark and signed but bears a statement or stamp says “copy”, it is deemed to be a copy and not original. In the absence of the statement or stamp “copy”, the invoice is considered as original.

I had come across an invoice during my days way back in 1980s, from Hong Kong. It was hand written, signed and stamped with Chinese character in red. It did not bear any statement “original” or “copy”. 

This is, from the letter of credit point of view, an original invoice. An invoice which is computer generated is also original even if it is not signed by the issuer and does not bear statement “copy”. But if the letter of credit specifically requests for a signed invoice, it should be signed.

As a general rule, invoice issued using an issuer’s original stationery and does not bear any statement “copy” or computer generated or a carbon copy bearing the statement “original” is considered original. 

Take Bill of lading for example, it is always issued in multiple original, 1st original, 2nd original 3rd original and so on. The 2nd original onwards is customarily issued in carbon copies. But they are considered original because they bear the statement “original”.

To be safe and not to be caught with unnecessary discrepancy, I encourage you to issue all your invoices in original. Letter of credit may request 2 original and 2 copies. It is not a discrepancy if you present all 4 invoices in original.

03 February 2009

Original Invoice and Copies

Two days ago I received an email from abroad concerning “original” and “copies” of invoice. The issue of original and copies have been brought to the attention of ICC many years ago when UCP 500 was still in force. It was a big issue where there were cases ended up in legal disputes.

To make this very clear, I think it is best to look at four situations below:

1. LC requests original invoice
2. LC requests a specific number of original invoice
3. LC permits copies of invoice
4. LC does not mention original invoice or copies

Upon receipt of the LC, it is very important to check and fully aware the terms of the LC such the issuing date, expiry date, the last day of presentation, availability of the LC and the date of shipment, to name a few. When these particulars are agreeable, look at the conditions like documents requirements, special instructions and the rest of the particulars.

Alright, let’s get back to invoice. Pay attention to field 46A (Documents required). Read carefully what are the documents required, number of pieces required. And cross check with field 47A (Additional conditions) to see if there is any special instruction where seller needs to perform.

If the LC requests the original invoice to be presented without specifically mentioned number of original, it means that at least one original invoice should be submitted. This will satisfy the requirement of the LC.

On the other hand, if the LC specifically mentioned “3 original invoice”, it means that 3 original invoice must be presented by the seller. This is a clear cut case.

Sometimes LC specifically mentioned, invoice in “3 copies”, “in duplicate” or “in two fold”. In this case, seller is said to have satisfied the condition of the LC by presenting at least one original invoice and the rest can be in copies. This is in accordance with article 17(a) of UCP 600.

If the LC does not mention either original invoice or copies to be presented, the seller shall present either original invoice or copies.

30 January 2009

Discrepancy In Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice is the commonest document in international trade because nearly no letter of credit issued without stipulating an invoice. In most cases, commercial invoice is the only document which the beneficiary issues himself which is in accordance with UCP 600, article 18(a)(i), “…A commercial invoice must appear to have been issued by the beneficiary (except as provided in article 38).”

It is the primary document where it reflects out what the goods are in respect of which presentation is been made and it states the price which is being claimed in respect of them. It serves as an accounting document and documentary evident in which the seller declares that he has sold to the buyer, what he has sold and at what price he has sold.

With regards to the commercial letter of credit, an invoice is a specific document which is closely related to the goods/services, quantity and price. The “description” of the goods is normally the cause for discrepancy which resulted in rejection by banks. This is because most of the traders do not understand the implications of non compliance.

To describe details of the goods should not at all be a major problem because it should go according to what is already described in field 45A of SWIT format. It is as simple as copying the description in a letter of credit into an invoice. For example, if the description in field 45A states “Advertising balloons and advertising blimps: 100 sets of helium balloons, 150 sets of advertising balloons and 50 sets of advertising blimps”, the invoice should bear the same description.

However, article 14(d) of UCP 600 in a way, provides allowance to the beneficiary where the description of the goods/services need not be identical but must not conflict with any data in any other document called for under the letter of credit. But bear in mind, a slightest mistake which brings a different meaning and does not refer to the goods mentioned in the letter of credit or ambiguous description, it is deemed to be a discrepancy by the bank. Therefore, to avoid any unnecessary disputes later on, the "description" is best to appear as a mirror-image.

The description of the goods/services in Insurance Certificate or Bill of Lading for example, may be described in general and need not be exactly as what is described in the invoice or letter of credit. It can be as general as “Advertising balloons and advertising blimps”. On principle, all data contents in all documents and the letter of credit itself must not conflict with each other.

29 January 2009


Society For Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication or in short SWIFT is a private international telecommunication network which was established in Belgium in early 1970s and became operational on May 9, 1977. SWIFT however, is not a financial institution but provides telecommunication service for transmission of financial and non-financial messages to all member banks worldwide. SWIFT is solely a transporter of messages. It does not hold funds nor does it manage accounts on behalf of customers, nor does it store financial information on an on-going basis.

As a message transporter, SWIFT transports messages between two financial institutions. This activity involves the secure exchange of proprietary data while ensuring its confidentiality and integrity.By introducing IPSec-based security, a suite of protocols for securing Internet Protocols (IP) communications, SWIFT continues to maintain its leadership in providing the most secure financial messaging services.

Interested e-commerce community who wish to get connected with SWIFT may subscribe to their direct connectivity facility using SWIFTNet services. Before subscribing, it is advisable to access to web hosting articles to find out more information on various ranges of software and security features available in the market.

Web hosting articles provide good source of information for the public, particularly e-commerce community in obtaining a holistic understanding on how the electronic medium works in message transmission while at the same time maintaining the security that is the most important feature.

Every bank that subscribes to SWIFT is assigned with a Bank Identifier Code or BIC which is a unique code to identify each different bank. For example, RHB Bank, one of the anchor banks in Malaysia and a member of SWIFT is identified with the BIC, RHBBMYKL. When SWIFT sends any message to this BIC, it will reach RHB Bank head office in Malaysia. It works on a basic concept similar to an email address or domain name as explained in many web hosting articles over the internet. There are two types of BIC, 8 character BIC or known as "BIC8" and 11 character BIC which is known as "BIC11". A BIC8 identifies a financial institution in a country or a location whereas BIC11 identifies the financial institution’s branch.

Messages sent through SWIFT are formatted according to message type, for example, MT100, MT700, MT202, MT799 and so on. The format is arranged using a specific alpha numeric code to identify data like name of beneficiary, name of a bank, location, amount, sender and other related information. This will enhance the processing of different type of messages by member banks before transmitting them to their respective branches.

24 January 2009

High-tech cargo theft

The transportation industry in the U.S is reported to be within the circa of USD2.7 trillion. This statistic represents 17 percent of the whole U.S economy. Out of this, it is reported that around USD30 to USD50 billion worth of cargo is stolen worldwide each year. This alarming figure demands a serious security measure to be integrated into the transportation and delivery processes especially when dealing with high-tech cargo, for example electronic devices. These items are essential in industrial automation and attract high demand worldwide in pursuing to lower the cost of production and enhancing operations.

Trading parties, therefore need to conduct due diligent on transport operators or forwarding agents before appointing one. This is important for both trading parties because the movement of the cargo from the point of origin to the final destination should be readily updated and accessible at any time to both parties.

The security measures increasingly critical when dealing with parties of different countries. For example, ABC Technology, a company located in Malaysia is buying solid state relays, electromagnetic relays and relay socket PCD from Mil-Com Components, a company domicile in the U.S. Even if the trade term CIF is agreed upon by both parties, the buyer still can make a suggestion to the seller, Mil-Com to appoint a well established transport operator which also has an office in Malaysia. Although, the obligation to contract for transport lies in the hand of the seller, but the buyer may determine which transport operator he is comfortable with.

However, there are many other aspects leading to loss of cargo or stolen cargo such as the spread of global crime syndicates where a new breed of smarter criminals able to adapt to the new technologies of the cargo transportation industry.
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