Eastern Promise

Innovative bond offerings and Islamic financings are keeping international firms in Asia busy

Malaysia

News that Clifford Chance had to ask Singapore-based capital markets associates to take voluntary sabbaticals and in March made banking and capital markets associates redundant in London is not good for aspiring lawyers. However, in contrast to the slowdown in capital markets and traditional banking and finance deals, debt financing and innovative bonds offerings are increasingly active, particularly in Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

Many international firms are being kept busy by their Asia-based clients in issuing senior notes. In the event of financial difficulties or liquidation of the borrower’s assets, holders of senior debt have a priority claim.

Davis Polk advised on several major senior notes issuances in Asia recently, acting for the purchasers on the $500m (£313m) senior notes offering by Sinopec Group Overseas Development. The issuer was advised by Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.

Latham & Watkins has also been active in this area. It recently advised Thailand’s PTT Global Chemical on its $1bn senior notes issuance on the Singapore Exchange. In the same deal, Allen & Overy’s Thailand office and Davis Polk’s Hong Kong office advised the banks.

Sukuk, or Islamic bonds, are another main source of funding for companies in Asia and the Middle East. In July 2012, Latham and White & Case landed roles on one of Qatar’s largest-ever dollar-denominated sukuk issuances – the $4bn bond issuance by the State of Qatar. It is regarded as a significant development in the sovereign debt market and also milestone in the sukuk market.

While US firms are winning big-ticket debt financing work, magic circle firms are leading the market in innovative bonds offerings.

In light of Malaysia’s efforts to establish itself as an international Islamic finance centre with a reputation for product innovation, Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance have been called in to advise Malaysian telecoms group Axiata on its $1.5bn multi-currency Sukuk Issuance Programme.

Clifford Chance global head of Islamic finance Qudeer Latif said the issuance set a precedent in using a Wakala structure in a currency of choice, which provides more flexibility for issuers in aligning financing with business needs. Islamic finance will continue to develop and grow, with Asia leading the pace. That’s why it deserves more of our attention.