(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)
By Hilary Johnson
Feb 6 (Reuters) - U.S. advisers who are not alert to the special investing needs of Muslims are missing an attractive segment of the investing populace.
The U.S. Muslim population is expected to reach 6.2 million by 2030, almost three times the nation’s 2.6 million Muslims in 2010, the Pew Research Center estimates.
Muslim-Americans are younger and better educated than the average U.S. citizen, according to Gallup data. Moreover, they want to see a greater number of appropriate financial products, according to market research firm DinarStandard.
Meeting their investing needs is similar to working with clients who want socially responsible investments, but it requires additional expertise.
Under Islamic, or Shariah law, investors must shun companies involved in, for example, alcohol, tobacco, gambling or weapons - restrictions common to many religious groups. Shariah law also prohibits interest, because loans should be charitable acts. This makes buying fixed-income securities problematic, and purchasing banking company stocks impossible.
Companies must also have little debt: about 30 percent interest-bearing debt to trailing 12-month average market capitalization, according to organizations that set Islamic investing standards.
More investment products are becoming available. They include sukuk, the Islamic alternative to bonds, where returns are based on profits from an underlying asset. One fund, Azzad Wise Capital Fund, is available to U.S. retail investors. More choices will likely emerge, advisers say.
Morgan Stanley adviser Mark Rogers in Farmington Hills, Michigan, helped his first Muslim-American client about 10 years ago and now serves more. He does not view them differently from clients who want socially responsible investments, he said.
“Once you understand how to apply the filter, it’s just business as usual,” Rogers said.
Naushad Virji, chief executive officer of Sharia Portfolio, launched his investment advisory firm in Lake Mary, Florida, 10 years ago and now serves clients in 21 states, he said.
Virji generally sticks to individual large-cap stocks, names with low debt such as Apple Inc and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc but said he is excited about developments in Islamic finance.
Amana Mutual Funds Trust, for example, and a new ETF from Falah Capital, Falah Russell-IdealRatings U.S. Large Cap ETF , are helping meet investors’ needs. But there is more to be done, Virji said. “We are in the infancy of Shariah-compliant investing in this country,” he said.
Advisers should go through each holding with clients to make sure they are happy with the choices, said Frank Marcoux, a partner at Wells Fargo’s Nelson Capital Management, a Wells Fargo & Co unit. Some clients are even more strict than even the standard-setters, Marcoux said.
Clients also should understand they cannot expect to beat a benchmark, when chunks of companies are missing, Marcoux said.
But the main point is that advisers can help Muslims get in the market, Marcoux said. “People are surprised that this type of product and strategy even exists, and very appreciative.” (Editing by Suzanne Barlyn, Lisa Shumaker)