* Islamic banks have issued only two sukuk so far
* Fast asset growth has left capital ratios relatively low
* Last September's sovereign issue may clear way for banks
* Subordinated issues might not be expensive for banks
* Would diversify funding beyond deposits, murabaha
By Nevzat Devranoglu and Bernardo Vizcaino
ISTANBUL/SYDNEY, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Strong investor demand and a need to improve capital adequacy ratios are causing Turkey's Islamic banks to consider issuing subordinated sukuk, bankers and analysts say.
Ibrahim Oguducu, head of the financial institutions business at Bank Asya, the country's largest Islamic bank, said longer-tenor subordinated sukuk would help balance mismatches between the maturities of banks' liabilities and assets, while diversifying their funding sources.
"A public subordinated sukuk transaction would definitely attract more investor appetite than murabaha," said Oguducu, declining to say whether his bank specifically was considering such an issue.
Turkey's four Islamic banks have so far issued only two sukuk; both were from Kuveyt Turk, which is 62 percent owned by Kuwait Finance House and raised a total of $450 million in 2010 and 2011.
That is likely to change soon. Bank Asya said in December that it was finalising a 100-150 million lira sukuk issue and also planned a $200-300 million dollar-denominated sukuk in the next two or three months.
Officials at Al Baraka Turk, a unit of Bahraini lender Al Baraka, have been talking about a $200 million sukuk issue for over a year.
The Turkish government's landmark issue last September of a $1.5 billion sukuk, which drew massive demand, may be the trigger for such plans finally to go ahead.
While subordinated instruments are more expensive for issuers than their secured counterparts, the current appetite for Turkish debt seems strong enough to translate into favourable pricing for the banks, protecting their profit margins in the increasingly competitive banking sector.
And with Basel III global banking standards expected to be phased in from this year, some Turkish banks could consider subordinated instruments to raise capital, according to Alex Roussos, counsel at the Norton Rose law firm in Dubai.
"Current capitalisation levels of certain banks and the desire for innovation would encourage them to consider such a structure," Roussos said.
"Where the underlying credit is solid and the issuer can present a good story, the hike in pricing of a subordinated sukuk will not be as painful. Issuers know they will still be able to get a decent pricing despite the subordinated nature of the instrument."
Turkey's Islamic banks, which describe themselves as "participation banks" because of domestic political sensitivities and to adhere to local law, have in the past obtained their funding mostly from retail deposits and short-term, syndicated murabaha loans. Murabaha is a common cost-plus-profit arrangement in Islamic finance.
Subordinated sukuk could give them a welcome alternative to these sources, while classifying the sukuk as Tier 2 capital would help the banks meet the regulator's minimum 12 percent capital adequacy requirement as a proportion of assets.
Although Turkish Tier 2 bonds have in the past priced about 85 basis points higher than comparable Eurobonds, a Tier 2 sukuk could see tighter pricing, a London-based banker estimated.
"This spread may be a little bit narrower as sukuk investors are of a different style and may accept a narrower spread," he said. In many parts of world, sukuk have been pricing slightly tighter than conventional bonds because of a shortage of supply relative to the size of cash-rich Islamic funds.
Turkey's Islamic banks have enjoyed a jump in assets over the last year, but profitability and capital adequacy remain concerns.
The banks held a combined 68.9 billion lira ($38.8 billion) of assets in November, or 5.2 percent of the country's banking assets, according to Turkish brokerage IS Investment. This represented 24.7 percent growth from a year earlier, compared to 10.2 percent growth for the overall banking sector.
But net income for Islamic banks grew only 10 percent in the same period versus a 37 percent increase for the overall banking sector, the report showed.
The capital adequacy ratio (CAR) for the Islamic banks combined stood at 13.68 percent in November, a fall of 0.34 percentage point from a year earlier, data from the regulator showed. The ratio for the overall banking sector was 17.39 percent, up 1.02 percentage point.
"Participation banks like Al Baraka and Bank Asya have relatively low capital adequacy ratios. Subordinated bonds will boost their CAR and they will have a freer hand in giving out loans," said Duygun Kutucu, senior analyst at brokerage Burgan Securities.
"I think these (subordinated sukuk) will have a more profound impact on loan growth."
Bank Asya's CAR stood at 13.77 percent as of September 2012, while Al Baraka's was at 12.45 percent, according to bank financials. Kuveyt Turk's CAR was 14.91 percent as of June 2012, according to a bank statement; Turkiye Finans, majority-owned by Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank, had a CAR of 14.24 percent as of December 2011. (Editing by Andrew Torchia)