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* Wealth manager, bourse launch debut $18 mln Islamic index
* Index to include heavy weight cement maker Dangote Cement
* Islamic asset mgt uptake growing double-digits -analyst (Adds quotes, details)
By Chijioke Ohuocha
LAGOS, July 30 (Reuters) - Islamic wealth manager Lotus Capital and Nigeria's bourse (NSE) on Monday launched a debut index of Nigerian Stock Exchange-listed companies that comply with centuries-old Islamic investment principles.
The NSE Lotus Islamic index, which covers 15 equities with combined market capitalisation of around 2.87 billion naira ($18 mln), excludes banks, companies with high levels of debt or leverage and other stocks that conflict with Islamic principles.
The stock exchange said the new index is designed to attract Sharia/ethical investors to Nigeria's fledgling stock market, particularly those from the Middle East.
The new index is weighted towards fast moving consumer good, cement, oil marketing and manufacturing sectors and includes heavyweight Dangote Cement.
No sector will be allowed to account for more than 40 percent of the index, Lotus said, noting that the index will be reviewed every six months.
It also said it had a buffer of 30 firms to consider for the inclusion at any one point but that stock liquidity was key. On debt, it said total debt as a percentage of the firms total value should not be more than 33 percent for it to qualify.
Islamic banking assets globally now exceed $1 trillion and could reach $4 trillion by 2020, analysts say, estimating $50 billion in managed funds invested according to Islamic principles in equities.
"Islamic products are new in Nigeria but the uptake is growing in double-digits," said an Islamic banking analyst, who declined to be named.
"Domestic pension funds are eligible to invest... and around half of Nigeria's 160 million people are Muslims, which gives an idea of the market size." ($1=160.90 naira) (Additional reporting by Oludare Mayowa; Editing by Jane Merriman and Mike Nesbit)