When my Foolish colleague W.D. Crotty recently gave investors a good look at the newly public Caribou Coffee
After the deal is done, Caribou Coffee will still be controlled by its primary investor -- Arcapita Bank, formerly known as First Islamic Investment Bank. Those who run Arcapita (and its subsidiaries) do so according to Islamic principles collectively known as shari'ah (or shariah or sharia). Shari'ah encompasses a wide range of rules and customs, including some that directly impact the running of a business.
Specifically, shari'ah influences how the company borrows or lends money, how it may engage in derivative transactions, and what sorts of products it may sell. On the subject of borrowing and lending, shari'ah can be a bit confusing, and there is disagreement within the Islamic community as to what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable transactions. While Caribou has borrowed money in the past, investors should realize that negotiating future borrowings that comply with shari'ah could take a little time and might impair the company's access to quick sources of capital.
Other areas are decidedly clearer. Caribou will not engage in derivative transactions, which could impair the company's ability to hedge future coffee prices. Elsewhere, the company will not be engaging in activities pertaining to alcohol, gambling, pornography, or pork. I don't see how any of the first three will have any bearing on running a coffee shop to compete with the likes of Starbucks
The bigger risk in my view, though, is ignorance. Islam is not exactly well understood in this country, and there are a lot of people who go into knee-jerk reactions when they hear the word. Accordingly, companies in the U.S. like Caribou and its sister company Church's Chicken that run themselves according to shari'ah may be the unfair targets of malice, bias, and flat-out ignorance from time to time.
I find Caribou's position to be very interesting. I looked around and couldn't find another publicly traded U.S. company that was publicly committed to running itself within the principles of shari'ah. That could, perhaps, make it an attractive stock for those specialty investment vehicles that seek to invest in accordance with Islamic principles. In any case, it will be interesting to see whether the public takes any notice at all of Caribou's somewhat unusual operating philosophy.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).