Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said she’s confident in the outlook for economic growth and warned that waiting too long to end the era of near-zero interest rates could force the central bank to tighten too quickly, which would risk disrupting financial markets and the six-year expansion.
“Were the FOMC to delay the start of policy normalization for too long, we would likely end up having to tighten policy relatively abruptly to keep the economy from significantly overshooting both of our goals,” Yellen told the Economic Club of Washington on Wednesday. “Such an abrupt tightening would risk disrupting financial markets and perhaps even inadvertently push the economy into recession.”
Her comments are the latest sign that the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee is poised to raise interest rates for the first time since 2006 at its Dec. 15-16 meeting in Washington. Fed officials have been trying to gauge whether the economy is headed toward their goals and can sustain growth as rates increase.
“On balance, economic and financial information received since our October meeting has been consistent with our expectations of continued improvement in the labor market,” Yellen said Wednesday. That “helps strengthen confidence that inflation will move back to our 2 percent objective over the medium term.”
Yellen emphasized that policy makers will receive a range of data on the labor market, inflation and economic activity between now and the December meeting that will influence their decision.
‘Mind Is Set’
Even so, “you come away thinking that her mind is set on a rate hike in December,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy head of U.S. research and strategy at TD Securities LLC in New York. “We got the sense from her that what she’s seen so far is that the economy can handle that initial rate hike.”
The Fed’s Beige Book economic survey, released later Wednesday, showed a “modest” pace of expansion across most of the U.S. in October and November amid rising consumer spending. Pay gains were described as “generally stable to increasing,” with most districts saying wage pressures were only building for skilled workers and employees in short supply.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes climbed from a one-month low and the dollar hovered near the highest in more than a decade as investors reacted to Yellen’s remarks, which also pointed to recent improvements in the labor market and wages as positive signs.
“We have seen a welcome pickup in the growth rate of average hourly earnings for all employees and of compensation per hour in the business sector,” she said. “While it is too soon to conclude whether these more rapid rates of increase will continue, a sustained pickup would likely signal a diminution of labor market slack.”
U.S. employers added 271,000 jobs in October, the most this year, and unemployment has dipped to 5 percent, half of its 2009 peak. The Labor Department’s gauge of average hourly earnings has shown early signs of picking up, with 2.5 percent year-over-year growth in October, the highest since 2009. The final employment report before the December meeting is scheduled for release on Friday in Washington.
Inflation remains subdued, though, and the Fed’s preferred gauge hasn’t hit policy makers’ 2 percent goal since 2012. Yellen signaled confidence that price pressures may be moving up, referencing core inflation rather than the headline index the Fed prefers.
“It appears that the underlying rate of inflation in the United States has been running in the vicinity of 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 percent,” Yellen said, once the core data are adjusted for downward pressure from low oil prices and a stronger dollar. She noted that policy makers are paying close attention to indicators of inflation expectations, some of which have shown deterioration recently.
The initial rate liftoff is expected to be small, just 25 basis points, and Fed speakers including Yellen have emphasized that the pace of tightening going forward is more important than the timing.
“The Committee anticipates that even after employment and inflation are near mandate-consistent levels, economic conditions may, for some time, warrant keeping the target federal funds rate below levels the Committee views as normal in the longer run,” Yellen said Wednesday.
Yellen said the neutral interest rate — the one that neither stokes nor slows the economy — seems to have declined in the wake of the financial crisis, and its future path is uncertain. That could have implications for the pace of increases and ultimate level of the central bank’s main interest rate.
“If the Fed now thinks, as Yellen illustrated today and as the October FOMC minutes indicated, that the neutral real rate is close to zero, there is no way in the world the Fed will get even remotely close to 3.5 percent in this cycle,” Roberto Perli, a former Fed official who’s now a partner at Cornerstone Macro LLC in Washington, wrote in a note to clients. That number, 3.5 percent, is the median longer-run projection for the rate that Fed officials submitted in September.
Yellen sounded optimistic on the international outlook, saying China, which has seen growth slow this year, has taken actions to stimulate its economy and noting that other emerging-market economies are also easing monetary and fiscal policy. She said activity in those places has improved, and accommodative policy in advanced economies is also helping to support growth.
“A pickup in demand in many advanced economies and a stabilization in commodity prices should, in turn, boost the growth prospects of emerging market economies,” Yellen said.
Yellen will have another chance to elaborate on her outlook in testimony Thursday before Congress’s Joint Economic Committee.
Nigeria Borrows $4 Billion Through Eurobonds as Order Book Peaked at $12.2 Billion
The Federal Government of Nigeria has raised a fresh $4 billion through Eurobonds, according to the latest statement from the Debt Management Office (DMO).
Nigeria had set out to raise $3 billion but investors oversubscription peaked at $12.2 billion, enabling the Federal Government to raise $1 billion more than the $3 billion it announced.
DMO said “This exceptional performance has been described as, “one of the biggest financial trades to come out of Africa in 2021” and “an excellent outcome”.
Bids were received from investors in Europe, America, Asia and several local investors. The statement noted that the quality of investors and the size of the Order Book demonstrated confidence in Nigeria.
The Eurobonds were issued in three tranches, details, namely seven years–,$1.25 billion at 6.125 per cent per annum; 12 years -$1.5 billion at 7.375 per cent per annum as well as 30 years -$1.25 billion at 8.25 per annum.
The DMO explained that the long tenors of the Eurobonds and the spread across different maturities are well aligned with Nigeria’s Debt Management Strategy, 2020 –2023.
The Eurobonds were issued as part of the New External Borrowing stipulated in the 2021 Appropriation Act. DMO noted that the $4 billion will help finance projects state in the 2021 budget.
Nigeria’s total debt stood at $87.239 billion as at March 31, 2021. However, with the $4 billion new borrowing, the nation’s debt is now $91.239 billion. A serious concern for most Nigerians given the nation’s weak foreign revenue generation and rising cost of servicing the debt.
CIBN Banking and Finance Conference 2021: Structural Transformation and Growth
Today we highlight one of the sessions, ‘Economic Recovery’, at the recently concluded CIBN Banking and Finance conference. This was a hybrid event in Abuja, Lagos and partially virtual last week. The Covid-19 disruptions have created demand and supply shocks in the global system while unlocking new opportunities for growth.
Given the pre-existing financing challenges and growing spending needs, many developing countries are in dire need of financial support. As a result of the pandemic, the financing gap for the sustainable development goals increased by 70% (over USD4.2bn). The speaker on this session, Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group focused on structural transformation, technology, finance and sustainability.
Recent developments such as the allocation of the USD650bn in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) were highlighted during the session. Although the SDR offers improved liquidity into the system, Africa is set to receive only USD32.2bn (or 6.4% of the total amount). Therefore, it is important that the funds are channeled towards well-targeted sectors that can contribute to sustainable development.
The banking and finance sector plays a crucial role. The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) agreement offers an opportunity for the financial sector to work within a continental market of 1.2 billion people. According to Amina J. Mohammed, three main actions areas will reshape the financial sector and support stronger recovery.
The first, better customer engagement with a dynamic range of relevant products and services that go beyond bank-based financing mechanisms and offer innovative financial products tailored to specific needs of business ecosystems. Second, the adoption of new operating models to drive efficiency and inclusion. Third, a deliberate focus on enabling sustainable development investing.
Furthermore, Nigeria’s banking and finance industry is well positioned to drive specific UN sustainable development goals such as inclusive and affordable credit, especially for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. The industry can also provide support towards climate change.
Technology also featured in the discussion points. Undoubtedly, technology is a catalyst for growth across economies and the pandemic has further exposed the deficit within the sector across developing countries. Investments in digital infrastructure need to be rapidly expanded and scaled up to boost socio-economic development.
The speaker commended the FGN’s efforts on its push towards sustainable economic recovery. Some policy and regulatory reforms highlighted include, regulation of fintechs and related services to strengthen payment systems and regulate data protection; the green bonds which Nigeria first issued in 2017 in support of green projects, including solar energy and the modernisation of the Nigerian stock exchange that has given rise to a new operational structure and leadership.
These are laudable steps. However, we note that there is still room for improvement. To achieve double-digit GDP growth and sustainable development, structural transformation should remain on the FGN’s priority list.
FG Plans To Deliver 15 Projects Across The Country With $4B Foreign Loans
Nigeria’s Presidency has explained that a total of 15 projects, spread across the six geo-political zones of the country, are to be financed with more than $4 billion from multilateral institutions.
Malam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity stated on Saturday in Abuja that the loan is under the 2018-2021 medium-term (rolling) external borrowing plan.
He revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari had already requested the Senate to approve sovereign loans of $4.054billion and €710million as well as grant components of $125million for the proposed projects.
He quoted the letter by the president as saying that the sovereign loans will be sourced from the World Bank, French Development Agency (AFD), China-Exim Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Credit Suisse Group and Standard Chartered/China Export and Credit (SINOSURE).
He said: “The President’s request to the Senate listed 15 proposed pipeline projects, the objectives, the implementation period, benefiting states, as well as the implementing Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
“A breakdown of the Addendum to the Proposed Pipeline Projects for the 2018-2021 Medium Term (rolling) External Borrowing Plan shows that the World Bank is expected to finance seven projects including the $125million grant for ‘Better Education Services for All’.’’
According to him, the Global Partnership for Education grant is expected to increase equitable access for out-of-school children and improve literacy in focus states.
He expressed the hope that the grant, which would be implemented by the Federal Ministry of Education and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), would strengthen accountability for results in basic Education in Katsina, Oyo and Adamawa States.
Other projects to be financed by the World Bank, according to Shehu, are the State Fiscal, Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability Programme for Results as well as the Agro-Processing, Productivity, Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support Project.
He said the benefiting states for the agro-processing project included, Kogi, Kaduna, Kano, Cross River, Enugu and Lagos with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as the implementing ministry.
The presidential aide stated that the objective of the project was to enhance the agricultural productivity of small and medium-scale farmers and improve value addition along priority value chains in the participating states.
Shehu added that the World Bank would also be financing the Nigeria Sustainable Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project in Delta, Ekiti, Gombe, Kaduna, Katsina, Imo and Plateau States, for the next five years.
According to him, the project, when completed, is expected to improve rural water supply, sanitation and hygiene nationwide towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for water supply and sanitation by 2030.
“Under the external borrowing plan, the World Bank-supported projects also include Nigeria’s COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Project (COPREP), under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
“The project, which has an implementation period of five years, will respond to threats posed by COVID-19 through the procurement of vaccines.
“Furthermore, no fewer than 29 states are listed as beneficiaries of the Agro-Climatic Resilience in Arid Zone Landscape project, which is expected to reduce natural resource management conflicts in dry and semi-arid ecosystems in Nigeria,’’ he said.
He gave the names of the benefiting states for the project to be co-financed by the World Bank and European Investment Bank (EIB) to include: Akwa Ibom, Borno, Oyo, Sokoto, Kano, Katsina, Edo, Plateau, Abia and Nasarawa.
Others are; Delta, Niger, Gombe, Imo, Enugu, Kogi, Anambra, Niger, Ebonyi, Cross River, Ondo, Kaduna, Kebbi, Jigawa, Bauchi, Ekiti, Ogun, Benue, Yobe and Kwara.
He said the World Bank would also be funding the Livestock Productivity and Resilience project in no fewer than 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) while the China EXIM Bank is expected to finance the construction of the branch line of Apapa-TinCan Island Port, under the Lagos-Ibadan Railway modernisation project.
Shehu said: “The French Development Agency will finance two projects, which include the National Digital Identity Management project and the Kaduna Bus Rapid Transport Project.
“The digital identity project will be co-financed with World Bank and EIB.
“The Value Chain Development Programme to be financed by IFAD and implemented in Anambra, Benue, Ebonyi, Niger, Ogun, Taraba, Nasarawa, Enugu and the Kogi States will empower 100,000 farmers, including over 6,000 and 3,000 processors and traders, respectively.
“The loan facility to be provided by European ECA/KfW/IPEX/APC will be spent on the construction of the Standard Gauge Rail (SGR) linking Nigeria with Niger Republic from Kano-Katsina-Daura-Jibiya-Maradi with branch to Dutse.
“The specific project title, Kano-Maradi SGR with a branch to Dutse, has an implementation period of 30 months and will be implemented by the Federal Ministry of Transport.
“The Chinese African Development Fund through the Bank of China is expected to provide a loan facility of $325 million for the establishment of three power and renewable energy projects including solar cells production facility Phase 1 & II, electric power transformer production, Plants 1, II, III and high voltage testing laboratory.
“The National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) will implement the project aimed at increasing local capacity and capability in the development of power and renewable energy technologies and infrastructure,’’ he further disclosed.
Shehu revealed that Credit Suisse would finance major industrialization projects as well as micro, small and medium enterprises schemes to be executed by the Bank of Industry.
He said the SINOSURE and Standard Chartered Bank would also provide funds for the provision of 17MW Hybrid Solar Power infrastructure for the National Assembly (NASS) complex. “The project, with an implementation period of five years, is expected to address NASS power supply deficit and reduce the higher overhead burdensome cost of running and maintaining fossil fuel generators (25MW installed capacity) to power the assembly complex,’’ he added.
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