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Pressure to Devalue Naira Grows Amid CBN Resistance

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The persistent weakness of the naira, occasioned by low oil price in the international market, calls for devaluation of the currency sooner than later, industry experts have said, urging the Central Bank of Nigeria to review its restrictive foreign exchange polices.

The price of crude oil, the nation’s biggest source of foreign exchange, dropped below $35 per barrel last week, the lowest level since July 2004.

The naira took a further beating at the parallel market, trading near its lowest of N280 against the dollar on Thursday. It had on December 17, 2015 crashed to 280 against the greenback on the unofficial market.

Declining oil prices and the unwillingness of the CBN to devalue the naira amid constrained external reserves had continued to worsen the foreign exchange liquidity position of Nigerian banks, Renaissance Capital, a London-based investment bank, said in a report last month.

The naira had been devalued twice since the drop in global oil prices began, first in November 2014, when the central bank lowered the midpoint of the official peg by eight per cent to 168 per dollar.

In February 2015, the CBN also scrapped its twice-weekly auctions at which the naira was sold at a subsidised rate, a move that resulted in an effective weakening in the exchange rate of the currency by about 15 per cent.

The currency had lost 28 per cent of its value in the six months to February 2015 before the central bank fixed the exchange rate at N198 per dollar and tightened capital controls.

Since then, the central bank has sought to prop up the ailing naira with several measures, including stopping importers of around 40 items from toothpicks to glass and wheelbarrows from buying foreign exchange; restricting the use of local debit cards overseas; lowering Automatic Teller Machine withdrawal limits; and barring Nigerians from depositing hard currencies into their domiciliary accounts.

The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Economic Associates, Dr. Ayo Teriba, said the restrictions the CBN had recently put in place in the wake of the shortage of foreign exchange had been counter-productive.

He said, “The way forward to a sustainable exchange rate is to attract foreign investment. There is no country that can sustain a stable exchange rate if all you rely upon is what you earn from exports.

“My big issue with the way the central bank has chosen to manage the naira is that the it speaks about the reserves and exchange rate situation as if it is only about trading, and I think they get it wrong in that regard. It is not all about trading; capital flows matter.”

Teriba said the restrictive policies had scared capital away from Nigeria and eroded confidence of wealth holders in holding naira-denominated assets.

He added, “Countries that get comfortable reserves positions are countries that have regard for capital flow. They solicit and court capital flows and encourage people who bring their money into their jurisdiction to retain confidence in their ability to manage it. That is the neglected dimension in the face of the increased demand for forex; the CBN was announcing list of items that you cannot source official forex to import, and that is very wrong.

“By the time you start telling people that they cannot use their debit cards abroad, do you think that is going to encourage them to hold more money in naira? It is going to scare them to even flee the naira the more.”

The Financial Derivatives Company Limited, headed by renowned economist, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, in its latest Economic Bulletin, noted that the next meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee of the CBN in two weeks would come up at a time when there were mixed signals on the direction of the monetary policy in the country.

“The CBN is expected to announce a new forex policy, which will give it the flexibility to bring the external and domestic economic variables into equilibrium,” they added.

This may include the announcement of a new exchange rate band, with a floor of N185 and a ceiling of N220, during the first quarter of the year, the FDC said.

“Nigeria’s external reserves are below $29bn. The anticipated adjustment in the exchange rate band is expected to slow-down the rate of depletion, as the demand pressure eases. However, with oil prices still soft at $37 per barrel, the likelihood of an accretion is slim,” the FDC analysts said.

The Global Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital, Charles Robertson, said he said in an emailed response to questions from our correspondent, “Given that oil producers around the world are devaluing, from Azerbaijan to Angola, investors do expect a similar move in Nigeria.

“Indeed, letting the market set the currency rate could help President Buhari achieve his anti-corruption goals.”

The Head, Investment Research, Afrinvest West Africa Limited, Mr. Ayodeji Ebo, said, “The challenges we see around the naira have continued to compound, and they show that several policies that the CBN has introduced have refused to yielded any positive results and that call for a review of the policies.

“The pressure we have seen in recent times, especially last week, can still be linked to the fact that the demand for the dollar has not been reduced. It is just that it has been shifted from the interbank to the parallel market.

“It further buttresses what the IMF boss has reiterated in terms of being flexible regarding our foreign exchange policies, which simply put means devaluation, to reflect the current reality that we are seeing in terms of global oil prices that have been on the downward trend.”

Ebo said for the CBN to be able to close the gap between the parallel market and the interbank rates, it would need to devalue the naira by a minimum of 25 per cent.

He added, “But beyond the devaluation, they also need to watch the policies so that we don’t see an immediate increase in the spread between the interbank and the parallel market after the devaluation.

“So, it is more of policy-driven than just devaluing. If we continue to hold on to these restrictive policies, then you create arbitrage and round-tripping and other unethical practices.”

The Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, Ms. Christine Lagarde, had last week during her visit to Nigeria, said the goal of achieving external competitiveness required a package of policies, including business-friendly monetary, flexible exchange rate and disciplined fiscal policies, as well as implementing structural reforms.

“Additional exchange rate flexibility, both up and down, can help soften the impact of external shocks, make output and employment less volatile, and help build external reserves. It can also help avoid the need for costly foreign exchange restrictions, which should, in any case, remain temporary,” she said.

The CBN may revise its target for the naira by more than 20 per cent to 240 to 250 per dollar as oil continues its decline, a London-based economist at Exotix Partners LLP, Alan Cameron, said in a research note last week.

Africa economist at Capital Economics, John Ashbourne, said in a note to clients last Wednesday that Nigeria would be forced to devalue the naira to around 240 per dollar in the first half of 2016, adding, “Cumbersome foreign exchange restrictions are strangling economic growth.”

Punch

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

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Loans

Credit to Private Sector Rises to N33.26 Trillion in August 2021

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The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has disclosed that credit to private sector went up by N498.6billion in August to N33.26trillion from N32.8trillion reported in July 2021.

The N33.36trillion figure announced by the CBN is a new record that was fuelled by banks, among others increased lending to real sector.

CBN in its Money and Credit Statistics for the period revealed that credit to private sector in January was N30.65trillion and dropped by 0.47 per cent to N30.5 trillion in February.

However, in March, it closed at N31.44trillion and crossed the N32.1trillion mark in April to N32.12 trillion.

In addition, the CBN reported N32.63trillion and N33.36trillion credit to private sector May and June respectively.
Analysts believe banks lending to real sector played a critical role in the recent increase in Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

An economist and Chief Executive Officer, BIC Consultancy Services, Dr Boniface Chizea said he is optimistic that banks credit to real sector, amid severe challenges are yielding positive results. According to him, “The volume of credit which seems humongous will deliver expected dividends despite perceived inhospitable investment environment. We should therefore remain confident and hopeful that desired impact must be felt if not immediately then in due course.

“We must also accept the fact that we would be challenged if we want to isolate the direct impact of the credit on the economy. So, we must remain assured that the credit is not money down the drain.”

On his part, Economist & Private Sector Advocate, Dr Muda Yusuf said the growth in credit to private sector is laudable.

He noted that the impact would depend on the sectoral spread, quality of credit, tenure of the funds and interest rate.

Yusuf said: “My guess is that a significant percentage of this have been given to large corporates, multinationals and high end medium enterprises. The CBN has done a lot in lending to agriculture, but the quality of the lending is an issue. Reports indicate high default rates in agricultural credit, especially the anchor borrowers’ scheme.

“Monetary intervention is imperative for real sector development. But it is not sufficient to guarantee the desired outcomes of growth and productivity. The context in which businesses are operating is as important as the funding, if not even more important. The totality of the investment environment must be right for sustainable real sector development to be achieved.”

He added, “Therefore, to complement the credit to the private sector, the other factors that should reckoned with include infrastructure quality, especially power, roads and railways. There are also issues around the quality of the regulatory environment, the foreign exchange policy regime, the ports situation, volatility of the naira exchange rate, the tax environment and the security situation.

“These are not things monetary intervention can solve. It takes an impactful fiscal policy intervention to fix these problems. Some of the issues border on economic reforms that need to happen. Engagements between the private sector stakeholders and policymakers is critical to achieving sustainable development of the economy.”

The Governor, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele had in his communiqué at the end of August Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting said the committee noted the improvement in lending to the real sector following the introduction of the Loans-to-Deposit Ratio (LDR) in 2019.

According to him, “Industry gross credit increased by N6.63 trillion from N15.57 trillion at end-May, 2019 to N22.20 trillion at end-July, 2021. The credit growth was largely recorded in manufacturing, oil and gas and agriculture sectors.”

He expressed further that the MPC members noted the unequivocal importance of credit growth to the sustained recovery of output and the moderation in price development as supply improves.

“It thus, called on the Bank to maintain adequate surveillance on banks to ensure compliance with its extant credit policy, while ensuring that they are not unduly exposed to credit risks.

“The Committee also noted the relevance of the Bank’s suite of interventions to the overall system credit, urging its continued use to fund sectors with high employment-generating capacity,” he said.

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Banking Sector

Fitch Upgrades Bank Of Industry’s National Rating to ‘AAA(Nga)’

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Fitch Ratings has upgraded Bank of Industry’s (BoI) National Long-Term Rating to ‘AAA(nga)’ from ‘AA+(nga);’ and affirmed the Nigeria-based bank’s Long-Term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at ‘B’ with a Stable Outlook.

It said the upgrade of BOI’s Long-Term National Rating of ‘AAA(nga)’ reflects the linkage between the bank and the sovereign has strengthened, as evident in the significant size of the CBN guarantees provided for BOI’s recent external funding.

The full list of rating actions shows that “BOI’s Long-Term IDR and SRF are equalised with the Long-Term IDR of the sovereign as we believe that the Nigerian authorities have a high propensity to support BOI.

Fitch said its assessment primarily reflects the following: The bank’s important and clearly defined policy role in funding economic growth in Nigeria; Its 99.9% state ownership, split between the Ministry of Finance (94.8%) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN; 5.1%); and the entirety of the bank’s wholesale funding being either provided or guaranteed by the Nigerian state. However, Fitch also views the ability of the authorities to support BOI as limited by Nigeria’s ‘B’ Long-Term IDR.

BOI is Nigeria’s primary development bank, with the mandate of financing the country’s emerging industrial sector.

The bank plays an important role in supporting government policies and in providing counter-cyclical loans since the onset of the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the international rating agency, “BOI’s funding has increased substantially since March 2020, as the bank secured two large syndicated loan facilities of EUR1 billion and USD1 billion from syndicates of commercial banks and multilateral development banks, which are fully guaranteed by the CBN. The proceeds of the borrowings are swapped with the CBN, boosting its foreign-exchange (FX) reserves and providing BOI with Nigerian naira to support its developmental activities.”

“BOI’s management has indicated that this fundraising will serve to expand the bank’s lending to priority sectors. It might take BOI substantial time to channel the recently attracted funding to borrowers and as of end-1H21, 48% of BOI’s total assets were kept in liquid government bonds and cash, compared with 20% at end-2019.

Fitch says BOI maintains solid capitalisation and leverage metrics (end-1H21: equity-to-asset ratio of 19.4%), which is prudent for the bank’s exposure to the volatile operating environment.

“Profitability is not a key objective; however, BOI continues to generate reasonable returns on equity (1H21: 18% annualised) driven by healthy net interest margins and, so far, moderate loan impairment charges,” Fitch noted.

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Finance

Tanzania: African Development Fund Approves $116 Million Loan to Upgrade Southern Road Corridor

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The Board of Directors of the African Development Fund on Wednesday approved a loan of around $116 million to the Tanzanian government to upgrade a 160-km Mnivata-Newala-Masasi road corridor in the southern part of the country.

The Bank’s loan represents 98.71% of the project cost; the government of Tanzania will provide the remaining 1.29% in funding.

The project will upgrade the roadway, including the 84-meter Mwiti bridge, to bituminous standard. The works also have social components, including the provision of potable water, education and medical infrastructure, the establishment of cashew nut processing units, and extension of entrepreneurial training to women and youth.

The upgrade is expected to open up rural areas in the region and enhance the Mtwara Development Corridor, which links Mtwara Port and Mbamba Bay port on Lake Nyasa. Exporters, importers, small-scale cross-border traders, farmers, transporters are all expected to benefit.

“The periodic isolation of such a significant population worsens vulnerability and undermines social inclusion. Improved road connectivity would therefore build the resilience of the people and widen livelihood opportunities within the Mtwara Development Corridor and the surrounding districts,” Bank Director General for East Africa Nnenna Nwabufo said.

Overall, the five-year project will improve mobility and accessibility for about 1.1 million people in Mtwara, Tandahimba, Newala and Masasi districts and facilitate integration with neighbouring Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.

Currently, the districts of Tandahimba and Newala, with an estimated combined population of 509,000 people, are mostly cut off, while connection with the Mtwara port area for essential supplies is severely constrained during rainy seasons due to the state of the road.

The project will advance Tanzania’s current five-year Development Plan (2021-2026) and aligns with the Bank Group’s Country Strategy Paper (2021-2025) which emphasizes sustainable infrastructure for a competitive economy and an improved private sector business environment for job creation, as well as two High-5 strategic priorities: Integrate Africa and Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.

At 30 June 2021, the Bank Group’s active portfolio in Tanzania comprised 22 operations (19 public and 3 private) with a total commitment of about $2.4 billion.

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