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Naira Devaluation Will Restore Economy — Ajaegbu

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Chidi Ajaegbu, the Chief Executive Officer, Heritage Capital Markets Limited, and the immediate past President, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, speaks with OLAWUNMI OJO of Punch News on how government could reverse the dwindling fortunes of the capital market

The Nigerian capital market is said to be second only to that of South Africa. But the market is crumbling. What is responsible for this and how can the trend be reversed?

In an economy, there are a lot of variables that drive the valuations in the capital market or the asset pricing in other sectors. The market does not work in isolation of the economic policies of government; it takes a cue from how policies of the government impacts on people’s standard of living.

Looking at the last 12 months, especially in the last quarter and considering the seamless transition of power between the incumbent and the immediate past administrations, we felt the market would build on that to sustain a rally. Unfortunately, the decline in the crude oil price and the obvious challenges the economy has had over a period of time created a lot of issues in terms of valuation of the naira.

 Therefore, a lot of foreign investors are wary of the value of the naira. Nobody wants to come in at N199 to one dollar only for you to devalue tomorrow by as much as 50 per cent. It means such investors would have lost 50 per cent of whatever value of money they are bringing in. So, what they have done is to exit the market and then wait to see the Federal Government’s response to the issue of over-valuation of the naira.
The very adamant posture of the government does not apply to economics. Economics does not obey order. We must recognise that for us to attract foreign investors, we have to devalue. There are no two ways about it; we do not have the resources to fund the naira at the level it is today. We have to tell President Muhammadu Buhari without equivocation that it is not an ego thing but something necessary that must be done to attract foreigh investors.
How does Nigeria begin to rebuild confidence in the market?

Foreign investors in the market are in a hurry to exit, which has led to a lot of glut. And when there is excessive supply, it impacts on the price. Price begins to go south. So, the inability of the market to sustain any rally is because the foreign investors who constitute about 70 per cent of the market are no longer participating in it from the demand side. They are dumping stocks and trying to get away as quickly as possible, probably so as not to be caught with the issue of devaluation. Once that happens, no matter what your returns are in the market, you are going to take a direct hit of whatever percentage devaluation government comes up with.

We also need to deal with the perception issue. For instance, the reputation risk the government is going through with the very punitive MTN fine has far-reaching implications. Nobody is saying MTN should not obey the laws. But the company probably employs over a 100,000 people. And if it has committed an infraction, yes it should be sanctioned. But how do you ask a company to pay a fine equivalent to its 15 years profit after tax. You want to liquidate the company? As a foreign investor, would I want to come into the country under this kind of hostile environment? Even when you imprison people, it is a correctional thing; it is not meant to be terminal. There is need for consistency in our policy positions.

What I have seen is that we are fighting corruption on the one the hand but the rule of law that should drive the culture of excellence and atract investors is being trampled upon. If a court of competent jurisdiction grants somebody a bail, it is wrong for government to generally disregard such decisions. As such, you send negative signals to investors that you decide what court order to obey and which not to obey.

Aside from this, I think the anti-corruption crusade is being given more bite and it is good for us. But to take the capital market out of the bearish cycle where it is now, we need to first devalue our currency and then institute a rule of law that is functional.

The President says he is not convinced on the need for devaluation, especially by his economic team? Are they not seeing things from your perspective?

They are political appointees and there is a limit to how far they can drive a contrary position to the President’s. Even a non-finance or economics student will know that devaluation is the thing to do.

In any case, we would not have a choice; it is not about convincing the President. We would devalue this year. The President would be forced to devalue. What he probably does not understand is that the more aversed he is to devaluation, the more the economy will suffer. We do not have resources to fund the naira at the level we are funding it. The world knows that; if the President does not, it is unfortunate. The President’s grasp of economic issues is limited because of his background but that is why he has economic advisers and ministers. He has to listen them; he must have an open mind.

Some experts have opined that even if Nigeria devalues, it would in no way add to its reserves. What, in your view, would be the advantages of devaluation?

You would be paying probably less for a lot of imported goods. You would attract foreign investors as they return with money that would give them more naira. The multiplier effects could actually reflate and drive the economy to where it should be.

What do we stand to gain by remaining where we are now and doing nothing about it? I am not calling for a total devaluation. But by now, the economic team should be giving us scenarios that if we devalue by certain percentages – 25, 50 or 75, so and so would be the policy implications. They should simulate those scenarios for the President to have options to choose from. And then, they should also let him know that if we do not devalue, so and so are the implications. The President could then study the opinions, call for independent third party opinions from one or two economists he respects, and compare the opinions. But that he is not convinced? That should not be the attitude.

Is there anything stakeholders and the Nigerian Stock Exchange can do to change the fortunes of the capital market?

It is totally out of their control. They have done all they can – giving zero-tolerance to market infraction, with which they have built confidence.

That is not enough to drive a bullish rally in the market and sustain it. It is a free market – free entry, free exit; you can not stop people from selling their stocks if they want to, except you want to close down temporarily like they do in the far-east. But you cannot suggest that here. As a matter of fact, when you do that, you are sending wrong signals. In China, Hong Kong and all of those places, what they do is that their government intervenes by mopping up excess supplies in the market. Government would buy it up to stabilise the market.

As we speak, the capital market has lost over 20 per cent this year alone in terms of total capitalisation, yet there is no government intervention or pronouncement. Meanwhile, the capital market is the single most important indicator of how your economy is doing. It determines a lot of things. So, ministers should be very sensitive and proactive in what is happening in the market. For government not to be saying anything when the market is almost collapsing totally shows the level of appreciation of the market in government circle.

But do you see the market rebounding anytime soon, perhaps this year?

Not immediately. Perhaps, towards the end of the year. But that again would depend on if the crude oil price picks up and we begin to see that Nigeria can effectively sustain and fund the foreign exchange element of our economy. May be that could attract foreign investors. Without investors coming back, the market cannot rebound.

We also anticipate that earnings this year would be impacted on – banks, oil companies and virtually all the sectors. We would start seeing the result. There is no way major banks and oil companies would not take hits because the decline in growth of the GDP would reflect in their performance.

Government has been fixing the foreign exchange rate. But some experts opine that it should be determined by free market forces. What’s your view on this?

No, that would be too dangerous for Nigeria because we are not producing anything. Government is right by fixing it but they need to be more flexible, not too rigid. Nigeria cannot allow her currency to float. Even China, with over $2 trillion in reserves, cannot. You would open your economy and currency to attacks by set economy or individuals. Look at Russia spending 40 per cent of their reserves to defend their currency, it was not necessary. Yet, they lost massively.

Foreign investors are said to dominate the market at a ratio of 70 to 30 per cent of indigenous investors. How can the nation improve local participation?

Indigenous investors lost confidence after the crisis of 2008/09, many of them lost a lot of money. The foreign investors are far more discerning than the locals, that is why they are still in the market.

However, what the Exchange has done since then is to try and rebuild confidence of local investors in the market by introducing zero-tolerance for infractions, transparency in transactions and all of that. But even at that, it has taken our people longer time to get over the losses they incurred. Until you are able to deal with that psychological thing, you cannot have them come back the way they came pre-2008.

On the whole, government must devalue the currency, change their posture and be more flexible with policy positions, while the Central Bank of Nigeria needs to work on a lot of things.

People are being careful now because of the renewed anti-crime crusade but I think government is wasting too much time on it. We hear there are recoveries but we have not seen facts and figures; government should be more open on how much is being returned and how the funds are being applied. You may not necessarily disclose names but let us know how much is being recovered.

 

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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Banking Sector

Access Bank South Africa Begins Operation

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Access Bank South Africa- Investors King

Following Access Bank Acquisition of African Banking Corporation (BancABC Mozambique), Access Bank South Africa officially opened its door for business yesterday.

The bank described the development as another step in engraving Access Bank Plc into the continent’s history.

Noting the enthusiasm of all parties leading up to this day, Access Bank CEO, Herbert Wigwe said the SADC region represents the strongest economy on the African continent.

“This means Access Bank SA is firmly seated in one of the principal geographical areas apart from Nigeria, in terms of the size of the economy, and unlocks the gateway to the entire Southern African region,” he was quoted to have said in a statement.

Wigwe highlighted Access Bank’s solid presence in Zambia too, saying the opening of the South African subsidiary cements the Bank’s commitment to sub-Saharan Africa as a portal for exceptional banking opportunities across the continent.

Building on the organisation’s vision of delivering a robust banking operation that connects key African markets, the CEO of Access Bank SA, Bennie van Rooy, described the development as, “an exciting event for the South African banking industry,” as well as the provision of sustainable support to existing customers while appealing to new clients with a business presence across Africa.

“As part of the robust Access Bank family, the South African operations look forward to contributing meaningfully to the achievements and ambitions of the Group. In offering a full suite of financial service products to a market we understand in-depth, Access Bank SA is delighted to grow the family footprint,” he added.

Continuing, Wigwe said the Group would continue to focus on building relationships, as a partner in both businesses and in communities it serves.

“It’s vital that our banking solutions give clients the advantage they need to grow sustainably, with access to smart solutions that help them reach greater goals,” he added.

With its transactional account and online banking, commercial and asset finance, offshore investments and Forex requirements or deposit solutions, Access Bank puts the power of choice in clients’ hands.

“Partnerships with all our clients mean power for them to achieve their aspirations, while Access Bank’s growth brings greater advantages in the financial sector. Like Bennie, I am excited to be on this path with the knowledge and experience of the continent that we share,” said Wigwe.

“We look forward to the opportunities that present themselves with opening doors for individuals and businesses, and growing possibilities as we go.”

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Banking Sector

Stanbic IBTC’s Upgraded USSD Platform Offers “Bigger And Better” Functionalities

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Stanbic IBTC Bank, a member of Standard Bank Group, has upgraded its USSD platform with innovative features and capabilities to improve customer experience.

The upgraded USSD banking platform tagged “bigger and better” will enable customers to make seamless transactions continually.

Some of the new features on the upgraded platform include the bill payment gateway for billers such as the DISCO companies, which will enable customers to pay their electricity bills without stress; auto-airtime top-up, which allows customers to set up a mandate for airtime top-up whenever their balance drops below a set benchmark; as well as direct data top-up.

Speaking on the rationale behind the USSD platform upgrade, Remy Osuagwu, Executive Director, Personal and Business Banking, Stanbic IBTC Bank, said, “We are dedicated to meeting the banking needs of our customers. Improving customers’ experiences at every touchpoint with the brand is critical. We are optimistic that the new features added to our USSD platform will indeed give our customers a bigger and better banking experience.”

Offering customers easy, fast and secure financial transactions, the Stanbic IBTC USSD platform works on any mobile phone. It can be used to purchase airtime, transfer funds, check account balance, request account statements, make bills payment, view transaction history, link a debit card to a wallet and more.

To onboard, customers should dial *909*11*1# to register and enter the last four (4) digits of their debit cards to create an authentication PIN that will be used to approve transactions anytime and anywhere. Existing users on the platform have access to the upgraded functionalities by just dialing *909# and following the prompt.

Remy Osuagwu assured the Bank’s esteemed customers of the organisation’s commitment to continually develop digital banking solutions to meet their needs as they evolve.

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Finance

ITFC Signs a US$ 250 Million Framework Agreement to Support The Gambia

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Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers

The International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), a member of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Group, has signed a new 5-Year Framework Agreement in favour of the Government of The Gambia that target to provide up to US$ 50 million to the country on an annual basis.

The agreement, signed with H.E. Mambury Njie, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs (IsDB Governor), is a part of the Corporation’s ongoing efforts to combat the economic repercussions from COVID-19 and strengthen key economic sectors in member countries.

This US$250 million Framework Agreement will provide pre-export financing for major cash crops such as groundnuts and cashew nuts, the main agricultural produce in a sector that is a major employer of the country’s workforce. In addition, this agreement will also facilitate the import of essential agriculture inputs such as fertilizer.

In the energy sector, the financing will enable imports of key commodities such as refined petroleum, which is crucial to generate electricity in the country. Other sectors that will benefit from the five-year framework agreement include the healthcare sector through the import of medicines and health equipment, and the private sector through financing facilities to local banks and financial institutions aimed at boosting local SMEs.

Technical assistance for trade development aimed at building capacity and promoting information exchange and knowledge dissemination are other areas covered in the agreement.

H.E. Mambury Njie, The Gambia’s Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs thanked ITFC on behalf of the Government for its continued support, highlighting that this framework agreement would support national development goals to drive economic diversification and job creation across key growth sectors, whist facilitating trade and investment flows within the country, as well as globally through the country’s participation in agriculture value chains.

Reiterating ITFC’s commitment to supporting its member countries, Eng. Hani Salem Sonbol, ITFC CEO, said: “The five-year framework agreement will make way for further cooperation with the Government of The Gambia across key economic sectors whilst fostering greater collaboration with the country’s budding private sector to drive SME growth. In addition to crucial import-export financing, the agreement also has provisions to help develop the country into a stronger trading nation through enhanced capacity development and knowledge transfer programs.”

Since inception in 2008, ITFC has approved a total of US$607 million in favor of The Gambia. From energy to employment through agriculture, it reaffirms ITFC’s proven strategy of investing in key sectors of its member countries and thus contributing towards the development of the priority industries.

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