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.
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.
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.
Global Banking Sector Grows 40% Reviving Pandemic Losses in Just 12 Months
In 2020, the global banking sector took a hit following the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which was reflected in the overall market capitalization. However, with the ongoing global recovery, the banking industry has regained most of the losses incurred during the health crisis.
According to data acquired by Finbold, in just 12 months between Q2 2020 and Q2 2021, the global banking sector’s market cap has surged 39.62%, adding €2.1 trillion from €5.3 trillion to €7.4 trillion. On the path to recovery, the market cap slightly plunged in 2020 Q3 to €5.2 trillion before gaining 17.3% the next quarter.
Among the Western European banks, Spain’s BBVA bank recorded the highest total shareholder return rate at 19.7% between April 2021 – July 2021, followed by Société Générale from France at 13.8%, while Banco Santander, also from Spain, ranks third at 12.1%. United Kingdom’s Barclays is the worst performer with a TSR of -8%. Data on the global banking sector’s market cap is provided by Banking Hub.
How banking sector sustained growth
The registered market capitalization is supported by the large-scale reopening of economies due to the vaccine rollout. Additionally, the banks, especially from major economies like the United States and Europe, have reaped from policies meant to cushion the economy from the adverse effects of the pandemic. Notably, the decisions by most banks to retain a low-interest-rate environment has been beneficial to banks.
Worth noting is that during the pandemic, banks found themselves in a tight spot. Historically, the banking sector has been considered the custodian of the economy but the pandemic also plunged the banks into a crisis. The banking sector’s profits were adversely affected considering they are bound to the business cycle and interest rates.
At the same time, banks also put in place measures like approaching loans with caution due to uncertainty in repaying which directly impacted profits. However, banks were tapped to facilitate the distribution of stimulus packages boosting their capital reserves in return.
Worth pointing out is that institutions like the European Central Banks allowed banks to continue using their capital buffers flexibly with a planned extension until 2022. With such moves helping banks sustain growth, it eliminates the worry of straining capital buffers while the health crisis is still impacting the banks’ balance sheets.
Furthermore, the crisis highlighted the need for banks to keep huge reserves of capital that can be activated in the wake of economic turmoil. Although most banks have historically relied on assets for future cushion, a crisis like the coronavirus calls for more capital because selling assets in such an environment is challenging.
Besides the policies, the banking sector recovery was partly aided by existing operational risk management arrangements. The pandemic tested all financial market participants and most leading banks successfully invoked business continuity plans. The plans ensured that the financial markets continued to run smoothly and orderly.
The sector’s recovery has also been accelerated by other factors like the increased adoption of pre-pandemic trends like digitalization and sustainability. Digitization of operations has been backed by consumers who are willing to conduct transactions online. At the same time, the digital shift has presented a competitive factor in the sector, with institutions that had established online presence benefiting the most.
Notably, the recovery was at some point under threat during the third quarter of 2020 amid concerns of the pandemic’s second wave. However, the sector sustained the gains with the rollout of the vaccine. Furthermore, moving into 2021, the industry appears not to be bothered by the Delta variant.
The future of the banking sector
By sustaining the market capitalization for two consecutive quarters, it can be assumed that the banking sector response to the health crisis is bearing fruits. However, it is still early to determine if the recovery is sustainable.
The rally will be tested, especially when central banks eliminate all the policies meant to cushion the economy. However, in the long run, banks will have to tailor their operations towards changing consumer behaviour.
How Stanbic IBTC is Transforming Nigeria’s Trade Landscape
Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC, a subsidiary of Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC, has reiterated its commitment to fostering international trade and help the nation actualise its economic growth and development goals.
The Bank said it will continue to fine-tune its three-pronged approach to facilitating trade activities for clients. These are the development of bespoke financial solutions to help boost trade for clients; sponsorship of relevant trade shows that bring together stakeholders in global trade, including exporters and importers; and organisation of seminars and workshops to provide clients and other stakeholders with industry insights and enlighten them on global trade opportunities.
“Our goal is to become the ‘go-to’ Bank as far as global trade is concerned, with emphasis on Africa-China trade. This approach is of immense value to our clients and will help us achieve our fundamental purpose, which is to drive Nigeria’s growth,” Chief Executive Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC, Wole Adeniyi, said.
In line with this resolve, Stanbic IBTC organised a webinar on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The webinar themed: ‘AfCFTA State of Play: Understanding Potential and Maximising Opportunities for the Customer’, emphasised Stanbic IBTC’s readiness to leverage the trade opportunities of the AfCFTA agreement to unlock business opportunities for its clients in the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sector as well as its corporate clients.
In 2019, Stanbic IBTC launched its Africa China Agent Proposition (now called Africa China Trade Solutions – ACTS) to boost trade transactions between Africa (Nigeria) and Asia, especially China, and help customers consummate the best business deals without having to travel to China.
According to Stanbic IBTC, ACTS will give customers exclusive access to an array of exporters in China through an accredited agent, Zhejiang International Trading Supply Chain Co Ltd, also known as Guamao.
Stanbic IBTC has held various fora as part of its sensitisation drive on ACTS and the currency swap agreement between Nigeria and China. These fora provided insight on how best to help clients and businesses leverage the opportunity and assess the impact of the Chinese economy on trade in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
According to Wole, these workshops were geared towards deepening trade connections with the Chinese business community, thereby stimulating strong trade and business ties between Africa, with a special focus on Nigeria and China.
Stanbic IBTC Bank was a platinum sponsor of the 2021 Global Trade Review (GTR) West Africa Conference themed ‘Connecting the Region’s Trade Experts. The GTR West Africa Conference is an annual regional event for trade discussions and networking among leading practitioners in trade, export, and commodity finance to strategically explore the latest developments, strategies, and solutions needed to drive growth.
Experts have continued to commend Stanbic IBTC on this bold approach to educate its clients and investors about the benefits of AfCFTA, the Nigeria China currency swap deal, and the ACTS proposition, all geared towards helping clients unlock business opportunities.
Arise B.V., Equity Investor, Invests US$75 Million in Ecobank
A leading investor in financial institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa, Arise B.V. has made US$75 million perpetual non-cumulative AT1 capital investment in Ecobank Transnational Incorporated.
In a statement signed by Adenike Laoye, the Group Head of Corporate Communications, Ecobank, the fund will help optimise and improve ETI’s Tier 1 capital.
“This Basel III compliant instrument is the first AT1 instrument issued by ETI and a landmark transaction in the sub-Saharan Africa region. The investment will optimize and improve ETI’s Tier 1 capital by US$75 million,” the bank stated.
The latest investment showed Arise, an existing shareholder of Ecobank, has confidence in the bank’s future given the series of support and commitment the leading equity investor has provided to Ecobank in recent years.
Speaking on the new investment, Ade Ayeyemi, Group Chief Executive Officer of ETI, stated: “This investment by Arise is a testament to continued support and confidence from our shareholders; their commitment to, and belief in our strategy which we remain focused on executing to deliver value to our shareholders and excellence to our customers. Indeed, in addition to improving our double leverage ratio, it is also a good boost for the firm and its staff”.
Deepak Malik, Chief Executive Officer of Arise stated: “ETI is our primary banking investment in Francophone West Africa and Anglophone West Africa. We are very supportive of ETI’s growth ambitions and its ability to increase financial services to Agri, SMEs & retail customers. Our investment will also strengthen the balance sheet of ETI and provide additional risk capital”.
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