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Banks Derail CBN’s N1tr Battle to Boost Economy




Lenders prefer traders to manufacturers, farmers

MPC retains tight monetary measures

Highlights of MPC meeting

•Monetary Policy Rate (MPR) 14%
•Cash Reserve Ration (CRR) 22.5%
•Liquidity Ratio 30%
•Asymmentric Window +200 -500

ADVOCATES of lower interest rates lost their battle yesterday.

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) failed to bring down rates, but tightened measures because banks:

  • have refused to lend to the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, despite the injection of N1trillion into the economy;
  • are lending to traders who pump the cash into foreign exchange trading, thereby increasing the unusual pressure on the naira, which exchanged for N325 and N425 to the dollar in the official and parrallel markets yesterday; and
  • attempts to inject more cash without corresponding increase in industrial capacity will worsen inflation.

The MPC of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) shocked pundits by retaining all the monetary policy instruments at their current levels.

Addressing journalists at the end of the MPC meeting in Abuja, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele said “the Committee assessed the relevant risks and concluded that the economy continues to face elevated risks on both price and output fronts”.

Emefiele said: “Given its primary mandate and considering the limitations of its instruments with respect to output and conscious of the need to allow this and other measures, like the foreign exchange market reforms, to work through fully, the Committee decided to retain the MPR at 14.00 per cent; the  CRR at 22.5 per cent; the Liquidity Ratio at 30.00 per cent; and the Asymmetric Window at +200 and -500 basis points around the MPR.”

Defending the MPC’s decision, Emefiele said it decided to tighten measures because banks were not lending money to agriculture and manufacturing, but instead were funneling credit to traders who used the money to demand for foreign exchange.

Emefiele said: “There was a time when the MPC took a decision not only to reduce the monetary rate but also the cash reserve. These were intended to lower rates and encourage spending by the private sector. After we did that, because we did not see the impact on the private sector, we further reduced the CRR from 30.5% to 25%; N1 trillion was injected into the economy through the banks to loan this money but rather than loan this money those credits went to traders who used them to demand for foreign exchange, thereby putting pressure on the foreign exchange market.”

The CBN governor went on: “Thereafter, we reduced CRR to its current 22.5%, that is about N300billion to N500 billion but we said we were not going to allow the banks to have the cash until they send proposals to the CBN for primary agric projects, real manufacturing projects and other types of projects that will support industrial capacity and manufacturing output. I must confess that the proposals that we received were mainly for the purpose of refinancing the liquidity of the banks and thought that that was not what we wanted. That is the reason we have been circumspect about releasing some of those liquidity.”

Very few banks, he said, “have submitted proposals for agric and new manufacturing projects that we will be considering in due course.”

Emefiele explained that “if we lower interest rate, what that will do is make it possible for the fiscal authorities to borrow at a lower rate. If they borrow at a lower rate to stimulate the spending, yes it will stimulate the demand for goods. When you stimulate spending by proving cash or money without taking action to boost industrial capacity, what will happen is that there will be too much money chasing too few goods, which will worsen the current inflationary situation we are in right now.”

The option the apex bank wants to adopt “is that while the fiscal is going ahead to spend, what we want to do is to say, ‘maintain the rates where they are’, since we want to maintain a fairly tight situation and since the tightening, we have seen inflow of FX of above $1 billion between July and now.

“These were used to procure raw materials. This will lead to price of goods moderating and growth of industrial and manufacturing capacity. We want to match the demand so that it does not lead to further inflationary pressure,” Emefiele said.

On the efforts of both fiscal and monetary authorities to synchronise their actions, Emefiele said: “We are working together to achieve what we want to achieve so that we don’t hurt the economy.”

The CBN governor added that “the Committee acknowledged the weak macroeconomic performance and the challenges confronting the economy, but noted that the MPC had consistently called attention to the implications of the absence of robust fiscal policy to complement monetary policy in the past. The Committee also recognised that monetary policy had been substantially burdened since 2009 and had been stretched.”

Against this background, members, he said, “reemphasized the need to prioritise the use of monetary policy instruments in dealing essentially with stability issues around key prices (consumer prices and exchange rate) as prerequisites for growth”.

Emefiele said that “the MPC noted that stagflation is indeed a very difficult economic condition with no quick fixes: having been imposed by supply shocks as well as fiscal and current account (twin) deficits. Consequently, the policy framework must be reengineered urgently to provide a lever for reversing the negative growth trend. While the imperative for ensuring financial system stability remains, the MPC reiterated the fact that monetary policy alone cannot move the economy out of stagflation.”

Emefiele said: “The MPC considered the numerous analysis and calls for rates reduction but came to the conclusion that the greatest challenge to the economy today remains incomplete fiscal reforms which raise costs, risks and uncertainty”.

“The calls came mainly from the belief that reducing interest rates will spur credit growth, not only in the private sector but also by the public sector, which will help provide liquidity to stimulate consumption and investment spending.”

The Committee, the CBN boss added, “was of the view that in the past, the MPC had cut rates; but found that rather than deploy the available liquidity to provide credit to agriculture and manufacturing sectors, the rate cuts provided opportunities for lending to traders who deployed the same liquidity in putting pressure on the foreign exchange market which had limited supply, thus pushing up the exchange rate.”

On providing opportunity to the public sector to borrow at lower rates to boost consumption and investment spending, the Committee agreed that while it was expected to stimulate growth through aggressive spending, doing so without corresponding efforts to boost industrial output by taking actions to deepen foreign exchange supply for raw materials will not help reduce unemployment nor would it boost industrial capacities.

“The Committee was also of the view that consumer demand for goods, which will be boosted through increased spending, may indeed be chasing too few goods which may further exacerbate the already heightened inflationary conditions. The urgency of a monetary-fiscal policy retreat along with trade and budgetary policy,to design a comprehensive intervention mechanism is long overdue,” he said.

The CBN, Emefiele noted, “has since 2009 expanded its balance sheet to bail out the financial system and support growth initiatives in the economy”. ”While stimulating economic growth and creating a congenial investment climate always is and remains essentially the realm of fiscal policy; monetary policy in all cases only comes in to support sound fiscal policy. Nevertheless, the CBN has and shall continue to deploy its development finance interventions to complement the overall effort of fiscal policy towards reinvigorating the economy. The interest rate decisions of the CBN are, therefore, anchored on sound judgment, fundamentals and compelling arguments for such policy interventions.”

The Committee also feels that there was the need to continue to encourage the inflow of foreign capital into the economy by continuing to put in place incentives to gain the confidence of players in this segment of the foreign exchange market. Consequently, the Committee considers that loosening monetary policy now is not advisable as real interest rates are negative, pressure exists on the foreign exchange market while inflation is trending upwards.

The Committee noted the positive response of the deposit money banks (DMBs) to the CBN’s call for increased credit to the private sector between July and August. As the growth in the monetary aggregates spiked above their provisional benchmarks, headline inflation continued its upward trajectory in August 2016, and now close to twice the size of the upper limit of the policy reference band.

“Supply side factors, including energy and utility prices, transportation and input costs, have continued to add to consumer price pressures. Members emphasised that improved fiscal activities, especially, the active implementation of the 2016 budget, and payment of salaries by states and local governments, will go a long way in contributing to economic recovery. In the same direction, the Committee urged the fiscal authorities to consider tax incentives as a stimulus on both supply and demand sides of economic activities,” Emefiele said.

On the outlook for the future, the CBN governor stated that “the data available to the Committee and forecasts of key variables suggest that the outlook for inflation in the medium term appears benign. First, month-on-month inflation has since May 2016 turned the curve; second, harvests have started to kick-in for most agricultural produce and should contribute to dampening consumer prices in the months ahead; and third, the current stance of monetary policy is expected to continue to help lock-in expectations of inflation which, has started to improve with the gradual return of stability in the foreign exchange market.”

In this light, the MPC believes that as inflows improve, the naira exchange rate should further stabilise. Overall, the major pressure points remain the challenges in the oil sector (production and prices), output contraction, and other financial system vulnerabilities as well as foreign exchange shortage.

Reacting to the MPC ‘s decision, analysts have conflicting views on the development. Dr Ogho Okiti President/CEO of Time Economics Limited noted that “cutting the MPR could do more to erode the credibility of the CBN with regards to the conduct of monetary policy. Such action, in our opinion will help worsen the already growing negative real interest rate and could further discourage the return of foreign investors – something the CBN has worked so hard to avoid. Moreover, the pursuit of an expansionary monetary policy in order to support growth, in the face of rising inflation and currency depreciations could prove to be counter-productive, particularly in the absence of complementary fiscal policy reforms.”

Mr Basil Odilim Enwegbara, an Abuja development economist, aligned with the fiscal authorities by arguing that “a country deep in recession caused mostly by high cost of doing business with one of highest MPRs and CRR among peer economies, has its MPC members behaving as if the economic is in high growth mode,  calls for sober reflection. What it tells us is that the 2007 CBN Act forced on the country’s President is a great fraud that should be stopped. I strongly believe that we have come to the point in our monetary policy stance when the amendment of the CBN Act of 2007 is now urgent. The goal of the amendment is for the Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria’s economy, President Buhari who was elected by millions of Nigerians to better the lives and improve the overall economy should be the one to have the final say about the country’s MPR, CRR and forex policy.  Mr President should call members of MPC to a close door meeting and demand their immediate resignation. In the meantime he should appoint an acting team to be working directly with him until a new team is put in place.”

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


Nigeria’s Big Oil-Refining Revamp Gets Off To A Slow Start




Nigeria’s Big Oil-Refining Revamp Gets Off To A Slow Start

A year after shutting down all of its dilapidated refineries to figure out how to fix them, Nigeria still can’t say how much it will cost to do the work or where the money will come from.

Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. said it has finished the appraisal of its largest facility, but hasn’t completed the process at two others. Refining experts said the extended halt means the plants are at risk of rotting away and unlikely to restart on time.

“Things haven’t been looking good lately,” with Nigeria’s plants probably “completely out of action for some 18 months,” said Elitsa Georgieva, Executive Director at Citac, a consultant that specializes in African refining.

The dysfunction of its domestic refineries has long put Africa’s biggest oil producer in an ironic situation. It exports large volumes of crude to plants overseas, then pays a premium to import the fuels its customers produce.

Failed Attempts

Pledges to fix the facilities have been made and broken again and again over the years. For at least a decade, NNPC’s 445,000 barrels a day of refining capacity barely processed 20% of that amount.

The latest effort to fix the refineries was supposed to be different to the failed attempts that came before. The company had totally shut all three plants down by January 2020 to do a comprehensive appraisal, and set the ambitious target of having them all back up and running at 90% of capacity by 2023.

“The refineries have been deliberately shut down to allow for a thorough diagnosis,” said Kennie Obateru, an Abuja-based NNPC spokesman. “They can be fixed based on what the diagnosis reveals.”

The appraisal of the 210,000-barrel-a day Port Harcourt refinery has been completed and NNPC has called for bids for the necessary repairs, Obateru said. The company hasn’t determined how much the work will cost.

“It is when we close the bids, everything is analyzed and presented that we will know how much we need,” he said.

The diagnosis is underway at the 125,000-barrel-a-day Warri facility and should be complete before the end of the year, he said. After that, the study of the 110,000-barrel-a-day Kaduna plant will commence.

Major Challenge

One year into the process, refining analysts are skeptical that all this work can be done by 2023.

“I don’t think anyone has a good understanding technically of what’s wrong with those refineries,” said Alan Gelder, vice president of refining, chemicals and oil markets at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. “They’re probably corroding, which makes it a very difficult proposition.”

NNPC reaffirmed its deadline and said there’s no reason the refineries, which are at least 40 years old, can’t be restored to full operation.

“There are refineries that are over a hundred years old still running, so age is not necessarily an impediment,” Obateru said.

There are parallel efforts backed by private companies to add to Nigeria’s capacity. Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, is building a state-of-the-art 650,000 barrel-a-day refinery, which Citac estimates will start production in 2023.

Bringing NNPC’s Port Harcourt refinery to the same clean-fuel standards as Dangote’s modern plant would cost about $1.3 billion for the equipment, on top of whatever other repairs are required to get the facility running, Georgieva said.

NNPC is talking to oil-trading firms about $1 billion of prepayment deals that could finance the repairs at Port Harcourt, Reuters reported last week. Obateru declined to comment on the report, but said “I don’t envisage that we will have a problem getting people to invest.”

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Food Inflation Hits Record High of 19.56 Percent in December 2020




Food Inflation Hits Record High of 19.56 Percent in December 2020

Food Index, which measures prices of food items, grew by 19.56 percent in the month of December 2020 amid herdsmen attacks and flooding.

In the latest report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), increases were recorded on Bread and cereals, Potatoes, Yam and other
tubers, Meat, Fruits, Vegetable, Fish and Oils and fats.

On month on monthly basis, the food sub-index rose by 2.05 percent in December 2020, 0.01 percent from 2.04 percent recorded in November 2020.

The average annual rate of change of the Food sub-index for the twelve-month period ending December 2020 over the previous twelve-month average was 16.17 percent, 0.42 percent points from the average annual rate of change recorded in November 2020 (15.75) percent” the report stated.

Headline inflation number increased by 15.75 percent in the month of December 2020, up from 14.89 percent.

The report noted that increases were recorded in all COICOP divisions that yielded the Headline index.

On a month-on-month basis, “the urban index rose by 1.65 percent in December 2020, same as the rate recorded in November 2020, while the rural index also rose by 1.58 percent in December 2020, up by 0.02 percent above the rate that was recorded in November 2020 (1.56 percent).

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Nigeria’s Inflation Rate Rises to 15.75 Percent in December




Nigeria’s Inflation Rate Rises to 15.75 Percent in December

Inflation rate in Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, rose at the fastest pace in several months in the last month of 2020, according to the latest report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation rate, increased by 15.75 percent year-on-year in December 2020, representing a 0.86 percent increment from the 14.89 percent attained in November.

On a monthly basis, headline inflation rose by 1.61 percent in the month of December, representing 0.01 percent increase from the 1,60 percent posted in the month of November.

Food gauge that measures prices of items in Africa’s largest economy increased by 19.56 percent in December from 18.30 percent in November.

NBS attributed the increase to the surge in prices of Bread and cereals, Potatoes, Yam and other tubers, Meat, Fruits, Vegetable, Fish and Oils and fats.

On a monthly basis, the food sub-index grew by 2.05 percent in December 2020, an increase of 0.01 percent points from 2.04 percent recorded in November 2020.

The more stable annual rate showed Food sub-index over the last 12 months increased by 0.42 percent points from 15.75 percent in November to 16.17 percent in December.

Herdsmen attacks, the rising cost of fuel, flooding and the wide exchange rate are some of the key factors impacting the cost of food items in Nigeria, especially in December when demands were the highest.

Still lack of enough fiscal buffer to cushion the effect of COVID-19 and ease forex scarcity also drag on raw materials necessary for the production of some import-dependent items.

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