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Sluggish Economy Haunts Nigerian President at Ballot Box

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  • Sluggish Economy Haunts Nigerian President at Ballot Box

Timi Soleye returned home to Nigeria from the United States to set up a gas logistics business six years ago, encouraged by predictions of growth and an expanding middle class.

Three years later, Nigeria plunged into its first recession in a generation following a sharp fall in the price of oil, which accounts for 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings.

Infrastructure projects on which Soleye’s business relied were shelved. He kept afloat by doing consultancy work, but others weren’t so lucky.

“I know lots of people whose companies shut and laid people off,” said Soleye, a 31-year-old Harvard graduate and president of CRYO Gas and Power.

Soleye didn’t bother to vote in 2015. But this year, he says he has a reason to do so: he doesn’t want President Muhammadu Buhari to win a second term on Feb. 16. “Enough is enough,” he said.

Buhari’s critics accuse him of failing on a number of issues, including promises to tackle corruption and defeat an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands since he took the helm of Africa’s most populous nation. But his handling of the economy could cost Buhari more votes than any other issue.

Although Nigeria returned to growth in 2017, the economy expanded by 1.9 percent in 2018, compared with 5.5 percent when Soleye returned to Nigeria in 2013.

Inflation has been in double digits for the last three years, rising to a seven-month high of 11.4 percent in December. And nearly a quarter of the workforce – 23.1 percent – is unemployed, up from 18.1 percent a year earlier.

“People are still worse off after four years in power,” said Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital.

“It’s not all Buhari’s fault. It’s mainly to do with oil. But nonetheless, it’s made it difficult for people to be positive about the economy.”

For Clement Nweke, who sells electrical appliances in a Lagos street market, the last few years have been hard. Inflation and a weaker currency mean 100,000 naira ($330) will only buy one of his air conditioning units, compared with three back in 2015.

“The purchasing power from the public is lower,” he said. “It affects my own business because I don’t push out the many (units) I used to.”

Buhari’s main rival, businessman and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, has zeroed in on the issue.

“Get Nigeria working again,” is his campaign slogan.

He has vowed to double the size of the economy to $900 billion by 2025, mainly by giving a larger role to the private sector.

Buhari argues that the way to bigger growth is through infrastructure development, touting railway and road construction.

But many business leaders doubt he can fix the economy, saying their companies have been hurt by government efforts to help the poor.

“In their quest for what they call affordability, they have essentially price regulated a huge bevy of things, and they do not see that, ironically, it makes things more expensive,” said Soleye.

He said a decision to fix energy tariffs for three years meant that while customers were getting cheap electricity, crippling debts were piling up in Nigeria’s power sector.

Those debts have held up construction of new plants for which Soleye’s company would have provided gas storage and pipelines.

IMPORT RESTRICTIONS

Another often-cited example is the government’s decision to ban rice imports through its land borders in 2015. Instead, the government subsidised tractors, mills and fertiliser and arranged cheaper loans to boost domestic rice production.

But farmers struggled to meet demand, hampered by poor roads to bring their harvest to market and inadequate power for storage facilities. Prices soared.

The only people who did well were smugglers, said Rotimi Williams, who owns a rice farm in the central state of Nasarawa.

“The cost of production of local rice has increased, which means that people are going for cheaper imported rice,” he said.

He blames protectionist policies for Nigeria’s galloping inflation.

The government says it is trying to wean the economy off its reliance on oil sales by encouraging domestic production of everything from wheat to cars.

Some local businesses have profited. Etop Ikpe, CEO of Cars45, an online marketplace for used vehicles, said a decision to increase a tariff on imported vehicles from 20 to 70 percent in 2015 “provided an opportunity”.

“People couldn’t afford brand new cars or imported used cars,” he said.

But as with rice, the Nigerian ports authority reported a surge in car smuggling from neighbouring Benin, and local assembly did not pick up.

GOOD TERM?

Buhari’s supporters point out that Nigeria rose 24 places to 145 in the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking in 2017, largely due to government efforts to cut red tape, including issuing visas on arrival and establishing a centralized electronic system to pay federal taxes.

“One good term deserves another,” says an electronic billboard for Buhari in the Lagos business district of Victoria Island.

How voters respond may depend on whether they believe they will be better off with Atiku, who as vice president from 1999 to 2007 oversaw the liberalisation of Nigeria’s telecommunications industry.

Foreign investors have welcomed his pledges to float the naira, overhaul the central bank, privatise the state oil company and create a $25 billion fund to support private sector infrastructure investment.

The central bank, with Buhari’s backing, imposed currency restrictions in 2015 to defend the naira, rejecting bankers’ advice to float the currency as some other oil exporters had done. The following year, the naira lost a third of its value, and many investors fled.

Capital imports into Nigeria, which stood at $21.32 billion in 2013, fell to $5.12 billion in 2016, before rising to $12.2 billion as the country emerged from recession in 2017.

“If we want to see the unemployment rates coming down and certain initiatives that will boost growth, primarily it will be private sector driven,” said Boye Olawoye, group managing director of investment bank Primera Africa.

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Crude Oil

Fed’s Decision to Hold Rates Stalls Oil Market, Brent Crude Slips to $82.17

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Crude Oil - Investors King

Oil prices faced a setback on Thursday as the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to maintain interest rates dampened investor sentiment.

The Federal Reserve’s announcement on Wednesday indicated a reluctance to initiate an interest rate cut, pushing expectations for policy easing possibly as late as December. This unexpected stance rattled markets already grappling with inflationary pressures and economic uncertainty.

Brent crude, the international benchmark for Nigerian crude oil, saw a drop of 43 cents, or 0.5% to $82.17 a barrel, reflecting cautious investor response to the Fed’s cautious approach.

Similarly, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil also slipped by 46 cents, or 0.6% to settle at $78.04 per barrel.

Tamas Varga, an analyst at PVM Oil, commented on the Fed’s decision, stating, “In the Fed’s view, this is the price that needs to be paid to achieve a soft landing and avoid recession beyond doubt.”

The central bank’s move to hold rates steady is seen as a measure to balance economic growth and inflation containment.

The Energy Information Administration’s latest data release further exacerbated market concerns, revealing a significant increase in U.S. crude stockpiles, primarily driven by higher imports.

Fuel inventories also exceeded expectations, compounding worries about oversupply in the oil market.

Adding to the downward pressure on oil prices, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a bearish report highlighting concerns over potential excess supply in the near future.

The combination of these factors weighed heavily on investor sentiment, contributing to the decline in oil prices observed throughout the trading session.

Meanwhile, geopolitical tensions in the Middle East continued to influence market dynamics, with reports of Iran-allied Houthi militants claiming responsibility for recent attacks on international shipping near Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

These incidents underscored ongoing concerns about potential disruptions to oil supply routes in the region.

As markets digest the Fed’s cautious stance and monitor developments in global economic indicators and geopolitical tensions, oil prices are expected to remain volatile in the near term.

Analysts suggest that future price movements will hinge significantly on economic data releases, policy decisions by major central banks, and developments in geopolitical hotspots affecting oil supply routes.

 

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Crude Oil

Nigerian Oil Loses Ground to Cheaper US and Russian Crude

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Crude oil

Nigeria’s once-thriving oil industry is facing a significant challenge as traditional buyers increasingly turn to more affordable alternatives from the United States and Russia.

This shift has led to France emerging as the leading buyer of Nigerian crude, marking a significant change in the global oil market dynamics.

Top Nigerian crude grades like Bonny Light, Forcados, and Brass have long been favored by refineries in Europe and Asia due to their low sulfur content.

However, the country’s primary customers, including India and China, are now opting for cheaper US and Russian oil.

This trend poses a substantial risk to Nigeria, which relies on oil exports for more than half of its foreign exchange earnings.

Data from BusinessDay reveals a stark decline in India’s purchase of Nigerian crude. In the first quarter of 2024, India bought N1.3 trillion worth of Nigerian oil, a significant drop from the average of N2 trillion purchased between 2018 and 2021.

“Buyers are increasingly turning to cheaper alternatives, raising concerns for the country’s revenue stream,” said Aisha Mohammed, a senior energy analyst at the Lagos-based Centre for Development Studies.

The latest tanker-tracking data monitored by Bloomberg indicates that India is buying more American crude oil as Russian energy flows dwindle amid sanctions.

India’s state-owned oil refiners and leading private companies have increased their imports of US crude, reaching nearly seven million barrels of April-loading US oil. This shift is the largest monthly inflow since last May.

Russian crude flows to India surged following the invasion of Ukraine, making Russia the biggest supplier to the South Asian nation.

However, tighter US sanctions have stranded Russian cargoes, narrowing discounts, and prompting India to ramp up purchases from Saudi Arabia.

“Given the issues faced with importing Sokol in Russia, it’s no surprise that Indian refineries are turning toward US WTI Midland as their light-sweet alternative,” explained Dylan Sim, an analyst at industry consultant FGE.

As a result, France has overtaken the Netherlands to become the biggest buyer of Nigerian crude oil, purchasing products worth N2.5 trillion in the first quarter of 2024.

Spain and India occupied second and fourth positions, with imports valued at N1.72 trillion and N1.3 trillion respectively, as of March 2024.

The sluggish pace of sales for Nigeria’s May supplies highlights the market’s shifting dynamics. Findings show that about 10 cargoes of Nigerian crude for May loading were still available for purchase, indicating a reduced demand.

Rival suppliers such as Azeri Light and West Texas Intermediate have also seen price weaknesses, impacting Nigerian crude demand.

“We’ve got much weaker margins, so Nigeria’s crude demand is taking a hit,” noted James Davis, director of short-term oil market research at FGE.

Sellers seeking premiums over the Dated Brent benchmark have found the European market less receptive, according to Energy Aspects Ltd.

“May cargoes were at a premium that didn’t work that well into Europe, but lower offers have seen volumes move,” said Christopher Haines, EA global crude analyst. “Stronger forward diesel pricing is also helping.”

Some Nigerian grades are being priced more competitively, including Qua Iboe to Asia and Bonny Light to the Mediterranean or East, with the overhang slowly reducing, according to Sparta Commodities.

However, the overall reduced demand could lead to a decrease in revenue from oil exports, a major source of income for the Nigerian government.

“Reduced demand could lead to a decrease in revenue from oil exports, a major source of income for the Nigerian government,” warned Charles Ogbeide, an energy analyst with a Lagos-based investment bank.

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Commodities

Refiners Predict Petrol Prices to Fall to N300/Litre with Adequate Local Crude Supply

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Petrol - Investors King

The pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), commonly known as petrol, could drop to N300 per litre once local production ramps up significantly, according to operators of modular refineries.

This projection hinges on the provision of sufficient crude oil to domestic refiners, which they say would undercut the exorbitant costs currently imposed by foreign refineries.

Speaking under the aegis of the Crude Oil Refinery Owners Association of Nigeria (CORAN), the refiners stressed the urgency for the government to ensure a steady supply of crude oil to local processing plants.

They argue that the reliance on imported petroleum products has been economically disadvantageous for Nigeria.

Eche Idoko, Publicity Secretary of CORAN, emphasized that the current high costs could be mitigated by boosting local production.

“If we begin to produce PMS in large volumes and ensure adequate crude oil supply, the pump price could be reduced to N300 per litre. This would prevent Nigerians from paying nearly N700 per litre and stop foreign refiners from profiting excessively at our expense,” Idoko stated.

The potential price drop follows the model seen with diesel, which experienced a significant price reduction once the Dangote Petroleum Refinery began its production.

“Diesel prices dropped from N1,700-N1,800 per litre to N1,200 per litre after Dangote started producing. This is a clear indication that local production can drastically reduce costs,” Idoko explained.

In a previous statement, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, affirmed that Nigeria would cease importing petrol by June 2024 due to the Dangote Refinery’s capacity to meet local demand.

Dangote also expressed confidence in the refinery’s ability to cater to West Africa’s diesel and aviation fuel needs.

Challenges and Governmental Role

However, achieving this price reduction is contingent on several factors, including the provision of crude oil at the naira equivalent of its dollar rate.

CORAN has advocated for this approach, citing that it would bolster the naira and reduce the financial burden on refiners who currently buy crude in dollars.

The Nigerian government has shown some commitment towards this goal. Gbenga Komolafe, Chief Executive of the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), confirmed that a framework has been developed to ensure consistent supply of crude oil to domestic refineries.

“We have created a template for the Domestic Crude Oil Supply Obligation to foster seamless supply to local refineries,” Komolafe stated.

Industry Reactions

Oil marketers have welcomed the potential for reduced petrol prices. Abubakar Maigandi, President of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), expressed optimism about the Dangote Refinery’s impact on petrol prices.

“We expect the price of locally produced PMS to be below the current NNPC rate of N565.50 per litre. Ideally, we are looking at a price around N500 per litre,” Maigandi noted.

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