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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.

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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Oil Dips Below $62 in New York Though Banks Say Rally Can Extend

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Oil Dips Below $62 in New York Though Banks Say Rally Can Extend

Oil retreated from an earlier rally with investment banks and traders predicting the market can go significantly higher in the months to come.

Futures in New York pared much of an earlier increase to $63 a barrel as the dollar climbed and equities slipped. Bank of America said prices could reach $70 at some point this year, while Socar Trading SA sees global benchmark Brent hitting $80 a barrel before the end of the year as the glut of inventories built up during the Covid-19 pandemic is drained by the summer.

The loss of oil output after the big freeze in the U.S. should help the market firm as much of the world emerges from lockdowns, according to Trafigura Group. Inventory data due later Tuesday from the American Petroleum Institute and more from the Energy Department on Wednesday will shed more light on how the Texas freeze disrupted U.S. oil supply last week.

Oil has surged this year after Saudi Arabia pledged to unilaterally cut 1 million barrels a day in February and March, with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicting the rally will accelerate as demand outpaces global supply. Russia and Riyadh, however, will next week once again head into an OPEC+ meeting with differing opinions about adding more crude to the market.

“The freeze in the U.S. has proved supportive as production was cut,” said Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro. “We still expect that Russia will push for a significant rise in production,” which could soon weigh on prices, he said.

PRICES

  • West Texas Intermediate for April fell 27 cents to $61.43 a barrel at 9:20 a.m. New York time
  • Brent for April settlement fell 8 cents to $65.16

Brent’s prompt timespread firmed in a bullish backwardation structure to the widest in more than a year. The gap rose above $1 a barrel on Tuesday before easing to 87 cents. That compares with 25 cents at the start of the month.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. and oil trader Vitol Group shot down talk of a new oil supercycle, though they said a lack of supply response will keep prices for crude prices firm in the short term.

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Crude Oil

Oil Prices Rise With Storm-hit U.S. Output Set for Slow Return

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Crude oil

Oil Prices Rise With Storm-hit U.S. Output Set for Slow Return

Oil prices rose on Monday as the slow return of U.S. crude output cut by frigid conditions served as a reminder of the tight supply situation, just as demand recovers from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brent crude was up $1.38, or 2.2%, at $64.29 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate gained $1.38, or 2.33%, to trade at $60.62 per barrel.

Abnormally cold weather in Texas and the Plains states forced the shutdown of up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production along with 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas output, analysts estimated.

Shale oil producers in the region could take at least two weeks to restart the more than 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude output affected, sources said, as frozen pipes and power supply interruptions slow their recovery.

“With three-quarters of fracking crews standing down, the likelihood of a fast resumption is low,” ANZ Research said in a note.

For the first time since November, U.S. drilling companies cut the number of oil rigs operating due to the cold and snow enveloping Texas, New Mexico and other energy-producing centres.

OPEC+ oil producers are set to meet on March 4, with sources saying the group is likely to ease curbs on supply after April given a recovery in prices, although any increase in output will likely be modest given lingering uncertainty over the pandemic.

“Saudi Arabia is eager to pursue yet higher prices in order to cover its social break-even expenses at around $80 a barrel while Russia is strongly focused on unwinding current cuts and getting back to normal production,” said SEB chief commodity analyst Bjarne Schieldrop.

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Crude Oil Rose Above $65 Per Barrel as US Production Drop Due to Texas Weather

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oil

Crude Oil Rose Above $65 Per Barrel as US Production Drop Due to Texas Weather

Oil prices rose to $65.47 per barrel on Thursday as crude oil production dropped in the US due to frigid Texas weather.

The unusual weather has left millions in the dark and forced oil producers to shut down production. According to reports, at least the winter blast has claimed 24 lives.

Brent crude oil gained $2 to $65.47 on Thursday morning before pulling back to $64.62 per barrel around 11:00 am Nigerian time.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 2.3 percent to settle at $61.74 per barrel.

“This has just sent us to the next level,” said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York. “Crude oil WTI will probably max out somewhere pretty close to $65.65, refinery utilization rate will probably slide to somewhere around 76%,” Yawger said.

However, the report that Saudi Arabia plans to increase production in the coming months weighed on crude oil as it can be seen in the chart below.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabian Energy Minister, warned that it was too early to declare victory against the COVID-19 virus and that oil producers must remain “extremely cautious”.

“We are in a much better place than we were a year ago, but I must warn, once again, against complacency. The uncertainty is very high, and we have to be extremely cautious,” he told an energy industry event.

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