The naira continues to wobble as its exchange rate to the dollar plummets further
By Shedrack Ifurueze
In the early month of July, 2016, this magazine predicted that the exchange rate of the naira to major international currencies, particularly the dollar at the parallel market would hit N500 per dollar. This prediction presently has come to stay as it (naira) exchanges for N447 to the dollar at the parallel market and N325 to the dollar at the interbank market.
In fact, these are really not fascinating times for the nation’s economy, especially on the part of the national currency, the naira, no thanks to the country’s protracted depleting reserves, fall in crude oil prices and the current banning of the importion of about 45 items from the foreign exchange, FOREX market by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
Early this year after the apex regulatory body of the financial industry, stopped FOREX retailing to the importers of toothpicks, textiles, rice and others, the naira crashed to N375 against the United States dollar at the parallel market, down from N368 recorded when the latest FOREX regulation was introduced. The new policy which has pushed a colossal FOREX demands from the official market or interbank into the parallel market otherwise called black market and the Bureaux de Change, BDC retail segment has nonetheless, led to the artificial scarcity of other major foreign currencies as operators now hoard the dollar in anticipation of higher prices.
The Nigerian currency has nose-dived in recent times to N220, N223, N226, N226.50, N228, N240, N368, N375 and currently N447 against the US green back. Nevertheless, the black market operators and their BDC counterparts, The Source on investigation reveals that “there is going to be serious dollar liquidity squeeze and that this was already hitting the market even as operators were no longer in possession of huge stock of FOREX to meet the rising demands of the dollar particularly from the importers of the banned articles.”
With the apex bank’s figures, analysts have estimated that more than $5.7 billion quarterly FOREX demand was being transferred from the official interbank market. “The situation is getting really critical now. There is serious dollar liquidity squeeze in the market now. The demand is in fact, overwhelming and both the black market and the BDC subdivision can no longer meet with the demand” a market player noted.
Adamu Sule, a black market operator told the magazine that “the market is very volatile now as a result of the restrictions placed on some items by the CBN. Most importers are now patronising the parallel market to source their dollars after the liberalisation of the FOREX market.” The Association of Bureaux de Change operators, the magazine observed had last three months written to the CBN, asking it to intervene in the dollar scarcity in the parallel market and the BDC segment to save the naira from crashing further.
In a letter, a copy of which was made available to the media, the association expressed its readiness to work with the CBN to stabilise the market. The letter signed by Aminu Gwadabe and Uduma Cletus, President and Executive Secretary respectively, advised the CBN to increase its weekly FOREX sale to the BDCs from $300,000 to $500,000. The body also demanded from the apex bank to reintroduce the autonomous market so it can sell at least $100,000 to the operators. The association President said that it was expedient for the CBN to increase its FOREX sales to the BDCs in order to stabilise the local currency.
Other analysts also believe that the naira may hit $500 mark against the dollar in the coming weeks or months. The apex bank has reminded the FOREX dealers and the banks that their dollar sale for the affected items, including school fees, monthly mortgage, basic travel allowance, among others, must not exceed $5,000.
Meanwhile, the CBN is expected to reopen the Retail Dutch Auction System, RDAS, the official window it shut in February last year as battle to save the naira and FOREX reserves intensifies. Razia Khan, Chief Economist, African Global Research at Standard Chartered Bank disclosed recently that the apex bank was under pressure to reopen the two-way interbank FOREX trading. In a report obtained by the magazine entitled: “When perception is not reality,” Khan noted that given the current perceived market shortage of dollar, the reopening of the market is likely to see the dollar-naira trade advanced.
She elucidated that the negative watch period for the continued inclusion of Nigerian bonds in the widely tracked GB-EM index was to last two months in order to allow the new government enough time to formulate policy. “Unless the interbank determination of the FOREX rate is reintroduced with a resulting improvement in FOREX liquidity, Nigeria risks being excluded from the GBI-EM index as failure to reopen the FOREX market may deter direct investment as well. As at now, few foreign investors are ready to commit new investments to Nigeria ahead of any FOREX adjustment that they believe to be imminent,” Khan stated.
The Chief Economist further explained that Nigeria’s changing economic fundamentals call for a rethink of FOREX policy so as to better absorb external shocks. “We see Nigeria’s current account surplus moving to a deficit both this year and in the years ahead. The pace of accumulation of new FOREX reserves will not easily support a fixed exchange rate system. With a fixed FOREX rate, foreign reserves rather than the naira bear the brunt of any external shock, thus hurting Nigeria’s credit worthiness and potentially raising the cost of any external borrowing,” she predicted.
With this development, Khan believes that the risk is that the longer it takes to reopen or reintroduce the FOREX market, the greater the likelihood of FOREX overshooting when conditions do eventually normalise, adding that the debate over FOREX policy would continue to take centre-stage in this quarter and even in the next quarter culminating in a reopening of the interbank FOREX market, hence a likely move higher in the dollar-naira exchange rate. “The authorities therefore should be mindful of other reform priorities and the need to limit inflation are unlikely to favour naira depreciation for its own sake. These reform priorities include a probable doubling of the rate of Value Added Tax VAT to 10 percent in order to boost state governments revenues as well as some form of fuel subsidy adjustment,” she concluded.
In view of this, economic and financial experts and analysts have predicted that the naira might crash to N500 against the United States dollar at the parallel in the next few weeks following the trading of the local currency against the greenback at N447 last week.