Food inflation

Inflation rate hits 18.17%

Nigeria’s consumer price index, which measures the rate of increase in the price of goods and services, increased to 18.17 percent in March from 17.33 in February, according to an inflation report released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Thursday.

Food prices are surging on the back of lingering security challenges, festive induced demand and an acute dollar squeeze

READ ALSO: FG begins full commercialization of Federal Mortgage Bank

This implies that Nigerians spent more on purchasing goods and services in the month of March, compared to February.

The March figure is the highest since January 2017 when it climbed 18.72 percent.

“Nineteen straight months of rising inflation rate and momentum is not even slowing. Looks like we are going to break the 2017 record in Q2,” Omotola Abimbola, assistant vice president at Chapel Hill Nigeria tweeted on Thursday.

The NBS data also showed Nigeria’s food inflation is now at the highest in over 12 years. Food inflation increased by 1.16 percent, year on year, from 21.79 percent in February to 22.95 percent in March.

The rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, meat, vegetable, fish, oils and fats and fruits.

The “All items less farm produce” or Core inflation, which excludes the prices of volatile agricultural produce rose to 12.67percent in March 2021, up by 0.29percent when compared with 12.38percent recorded in February 2021.



End current monetary rascality, Obaseki replies FG

What is fast becoming a forth and back between Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki and the Federal Government continued on Thursday as the governor urged the FG to stop the act of deliberately ignoring the prevailing economic challenges in the country and take urgent steps to end the current financial rascality.

READ ALSO: LCCI Seeks National Asset Register For Debts

Obaseki, in a tweet via his official Twitter handle @GovernorObaseki titled “Our advice is that we stop playing the ostrich”, noted that he is not joining issues with the Federal Ministry of Finance but was only offering useful advice for the benefit of Nigeria.

The governor had recently expressed worry over the country’s penchant for borrowing, noting that the debt profile could rise to N16 trillion by the end of 2021.

He also claimed that the Federal Government printed additional N50 billion-N60 billion to top up the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) for states to share.

Zainab Ahmed, minister of finance, budget and national planning, on Wednesday, however, said it was untrue that the FG printed N60 billion in March to support federal allocations to states.

But responding via a tweet on Thursday, Obaseki, who stood by his claim, urged the minister of finance, budget and national planning to rally Nigerians to stem the obvious fiscal decline confronting the nation.

“We believe it is our duty to offer useful advice for the benefit of our country. Rather than play the ostrich, we urge the government to take urgent steps to end the current monetary rascality, so as to prevent the prevailing economic challenge from degenerating further,” Obaseki said.



LCCI Seeks National Asset Register For Debts

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has sought a national asset register to document the specific projects that the debts are incurred for so as to ease the pressure of debt service on the budget.

READ ALSO: FDC Analysts Predict March Inflation To Hit 17.8%

“We note that the majority of Nigeria’s debts are not linked to assets or specific projects. As such, it is critical to create a national asset register, and have a coordinated mechanism in place for valuing and managing Nigerian assets”, noted LCCI President Toki Mabogunje

She faulted government’s penchant for issuing new debt to redeem maturing ones as not being an optimal debt management strategy.

“It is critically important to replace existing debts with asset-linked securities to reduce debt cost. This will ease the pressure of debt service on the budget,” Mabogunje said.

she said further that LCCI acknowledged the introduction of the electronic call-up system at Apapa and Tin Can ports, which is aimed at resolving the systemic gridlock crisis around the Apapa corridor caused by port congestion.
“This measure is a work-in-progress and may not alone provide a sustainable solution to numerous issues faced by economic agents at the ports.

“It is important for the Federal Government, Lagos State government, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and other relevant stakeholders to address the internal issues within the ports including the terminal operators, custom processes and procedures, quality of cargo handling equipment, lack of credible framework for dispute resolution on import valuation and classification, presence of several government agencies with overlapping roles, serial extortions and racketeering; and other structural bottlenecks stifling the ease of doing business at the ports.

“The solution to this problem must be holistic and inclusive. It demands strong political will to bring discipline to the entire cargo clearing and export evacuation processes.

Despite the laudable initiative of the Electronic Call Up system and the initial successes recorded on its introduction, there seems to be a reversion to the old ways. Many importers and exporters are expressing severe frustrations,” she said.

The LCCI president asserted that to achieve an enabling investment environment for the advancement of the Nigerian economy and the good of all investors and economic players, right policy and regulatory framework are imperative,” Mabogunje concluded.



Federal Government Denies Printing N60bn To Share In March

The Federal Government has debunkfed claims that it printed N60 billion to support federal allocations to states in March, describing the comment made by the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki as untrue and saddening.

READ ALSO: Sell-offs in microfinance banks over recapitalisation

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed explained that despite Obaseki’s worry that Nigeria is in ‘huge financial trouble’, the country’s debt profile is still within sustainable limits.

Recall that Edo State Governor was quoted as saying at the Edo transition committee stakeholders engagement last Saturday that, “When we got Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) for March, the federal government printed additional N50 billion- N60 billion to top-up for us to share.

“This April, we will go to Abuja and share. By the end of this year, our total borrowings are going to be within N15 trillion-N16 trillion.”

But the Minister of Finance in a statement by Yunusa Tanko Abdullahi
Special Adviser, Media & Communications, maintains that what is distributed at the monthly FAA meetings were generated revenue from government institutions available to the public at the ministry’s website.

Ahmed said: “The issue that was raised by the Edo State Governor for me is very, very sad because it is not a fact.

“What we distribute at FAAC is a revenue that is generated and in fact, distribution of revenue is a public information. We publish revenue generated by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and we distribute at FAAC.

“So, it is not true to say we printed money to distribute at FAAC; it is not true. On the issue of borrowing, the Nigerian debt is still within a sustainable limit.

What we need to do, as I have said several times, is to improve our revenue to enhance our capacity to service not only our debt, but to also service the needs of running government on day-to-day basis. So our debt currently at about 23 percent to GDP is at a very sustainable level if you look at all the reports that you see from multilateral institutions,” Ahmed concluded.


Microfinance Bank

Sell-offs in microfinance banks over recapitalisation

Ahead of April’s deadline for the first threshold of recapitalisation exercise in the Microfinance Bank (MFB) sub-sector, some operators that do not have the capacity to meet up have decided to sell off their ventures.

READ ALSO: Edo plans to train 15,000 software engineers, programmers

Some of the micro lenders that have sold off their businesses include Cardinal Rock MFB, Cowries MFB, Aguda Titun MFB, First Ideal MFB, High Street MFB, Money Wise MFB, Owotutu MFB, Irolu MFB, and Royal Blue MFB, among others.

“Most buyers are ex-bankers. Some of them acquired the micro banks when they were about to leave the bank or after they had left,” top official of a microfinance bank told BusinessDay.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had in October 22, 2018, reviewed upward the minimum capital requirement of the three categories of MFBs as follows – Unit microfinance banks from N20 million to N200 million, State MFBs from N100 million to N1 billion, and the National MFB from N2 billion to N5 billion.

In consideration of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic activities in the country, the regulator in 2020 revised and extended the deadline for compliance with the minimum capital requirement for microfinance banks by one year.

Consequently, MFBs operating in rural, unbanked and under banked areas (Tier 2) are expected meet the N35 million capital threshold by April 2021 and N50 million by April 2022.

MFBs operating in urban and high density banked areas (Tier 1) are expected to meet the N100 million capital threshold by April 2021 and N200 million by April 2022; State licensed MFBs are to increase their capital to N500 million by April 2021 and N1 billion by April 2022, and National MFBs are expected to meet minimum capital of N3.5 billion capital by April 2021 and N65 billion by April 2022.

However, more than two-thirds of licensed MFBs in Nigeria may close shop if they fail to meet the recapitalisation deadline, the first threshold of which should be due by the end of this April.

Of the 874 licensed MFBs, about 612 may be affected, although the final deadline will be in 2022. These banks were established to meet the financial needs of Nigeria’s low-income earners.

“I am having a feeling that most MFBs with National licence will survive,” a MBF CEO told BusinessDay on phone.

The National licensed MFBs include LAPO MFB, AB MFB, NPF MFB, and Paralex MFB, which have migrated into regional commercial bank.

Some of these big micro banks stand ready to acquire the ones that are not able to meet their capital requirements as a way of saving the sector from collapsing.

“We have not bought anyone but if they approach us we will buy, of course, we will do due diligence. We have done due diligence for one and it did not work. So, we are looking at one in Kano but they are not following up. I think many eventually would want to sell,” a source from LAPO Microfinance Bank Limited, said.

A bank from Kano State has approached LAPO but it is yet to conduct due diligent on the bank. The problem with some of these microfinance banks is that their books are too bad that when you buy them you buy “wahala.”

However, if their financials are bad, there might be some aspect of them that are good, that is, other values, such as good staff.

“The approach is simple, they approach us or we approach them, give them form to fill to complete their profile, we appoint a company to do financial analysis for us and once that is done we take our decision.

“We take them case by case. If for instance 20 approach us and we discover that all the 20 are good, then why not. On the other hand, if three approach us and we discovered that they are not good, we will not buy. The bottom line is that we are open to acquisition but the financial decision would be based on how good they are. The second thing is, one of the reasons is that it is a way of saving the sector,” the source said.

The Unit MFBs are likely going to be the ones that would be swept away at the end of the recapitalisation exercise.

The CBN on March 31, 2021, issued a letter to Suisse MFB to shore up its capital but the owners of the bank, Christ Embassy, is not making effort to comply with the directive, a source close to the bank told BusinessDay.

On November 12, 2020, the CBN revoked the operating licences of 42 failed MFBs.

According to Yusuf Gyallesu, national president, National Association of Microfinance Banks (NAMB), affirms that sell-off is one of the options presented to the MFBs in push for recapitalisation.

“It is the last option after you try all means and it does not work, instead of losing the licence, you sell it and someone will continue from there,” he says.

Some strong MFBs and their models

LAPO MFB provides a wide array of direct-lending solutions, both to group and individual, plus specialised lending products such as asset-based lending.

Renmoney, leveraging technology to make financial inclusion, states, “Everyday, we strive to understand our customers and leverage technology, data and innovation to deliver outstanding service experiences.”

Baobab MFB has gained recognition for its ability to combine financial sustainability with positive social and environmental impacts. As an industry leader, Baobab Group rigorously applies internationally recognised best practices of good governance and institutional ethics.

EdFin MBF birthed out of the need for quality education in Nigeria. The bank, dedicated solely to funding the education eco-space in Nigeria, aims to positively disrupt the standard and quality of education in Nigeria by providing the much-needed financial resources and services to the education sector.

EdFin is focused on facilitating a more enabling environment for private schools in order for them to be able to offer quality education that would ensure improved learning outcomes in such schools and ultimately in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Microfinance sector is strategically designed and positioned to provide formal financial services to the grassroots, with a focus on delivering micro-savings and microloans services towards improving financial inclusion in Nigeria.

A recent evaluation of this industry has shown gaps concerning Digital Financial Services and a significant opportunity to strengthen players in this regard, according to EFInA.


Crude Oil

Oil Price Gains For 5th Consecutive Month

The average global crude oil prices have continued to rise for the 5th consecutive month, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Finance Minister, Reps Meet Over Doctors’ Strike Next Week

OPEC attributed the continued rise in international oil prices to the supportive oil market fundamentals deployed by the group to stem the earlier plunge in crude oil costs.

It disclosed this in the ‘Highlights of the OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report’ released on Tuesday and obtained by our correspondent in Abuja.

Commenting on crude oil price movements, the organisation said, “Spot crude prices rose for the fifth consecutive month in March on the back of continuing supportive oil market fundamentals.

“The OPEC Reference Basket increased $3.51 or 5.7 percent m-o-m (month-on-month) to average $64.56/barrel, the highest on monthly terms since January 2020.”

It added, “In the first three months of 2021, the ORB was up by $8.82, or 17.2 percent to average $60.22/barrel. Crude oil futures prices were higher in March extending previous monthly gains.”

OPEC stated that the ICE Brent front-month rose by $3.42 in March, or 5.5 percent, to average $65.70/barrel, and NYMEX WTI increased by $3.30, or 5.6 per cent, to average $62.36/barrel.

It noted that consequently, the Brent WTI spread widened to $3.34/barrel on a monthly average.

Brent, against which Nigeria’s crude oil is priced, rose by $0.63 to $63.91 per barrel as of 9:50pm Nigerian time on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, OPEC has increased its oil demand outlook for 2021 just as the bloc and its allies plan to unleash more crude supplies over the next few months, according to S&P Global Platts.

In its closely watched monthly oil market report released April 13, OPEC raised its demand forecast by 190,000 barrels per day from its March estimate, expecting consumption to average 96.46 million bpd this year, citing economic stimulus programmes and a further easing of COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Year on year, global oil demand was projected to grow 5.95 million bpd in 2021, compared with the 5.89 million bpd forecast in March.


Doctors strike

Finance Minister, Reps Meet Over Doctors’ Strike Next Week

The leadership of the House of Representatives will next week meet with the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed over the industrial action by the Nigerian resident doctors in efforts for an enduring resolution of contending issues with resident doctors in the country,

READ ALSO: Governor Ortom Launches Savings Scheme In Benue For Hajj Programme

Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila disclosed Tuesday that the meeting would be over how to ensure the execution of the Memorandum of Action entered into between the government and members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD)

The Speaker, who meet with the executive of the National Association of Residents Doctors (NARD) led by the President, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi assured that the House would ensure an amicable and acceptable resolution of the contentious hazard allowance issue as well as other contentious issues.

It would be recalled that the resident doctors suspended the industrial action that began on April 1, 2021, after 10 days of its commencement.

The Speaker noted that though it was impossible to accommodate the hazard allowance in the 2021 National Budget, the House would work to ensure that it is included in the supplementary budget.

While commending the doctors for suspending the strike at the request of the House, the Speaker said, “Even the constitution talks about essential services, but there’s nothing as essential a service than that which seeks to save and protect lives.”

Saying that the House believes that “the labourer must earn his wages,” Gbajabiamila said “We’ll monitor issues being processed, the IPPIS, training fund, hazard allowances which the House championed at the peak of the Covid-19 crisis.

“All the issues will be addressed. We’re looking to come to a reasonable and acceptable hazard allowance as well as the training fund, which when the supplementary budget is introduced, we hope and expect to justify why this should be accommodated

“We will do everything we need to do to see how we can capture that.

“We are inviting Finance Minister next week so that we can talk and see how, as best as we can, accommodate all these issues and cement the Memorandum of Action”.



Governor Ortom Launches Savings Scheme In Benue For Hajj Programme

The Hajj Savings Scheme which aims to give all Muslims equal treatment and to help them achieve one of the tenets of the religion is a product of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in collaboration with Jaiz Bank Plc to make it easier for all Muslims to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj.

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Holy pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime to perform hajj is one of the demands of the Islamic faith and Muslim looks towards its fulfilment. However, the state of the Nigerian economy which has now been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many to achieve.

Speaking during the launch and sensitisation of the scheme in Makurdi, the governor, represented by Amirul Hajj, Sule Audu said his administration is committed to providing equal opportunity to all religions in Benue.

He said: “I will like to assure the Muslim Community in Benue State and NAHCON that the Benue State government will not relent in her efforts to see Muslims in the state enjoy equal right like other state indigenes and to participate in both national and international Islamic events.

The governor said that since Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime, the HSS will assist “low income earners and the general public to make an installmental or gradual saving at their convenience, towards meeting their goal of going on Hajj.”

The governor requested Jaiz Bank to open a branch in Benue State for the people of the state to benefit from non-interest banking.

The Managing Director of Jaiz Bank Plc, Hassan Usman said as the Scheme grows over time, NAHCON and the various State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards can have the liquid funds required to effectively plan hajj operations early, thereby securing better bargain for accommodation and other services for their pilgrims. The scheme can also be the key to making them highly self-sustaining in the long run.

The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, Zikirullah Kunle Hassan said the scheme is part of the reforms to make hajj operations in tandem with the global best practice.

He said under the Hajj Savings Scheme, subscribers can get reward of their intentions before actualising the journey, saying every Muslim can participate and will have the opportunity to perform the holy pilgrimage without having to sell off his or her assets.


Food inflation

Nigeria’s accelerating food inflation shows failure of border closure

The continuous rise in the prices of food in Africa’s most populous country since 18 months ago is an indication that the border closure policy implemented by the Nigerian government failed to serve its purpose.

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Food prices in Nigeria have been making rapid climbs since August 2019 – when the policy was introduced and have shown no sign of receding despite the reopening of the country’s land borders for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.

It has caused headline inflation to accelerate to a 4-year high of 17.3 percent in February 2021, mainly driven by food inflation that has quickened to 20.6 percent – highest in 13 years.

“The policy brought hardship to Nigerians which we are still experiencing despite the reopening of the borders. It was the policy that triggered an upsurge in food prices,” said a CEO who does not want his name mentioned on print.

“The policy did not increase local production but only enriched few who benefitted at the expense of majority Nigerians,” he said.

Nigeria had in August 2019 closed its land borders with neighbouring West African countries to stem the smuggling of goods – rice in particular, and encourage local agricultural production.

However, the policy failed to stem smuggling as foreign rice and other key staples made entry into the Nigerian markets through new routes at higher costs, thus raising questions about the effectiveness of the policy.

A report by the Institute for Security Studies states that the border closure policy only resulted in creating new smuggling routes as illicit dealers were determined to move their goods across borders.

Nigeria still has an increasing demand-supply gap in most of its staple foods, as the country’s population of 2.6 percent per annum is growing faster than its food production.

According to experts, it was the shortfall in food supply that resulted in surging prices.

“We are yet to bridge our huge demand-supply gaps in most staples, so when we introduced the border closure policy, prices started escalating because of these gaps,” said Abiodun Olorundenro, manager, AquaShoots, said in a telephone response to questions.

“The demand-supply gaps and cheaper imported products are what is constantly fuelling smuggling of agricultural produce. What we need to do is to make our agricultural commodities competitive,” Olorundenro said.

He noted that Nigerians were worse off than they were before the introduction of the protectionist policy owing to the upsurge of food prices.

Similarly, differences in policies across West African countries, prices of goods, and preference for imported commodities by Nigerians also shore up smuggling in the region.

Nigerians prefer to source certain products from Benin Republic because the prices are cheaper compared to the locally-produced ones.



Inflation: T-bills 8% return fails to shield investors

Fixed-income investors seeking high-yielding securities were not disappointed in the first quarter of 2021 as the rates on the T-bills 364-day Federal Government short-term debt instruments rose to 8 percent from 1.5 percent at the beginning of the quarter.

READ ALSO: CBN to limit intervention in the I&E FX window…

But with Nigeria’ s 17.33 inflation rate in February, the real return on the 364-day government less risky treasury bill is -9.33 percent.

After hitting a four-year low of near-zero percent in 2020, yields on the Federal Government risk-free treasury bills climbed to more than 15- month high in the three months ended March 2021.

Weeks after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) shocked the market with a 10.10 percent stop rate for the 362-day Open Market Operation (OMO) bill, the highest levels seen in almost a year, fixed-income investors demanded higher rates for T-bills.

“The increase in the stop rates can be linked to the hike in CBN OMO rates some weeks ago. Investors are bidding at higher rates and the Debt Management Office (DMO) also needs to raise the cut off rate to fill some of the orders,” Ayodeji Ebo, head, retail investment, Chapel Hill Denham, said.

According to the T-bills auction result for March 31, 2021, investors bid at a rate as high as 8 percent for the 91-day bill, 9 percent and 11 percent for the 182-day and 364-day bills, respectively, but CBN settled at 2 percent, 3.5 percent and 8 percent, respectively. The stop rates for the 91-day and 182-day bills stayed flat but the 364-day bill increased by 100 basis points compared to the result of the previous auction.

Investors showed less interest in the shorter 91-day and 182-day bills as they attracted a lower interest rate but were willing to subscribe to the longer 364-day bill which rose by 100bps to 8 percent interest rate.

While CBN planned to raise N10 billion for the shorter 91-day bill, investors subscribed with N570 million less. The apex bank was eventually able to allot N2.88 billion, almost four times less than its initial offer.

Investors’ bid for the 182-day bill was the same. While the CBN offered N17.6 billion worth of treasury bills, investors said they were willing to invest N12.74 billion. The apex bank raised N3.24 billion.

The 364-day bill was, however, oversubscribed by N51.72 billion. The CBN initially offered N68.08 billion but after investors said they were willing to invest N190.43 billion, the apex bank increased its allotment to N138.71 billion.

The recent uptick in T-bills rate to more than one year-high is good news for fixed income investors as their real return on investment which appreciated to -9.33 percent in March is much better than the -13.89 percent report in November 2020 when investors were more concerned about losing their capital than return on investment.

Even though a BusinessDay poll of five market analysts expect the rates on the less risky government Nigerian treasury bills to reach 9 percent before the end of June this year, the country’s inflation rate which is expected to maintain an upward trend possess a threat to investors real return.

Despite a 15-month high uptick in the yields on Federal Government risk-free instruments, fixed-income investors are earning negative returns in real terms due to inflation rate which accelerated to a 48-month high in February 2021.

Nigeria’s rising cost of goods and services with no relief insight puts local investors in government instrument at a disadvantage when compared to their African peers.

With 13.26 percent T-bill rates in Ghana and 9.213 percent in Kenya, fixed-income investors in both countries are enjoying a real return of 2.96 percent and 3.41 percent, respectively. February inflation in the West African country and East Africa’s largest economy stood at 10.3 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively.

Interest rates in Nigeria have always been high due to the monetary system since 2009 which sought to use FGN bonds/T-bills and OMO bills as a means of attracting US dollars into the country to stabilise the naira. But October 23, 2019, OMO policy by the Central Bank which prevents domestic investors from participating in the auction, drove rates to its record low levels.

From October 23, 2019, the apex bank banned non-bank locals (individuals and corporates) from participating in OMO auction at both the primary and secondary market. The CBN’s policy is largely in line with its drive to divert liquidity away from risk-free instruments to the real sector.

Treasury bills are short-term sovereign debt securities maturing in one year or less. They are sold at a discount and redeemed at par.