Nairametrics| As at Friday, the 17th of March 2017, the exchange rate at the black market was about N455/$1 compared to the official CBN rate of N306/$1. This represents a disparity of N149 0r 33% between the official and parallel market rate. As bad as this looks, it is far better than the 41% or N214 disparity we experienced prior to the new exchange rate policy introduced by the CBN in February 2017. However, most economist and analysts all over the country want something better.
They are clamouring for a free float of the naira (by the way, we are also fans of a free float of the naira) because they believe that it will result in three success points. Firstly, foreign investors will be assured that they can repatriate their money whenever they want and without relying on the CBN.
Secondly, A free float could also solve the problem of price discovery once and for all and maybe reduce the disparity between the official and parallel market rate to under 5%. And finally, just maybe, a free float could also signal the end of the parallel market.
These three conclusions could have been full proof if it were another economy. Unfortunately, Nigeria is known to buck the trend for the simple reason that applying the same method that seem to work elsewhere produces a different result here. While, a free float of the naira could result in a return of foreign investors, it is unlikely to lead to an elimination of the parallel market. It is also unlikely that we would achieve a rate disparity that is less than 10%. Let’s explain why.
What happens to those without documentation
The latest Forex policy allowing the banks to sell PTA to Nigerians requires applicants to provide necessary documentation. A float of a country’s currency will also require that buyers meet the same criteria. Forex will not be sold to just anyone who walks into a bank as you will still need to provide the documentation required before forex can be sold to you. For those who do not meet this criterion, the black market is a logical option. A lot of FX buyers in Nigeria fall into this category.
What about bribery and corruption, Money Laundering etc. Who serves this market?
The black market still helps facilitate corruption activities in Nigeria as well as illicit transfer of funds such as money laundering. The official market when floated will not serve this group of unscrupulous people, leaving them to rely solely on the black market. You and I know the government can’t stop this activity at least in the near time. Just a few weeks back the EFCC caught a former government official with millions of dollars stashed in his house. With corruption, still stubbornly prevalent, the black market will remain sustained by the ensuing demand and supply from this segment of the economy.
Ineligible demand is still a big elephant in the room
The 41 banned items remain on the CBN list and could remain there even if the CBN decides to float the naira. Also, undocumented importers who do not want to go through official channels will still have to rely on the black market to fund their FX needs. This is a big elephant in the room and even rumours that the CBN might lift the ban might not do much to serve this demand. Nigeria remains a high import destination with demand growing either for supply of raw materials or finished products. As the world get more protectionist, I suspect some FX demands will remain ineligible for some time to come, giving buyers no choice but to purchase from the black market.
There will still be holdouts against any forex policy the CBN puts out. Those who will bet against the naira will continue to stash dollars from the black market buying for those who cannot use up their FX allocations at a rate higher than the official rate in the hope that they can sell at the black market for a higher rate. These guys will keep the black market sustained. They also include the guys buying and selling on the streets of major cities around the country. Currently, CBN data reveals about $20 billion is locked up in the vault of banks as domiciliary account deposits. You’d have to look at that account to get an idea of just how much remains outside of the forex market. While most Nigerians who maintain these accounts do so for savings or as an account where their earnings are deposited, some keep them for speculative purposes.
Nigeria’s road to forex freedom is a long and arduous journey and we believe that it begins with a float of the Naira. However, any thought that it will eliminate the black market or close the rate disparity is folly. I hope that I am prove n wrong.
Strong performance from Stanbic IBTC, despite weak retail banking position
Will Stanbic IBTC be able to generate profit from its personal banking division by full year?
Stanbic IBTC made a profit after tax of N45.2billion, growing its profit by 24.7% when compared with this period last year.
The feat is remarkable; given that a majority of financial institutions responded as expected to the economic downturn triggered by inflationary pressures, oil price instability, and lack of notable business activities, necessitated by the corona-virus pandemic that has characterised the 2020 business calendar year.
These other organizations reflected positions worse off than their escapades in 2019. In cases where improvements in bottom-line were seen, it was only marginal.
Stanbic IBTC was not exempted from these economic trials, their immensely diversified business portfolio boosted their numbers on multiple fronts. Robust presence in Asset Management paid off, as commissions and fees represented a massive 62% of general fees and commission income. It’s Corporate and Investment division continues to produce astoundingly, contributing the highest and growing profit after tax of 49.2%.
This focused and efficiently monitored diversification, is turning Stanbic IBTC into world-beaters, reflecting in the expansion of its gross earnings by 7.8%, from N117.4billion in HY’2019 to N126.6billion so far this year.
This position could have appeared even better; had STANBIC been able to demonstrate in its personal and business banking segment, the same excellence, noticeable in its other business segments (Wealth, Corporate and Investment).
It’s Personal banking (generally regarded as Retail banking), encompasses the provision of banking and financial services to individual customers and SME’s (Small and Medium scale enterprises), mortgage lending, leases, card products, transactional and lending activities such as telephone banking, ATM’s, etc. The segment suffered this year, closing with a loss of N3.2billion, despite being responsible for over 58.4% of general staff costs. This poor position was sponsored by a reduction in income levels, especially non-interest income from fees and commission.
Unsurprisingly, given CBN’s policy at the start of the year to implement a much-reduced transfer fee rate, an increase in Non-performing loans is another causal factor for its loss this half-year. STANBIC cannot afford to bask in the euphoria of the massive successes of its Wealth and Corporate segment, at the expense of Retail banking.
Retail banking is fundamental to any bank looking to be a force, or preserve its going-concern status in this critically competitive economic environment. It has been the subject of immense research in the last decade, with many banks devising strategies to acquire a large chunk of the market share in this business segment. The banking landscape is evolving amidst growing competition, such that a bank that generally does well in its retail banking segment, is perceived as strong by the public. This has an underrated capacity to effortlessly attract more customers. Banks need to revisit the drawing board and re-embrace their sacred purpose of serving the basic and pure needs of their individual customers.
Michael Lafferty, Chairman of the Lafferty Group, whilst describing Retail banking said, “Retail banking is the foundation on which global banks are built,” It is a vast retail and consumer banking market, pointing out that the world’s biggest banks built their financial empire from the mass market.
Stanbic IBTC must be conscious in its quest to provide universal banking and find a balance in product and service offerings across its business segment.
A summary of the performance parameters in its financial statement, shows growth in gross earnings, from N117.4billion to N126.6billion, and improvement in earnings per share from 342kobo to 419kobo.
Attention now shifts to the impact of the bank’s new super app, supposedly a one-stop-shop for its diverse offerings, including banking, investing, pensions, trading, and insurance, and how it affects the bottom line in subsequent quarters.
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Lastly, will Stanbic IBTC be able to generate profit from its personal banking division by full year? We await their H2’2020 results.
Is Zenith Bank thriving on the strength of sound financial indices?
Zenith Bank posts N103.8bn profit in half-year financial result.
Sound financial indices have made Zenith Bank one of the largest banks in the Nigerian banking Industry. It was recognized as the Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria 2019, in the Global Banker magazine Top 500 Banking brands; and Best Commercial Bank in Nigeria 2019, by the World Finance.
Zenith Bank has successfully bolstered this narrative even further with the release of its Half Year 2020 Financial Report, where it closed with a profit of N103.8 billion.
Growing profit position in these perilous times, speaks remarkably of the suppleness and elasticity of any establishment. A lull in economic activity caused by inflationary pressures, precariousness of the market, and the coronavirus pandemic has forced most Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) to cave in, and reveal achievements worse off than their 2019 results y/y – but not Zenith Bank Plc. The institution has showcased beyond reasonable doubt, that the apparent limitations are incapable of distorting its active growth pattern.
Zenith Bank closed H1 2020, 16.8% better off than it did in 2019 y/y, in terms of profit after tax. Although this massive leap, hugely resulting from tax paid as profit before tax, noted just a 2.2% growth. Further analysis of its HY’2020 results, demonstrates more efficiency, a focused cost of fund optimization, and an aggressiveness in generating income across its business heads and segments. This strategy had begun since 2018, and was shared by the bank when it disclosed planned implementation of an improved core banking system, hoping it would ultimately enhance efficiency while reducing costs.
Zenith Bank has thrived on the strength of its sound business model, corporate governance, conservative risk management, and strategic corporate social investment. The bank has been very forceful in the market, improving massively across all of its income generating segments, despite the plausible and obvious hindrances. This is a testament to its superiority, and sponsors its claim for supremacy.
The bank made N22billion from foreign exchange revaluation gains and despite evidence to the contrary, it endeavored in operating expenditure (OPEX). OPEX may have grown by 7.7%, but disclosures and note to the accounts shows that in virtually every expense head, costs dropped. The 7.7% was triggered majorly by Information Technology related costs, fuel and maintenance, and an increase in the compulsory banking cost fund, set up for the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) by the CBN.
Now, like every hero susceptible to their hubris, Zenith has its own problems, which questions its position at the top. Yes, the bank may have an amazing and constantly improving interest expense to interest income ratio, but it does not possess the finest result in this regard as of yet. HY 2019 interest expense took as much as 33.6% of its income, while HY 2020 dropped to 27.4%. This is good, but still considerably high, if we carry out a peer-to-peer analysis with Guarantee Trust Bank Plc (masters of low-interest expenses), whose ratio stands at 16% for HY 2020.
However, Zenith has sustained the momentum of positioning itself as the crème de la crème in the Nigerian Banking Industry for quite some time. The bank’s pattern of growth and performance, strongly indicates its capabilities to manage its interest expense in subsequent quarters. It will be interesting to see how this pans out by year end.
In summary, despite economic difficulties this year, with most bank’s bottom-line at a worse position than the corresponding period last year, Zenith posted improved profit yet again. Could this be enough to portray supremacy?
UBA Plc H1’2020 results, a true reflection of its rightsizing decision?
UBA’s H1 2020 result is yet another demonstration of the resilience of its business model.
The upward review in benefits of some employees and directors this year, coupled with the rising operational costs, constitutes the hot topics from the 2020 semi-annual results released by UBA Plc.
Widely regarded as the banking sector’s largest employer of labour in Nigeria, the bank in December 2019, embarked on a ‘rightsizing’ exercise, which partly resulted in new hires, as well as promotions, improved remunerations, and benefits for existing employees.
The Group Head, Media and External Relations, UBA Plc, Nasir Ramon commenting on this said, “over 5000 staff of UBA Plc, started the new year with a lot of cheer, as the bank promoted to new grades, coupled with salary upgrades. Beneficiaries of this exercise will receive up to 170% increase in their salaries and benefits, whilst a good number have been moved to higher grade levels.”
Directors saw their emoluments amplify by 177.7% (Fees and Sitting allowances) as demonstrated in the financial statements of the bank. Rising to N50million in June 2020, from N18million in 2019 y/y.
Now, Deposit Money Banks (DMB’s) might be adjudged to be honorable in all of their objectives, but the truth is they are neither self-sacrificing nor are they expected to be. DMB’s are established for profit, and would incessantly prioritize business good sense over social empathy, for the sake of their owners. The import of this is, UBA Plc expects its colossal investments in employees and directors to overwhelmingly reflect in its bottom-line.
Half-year 2020 results is clearly not in sync with this philosophy, as it reflects a weakened position compared to the corresponding period last year, despite the investments in human capital. Profit before tax dropped by 18.7%, from N70.3billion recorded in HY’2019 to N57.1billion in the current period. Profit after tax waned as well by 21.7% to N44.4billion from N56.7billion in HY’2019.
Interestingly enough, the top-line fared pretty well. Interest income and fee income showed improvements, albeit marginally by 0.3% and 6.7% respectively. This makes it illogical to attribute the entirety of the decline in profit to the recent austerity measures put in place by the CBN, reducing funds transfer fees and card maintenance charges.
The Coronavirus pandemic played a big role too, by widely stunting the economy in the second quarter of 2020, and negatively impacting profit. But even these do not provide substantial and sufficient convictions as to why the Tier-one bank did not hit the profit-bar it set for itself, from its truly emphatic 2019 financial year. Does this mean that UBA Plc got the decision wrong at the start of the year?
Six months seem too short a period to immediately class management’s decision to jack up the benefits and emoluments of its internal customers as a failed one. Although, no one anticipated the travails of COVID-19 and its resulting consequences, investments in human capital is widely proven to yield tremendous growth in the long haul. Besides the fact that it has given UBA Plc a solid reputation in the market place, it also makes the company very attractive to the very best of industry talents. Furthermore, employee engagements of this nature, foster brand loyalty which ultimately trickles down to how passionately these personnel undertake their tasks and deliverables. The true bearing of this investment is expected to reflect in due course, in subsequent quarters.
Commenting on the result, UBA’s Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mr Kennedy Uzoka said, “Our H1 2020 results is yet another demonstration of the resilience of our business model in an extremely uncertain and tough operating environment. We recorded commendable growth in our underlying business in terms of customer acquisition, transaction volumes, and balance sheet whilst inflation, depressed yield environment and exchange rate volatility impacted our net earnings as anticipated.”
In today’s increasingly aggressive marketplace, where consistently generating revenue, is paramount to preserving the longevity and going-concern status of any establishments, costs must also be accorded as much attention and significance. Tightening and managing costs with the aim to improve and generate profit is genius strategy especially in today’s banking industry. The banking industry is under threat from ruthless competitions. Multifarious streams that had hitherto been available for generating income for DMB’s are being severely hindered by the ‘austere’ policies (from the perspective of commercial banks) from the apex bank, making effective cost management a survival mechanism.
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Employee benefits rose by 20% from N37.2billion in HY’2019 to N44.6billion in HY’2020, while Directors’ emoluments (Fees and Sitting Allowance) as earlier stated, surged by 177% from N18million in 2019 to N50million in 2020 y/y. The total operating expenses increased 22.6% in 2020. UBA Plc, unavoidably expended N22.4billion on Banking Sector Resolution cost trust fund, in compliance with the CBN’s requirement to contribute to the cause of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON). Security and other payments for core services experienced increase as well compared to the preceding year.
Avoidable expenses like Penalties and Premises Maintenance Charge, should be extensively reviewed and extinguished wherever possible, to improve bottom line. UBA plc has forked out N565million in penalties so far in 2020, representing 6177.7% increase from just N9million in 2019 y/y. This is a prime example of the operational brick walls, UBA Plc must properly address to improve its fortunes in subsequent quarters.