The presidential candidate for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar recently advocated for the floating of the Nigerian currency, the Naira. Currency float is a currency exchange regime where the exchange rate of a particular currency with respect to other currencies is allowed to be determined by the forces of demand and supply. By advocating a freely floating Naira, Atiku was proposing that the exchange rate of the Naira vis a vis the US Dollar and other currencies be allowed to be determined by market forces.
In a quick and sharp rebuke, the sitting governor of the Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele pointed out the disadvantages and reasons why the Naira should not be given wings to fly by allowing it to float. It is imperative to note that various governments in Nigeria have tried various methodologies and strategies to stern the depreciation of the Naira. In 1986, the Exchange Rate Liberalization Policy was introduced and with it, the Naira was devalued officially for the very first time, on September 26th, 1986, to be specific. From that day till today, the Naira has been heading south.
Economic and financial historians have it that Nigerian governments have tried to manage the exchange rate with the Foreign Exchange (Monitoring & Miscellaneous Provisions, FEMM) Act 1995, the Two-way Quote System (market making) in the inter-bank FX market in 1996 and the Wholesale Dutch Auction System (WDAS) in 2006. On June 27th, 2016 the CBN launched the Naira-settled OTC FX Futures Market. Unfortunately, it seems that none of those have worked as was expected, to say the least.
At the risk of being called out by those who feel that learning or borrowing a leaf from the West is “slave mentality”, I would like to state that most currencies with stable value, like the US Dollar, USD, the Great Britain Pound, GBP, are freely floating currencies. The question then is, how are they freely floating and yet stable? One reason for that is that those economies have and use various instruments of currency risk management. US businesses, importers and exporters alike can manage their currency risks effectively using such financial derivatives like currency swaps, currency futures, currency options, and currency forwards. In Nigeria, there is hardly any means of managing currency risk other than the FX futures market, the understanding of which has not been very effective. Without providing businesses, exporters, importers and the people with the instruments to manage their currency risk, any attempt to float the Naira will only provide it with wings to fly away, literally.
As it is today, most Nigerians settle their foreign currency needs through the spot market either via the parallel market or official market. In these markets and because of lack of alternative source of currency risk management, the demand for the Dollar and other foreign currencies far exceed the supply, leading to depreciation in the exchange rate of the Naira.
Therefore, before floating, the Nigerian Stock Exchange, the Security and Exchange Commission, The Central Bank, and FMDQ should engage the services of experienced financial engineers that understand the workings of the Nigerian market and people to design effective instruments of currency risk management. In next posts, I will give examples of how the various instruments like Currency Swaps, forwards and options can be used to manage exchange risk.
In addition, getting the Naira to stabilize will take not just the efforts of the government and its institutions to provide the needed instruments of currency risk management, it will take the will and deliberate efforts of Nigerians to say enough is enough. The elasticity of demand for imported “anything” in Nigeria is highly inelastic. Nigerians have insatiable and dangerous appetite for imported items and as long as that tendency continues, the demand for the Dollar or any foreign currency required to consummate the importation will continue to outstrip the supply and consequently, the Naira will continue to lose its value, howbeit slowly. As the CBN governor pointed out, who could have imagined that as at today, Nigeria, with its vast array of lands, will be importing palm oil. Once again, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that those items that are being imported, which Nigeria has the ability and capacity to produce are produced at home by providing the enabling environment for such productions to take place.
Agreed that curtailing our desire for imported items will help, may I point out here that the US is a net importer, year in year out, yet, the Dollar remains relatively stable just because there many methods or instruments of managing exchange risks available to Americans. In conclusion, my take on this debate is that floating the Naira is a good thing, but the time is not right as at moment, not without the availability of exchange risk management instruments. Please do not float.
Why Insurance firms are selling off their PFAs
It has not been uncommon over the years to have insurance companies with pension subsidiaries.
The idea of mitigating risks and curtailing losses at the bare minimum begins from the insurance industry and only crosses into the pension space with the need for retirement planning. For this reason, it has not been uncommon over the years to have insurance companies with pension subsidiaries. However, controlling the wealth of people is no easy feat – and crossover companies are beginning to think it might not be worth it competing with the big guns; that is, the pension fund administrators (PFAs) that already cater to the majority of Nigerians.
A few months ago, AXA Mansard Insurance Plc announced that its shareholders have approved the company’s plan to sell its pension management subsidiary, AXA Mansard Pensions Ltd, as well as a few undisclosed real estate investments. It did not provide any reason for the divestment. More recently, AIICO Insurance Plc also let go of majority ownership in its pension arm, AIICO Pension Managers Ltd. FCMB Pensions Ltd announced its plans to acquire 70% stakes in the pension company, while also acquiring an additional 26% stake held by other shareholders, ultimately bringing the proposed acquisition to a 96% stake in AIICO Pension. The reason for the sell-off by AIICO does not also appear to be attributed to poor performance as the group’s profit in 2019 had soared by 88% driven by growth across all lines of business within the group.
So why are they selling them off?
Pension Fund Administration is, no doubt, a competitive landscape. Asides the wealth of the over N10 trillion industry, there is also the overarching advantage that pension contributors do not change PFAs regularly. Therefore, making it hard to compete against the big names and industry leaders that have been in the game for decades – the kinds of Stanbic IBTC, ARM, Premium Pension, Sigma, and FCMB. Of course, the fact that PFAs also make their money through fees means the bigger the size, the more money you make. With pressure to capitalize mounting, insurance firms will most likely spin off as they just don’t have the right focus, skills, and talents to compete.
The recent occurrence of PENCOM giving contributors the opportunity to switch from one PFA to another might have seemed like the perfect opportunity for the smaller pension companies to increase their market shares by offering better returns. More so, with the introduction of more aggrieved portfolios in the multi-fund structure comprising of RSA funds 1, 2, & 3, PFAs can invest in riskier securities and enhance their returns. However, the reality of things is that the smaller PFAs don’t have what it takes to effectively market to that effect. With the gains being made from the sector not particularly extraordinary, it is easier for them to employ their available resources into expanding their core business. There is also the fact that their focus now rests on meeting the new capital requirements laced by NAICOM. Like Monopoly, the next smart move is to sell underperforming assets just to keep their head above water.
Olasiji Omotayo, Head of Risk in a leading pension fund administrator, explained that “Most insurance businesses selling their pension subsidiaries may be doing so to raise funds. Recapitalization is a major challenge now for the insurance sector and the Nigerian Capital Market may not welcome any public offer at the moment. Consequently, selling their pension business may be their lifeline at the moment. Also, some may be selling for strategic reasons as it’s a business of scale. You have a lot of fixed costs due to regulatory requirements and you need a good size to be profitable. If you can’t scale up, you can also sell if you get a good offer.”
What the future holds
With the smaller PFAs spinning off, the Pension industry is about to witness the birth of an oligopoly like the Tier 1 players in the Banking sector. Interestingly, the same will also happen with Insurance. The only real issue is that we will now have limited choices. In truth, we don’t necessarily need many of them as long all firms remain competitive. But there is the risk that the companies just get comfortable with their population growth-induced expansion while simply focusing on low-yielding investments. The existence of the pandemic as well as the really low rates in the fixed-income market is, however, expected to propel companies to seek out creative ways to at least keep up with the constantly rising rate of inflation.
Nigerian Banks expected to write off 12% of its loans in 2020
The Nigerian banking system has been through two major asset quality crisis.
The Nigerian Banking Sector has witnessed a number of asset management challenges owing largely to macroeconomic shocks and, sometimes, its operational inefficiencies in how loans are disbursed. Rising default rates over time have led to periodic spikes in the non-performing loans (NPLs) of these institutions and it is in an attempt to curtail these challenges that changes have been made in the acceptable Loan to Deposit (LDR) ratios, amongst others, by the apex regulatory body, CBN.
Projections by EFG Hermes in a recent research report reveal that as a result of the current economic challenges as well as what it calls “CBN’s erratic and unorthodox policies over the past five years,” banks are expected to write off around 12.3% of their loan books in constant currency terms between 2020 and 2022, the highest of all the previous NPL crisis faced by financial institutions within the nation.
Note that Access Bank, FBN Holdings, Guaranty Trust Bank, Stanbic IBTC, United Bank for Africa and Zenith Bank were used to form the universe of Nigerian banks by EFG Hermes.
Over the past twelve years, the Nigerian banking system has been through two major asset quality crisis. The first is the 2009 to 2012 margin loan crisis and the other is the 2014 to 2018 oil price crash crisis.
The 2008-2012 margin loan crisis was born out of the lending institutions giving out cheap and readily-available credit for investments, focusing on probable compensation incentives over prudent credit underwriting strategies and stern risk management systems. The result had been a spike in NPL ratio from 6.3% in 2008 to 27.6% in 2009. The same crash in NPL ratio was witnessed in 2014 as well as a result of the oil price crash of the period which had crashed the Naira and sent investors packing. The oil price crash had resulted in the NPL ratio spiking from 2.3% in 2014 to 14.0% in 2016.
Using its universe of banks, the NPL ratio spiked from an average of 6.1% in 2008 to 10.8% in 2009 and from 2.6% in 2014 to 9.1% in 2016. During both cycles, EFG Hermes estimated that the banks wrote-off between 10-12% of their loan book in constant currency terms.
The current situation
Given the potential macro-economic shock with real GDP expected to contract by 4%, the Naira-Dollar exchange rate expected to devalue to a range of 420-450, oil export revenue expected to drop by as much as 50% in 2020 and the weak balance sheet positions of the regulator and AMCON, the risk of another significant NPL cycle is high. In order to effectively assess the impact of these on financial institutions, EFG Hermes modelled three different asset-quality scenarios for the banks all of which have their different implications for banks’ capital adequacy, growth rates and profitability. These cases are the base case, lower case, and upper case.
Base Case: The company’s base case scenario, which they assigned a 55% probability, the average NPL ratio and cost of risk was projected to increase from an average of 6.4% and 1.0% in 2019 to 7.6% and 5.3% in 2020 and 6.4% and 4.7% in 20201, before declining to 4.9% and 1.0% in 2024, respectively. Based on its assumptions, they expect banks to write-off around 12.3% of their loan books in constant currency terms between 2020 and 2022, a rate that is marginally higher than the average of 11.3% written-off during the previous two NPL cycles. Under this scenario, estimated ROE is expected to plunge from an average of 21.8% in 2019 to 7.9% in 2020 and 7.7% in 2021 before recovering to 18.1% in 2024.
Lower or Pessimistic Case: In its pessimistic scenario which has a 40% chance of occurrence, the company projects that the average NPL ratio will rise from 6.4% in 2019 to 11.8% in 2020 and 10.0% in 2021 before moderating to 4.9% by 2024. It also estimates that the average cost of risk for its banks will peak at 10% in 2020 and 2021, fall to 5.0% in 2022, before moderating from 2023 onwards. Under this scenario, banks are expected to write off around as much as 26.6% of their loan books in constant currency terms over the next three years. Average ROE of the banks here is expected to drop to -8.8% in 2020, -21.4% in 2021 and -2.9% in 2022, before increasing to 19.7% in 2024.
Upper or optimistic case: In a situation where the pandemic ebbs away and macro-economic activity rebounds quickly, the optimistic or upper case will hold. This, however, has just a 5% chance of occurrence. In this scenario, the company assumes that the average NPL ratio of the banks would increase from 6.4% in 2019 to 6.8% in 2020 and moderate to 4.8% by 2024. Average cost of risk will also spike to 4.2% in 2020 before easing to 2.4% in 2021 and average 0.9% thereafter through the rest of our forecast period. Finally, average ROE will drop to 11.6% in 2020 before recovering to 14.4% in 2021 and 19.0% in 2024.
With the highest probabilities ascribed to both the base case and the pessimistic scenario, the company has gone ahead to downgrade the rating of the entire sector to ‘Neutral’ with a probability-weighted average ROE (market cap-weighted) of 13.7% 2020 and 2024. The implication of the reduced earnings and the new losses from written-off loans could impact the short to medium term growth or value of banking stocks. However, in the long term, the sector will revert to the norm as they always do.
Even with a 939% jump in H1 Profit, Neimeth still needs to build consistency
Neimeth has been one of the better performers in the stock market in the last one year.
Neimeth’s profit after tax for H1 2020 might have jumped by 939% from H1 2019, but there’s still so much the company needs to do to remain in the game.
For the first time in years, Pharmaceutical companies across the globe are in the spotlight for a good reason. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the world waits patiently for this industry to produce a vaccine that can once again lead us back to the lives we all missed. Nigeria is also not an exception, it seems. One of Nigeria’s oldest pharmaceutical companies, Neimeth, has been one of the better performers in the stock market in the last one year. However, there is still so much the company needs to do to earn profits consistently.
Neimeth’s recently released H1 2020 results show a jump of 19.4% in revenue from ₦976 million earned in H1 2019 to ₦1.165 billion in H1 2020. While this is impressive, its comparative Q2 results (Jan-March ‘ 20) show a drop in revenue of 25.4% from ₦748.8 million earned in Q2 2019, to the ₦568.7 million revenue in Q2 2020. In similar vein, while its profit-after-tax soared by 939% from ₦5.447 million in H1 2019 to ₦56.596 million in H1 2020, its quarter-by-quarter results show a drop of 118%. While there is a truth that some months are better performers than others, Neimeth’s extreme profit jump in the half-year results juxtaposed with the more-than-100% drop in the first quarter of this year, reveal wide-gap volatility in its earning potential. Its revenue breakdown attributes the quarter-by-quarter drop in revenue to a comparative drop in its ‘Animal Health’ product line by a whopping 897.42%. The ‘Pharmaceuticals’ line also only experienced a marginal jump of 2.57%.
Full report here.
Current & Post-Covid-19 Opportunities
A 2017 PWC report had revealed that by 2020 the pharmaceutical market is expected to “more than double to $1.3 trillion. Mckinsey had also predicted that come 2026, Nigeria’s pharma market could reach $4 billion. The positive outlook of the industry is even more so, following the disclosure by the CBN to support critical sectors of the economy with ₦1.1 trillion intervention fund.
The CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, had stated that about ₦1trillion of the fund would be used to support the local manufacturing sector while also boosting import substitution while the balance of ₦100 billion would be used to support the health authorities towards ensuring that laboratories, researchers and innovators are provided with the resources required to patent and produce vaccines and test kits in Nigeria.
While manufacturing a vaccine for the Covid-19 pandemic might be nothing short of wishful, the pandemic presents a global challenge that businesses in the healthcare industry could leverage. Through strategic R&D, it could uncover a range of solutions, particularly those that involve the infusion of locally-sourced raw materials.
In order for the company to attain sustainable growth, it needs to come up with structures and systems that are dependable, while also tightening loose ends. One of such loose ends is its exposure to credit risk. It’s Q2 2020 reports reveal value for lost trade receivables of N693.6 million carried forward from 2019. To this end, it notes that while its operations expose it to a number of financial risks, it has put in place a risk management programme to protect the company against the potential adverse effects of these financial risks.
At the company’s last annual general meeting (AGM), the managing director, Matthew Azoji, had also spoken on the company’s efforts to gain a larger market share through its initiation of bold and gradual expansion strategies.
The total revenue growth and profitability of the half-year period undoubtedly signals a potential in the company. However, we might have to wait for the company’s strategies to crystalize and attain a level of consistency for an extended period before reassessing the long-term lucrativeness of its stock or otherwise. That said, it certainly should be on your watchlist.