The most important presidential election in Africa in 2019 is finally about to happen. And as expected, many people are agitated, especially members of the two main political parties in the country who are making last minute efforts to ensure that their flag bearers win.
A winner will, indeed, emerge after Saturday’s election. And whoever that might be, their job is already cut out for them. They will be expected revive and position the economy of Africa’s most populous country which, for the most part, has leap-frogged over the past four years. It is needless to say that the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, has been unable to accomplish this between 2015 and now. Does he need another four years to try again?
A failed promise?
Recall that prior to the 2015 presidential election that defeated People Democratic Party’s Goodluck Jonathan, the then All Progressive Congress’ flag bearer, Muhammadu Buhari, made a lot of promises. One of these promises was about revamping the economy and specifically making sure that it grew at the rate of 10% per annum. This promise was never fulfiled, not even once in the course of four years.
Instead, the country’s Gross Domestic Product contracted for the most part, with rising inflation rates, and the consequent hunger and poverty gripping much of the population. According to recent statistics from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment rate in the country also kept rising; increasing from 18.8% in Q3 2017 to 23.1% in the same period last year.
And as always, the country’s young population was mostly affected by this.
Meanwhile, the Government was ‘fighting corruption’
The Muhammadu Buhari-led administration focused a lot on its fight against extreme corruption in the Nigerian system. And while this is not a bad thing to do (seeing as corruption is basically the bane of the society), some have argued that the Presidency put in a lot of effort into this whilst accomplishing very little result. According to a Professor of Nigerian Politics at the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, who chose not to be named:
“This Government wasted four whole years deceiving Nigerians in the name of fighting corruption. Tell me one positive outcome of his so called corruption fights. We all know that he wasn’t fighting any corruption. Instead, he used that slogan as a veil for his political vendetta, targeting political opponents while leaving those in his party untouched. Oh yes, he is harbouring some of the most corrupt politicians in his party, yet determined to allow rival politicians like former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, to perish in detention.”
To be fair, the Government initiated favourable economic policies
The Economic Recovery Growth Plan, ERGP, can arguably be said to be President Buhari’s most prominent economic policy. This Federal Government policy was conceived as an all-inclusive development initiative, which was supposed to help restore economic growth in Nigeria by investing in the citizens and also building a globally competitive economy.
Expectedly, this policy had a lot of components which ranged from stabilising the macroeconomic environment, to achieving food security, ensuring sufficiency in electricity supply, driving industrialisation, diversifying the economy, and ensuring overall development.
The introduction of the Voluntary Asset & Income Declaration Scheme, VAIDS, is one component of the ERGP. And the successful implementation of the scheme, to a large extent, helped to revive the effectiveness of the country’s tax collection system. As a matter of fact, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, said in December last year that it had generated as much as N5.3 trillion from tax collection. This is an all-time-high record, by the way.
The relative success recorded with VAIDS has helped the Government to maintain its public debt level at a relative low of 21% of the GDP. Little wonder the CIA World Factbook classifies the country as having one of the lowest public debt levels in the world.
In the same vein, the Government has tried to shift away from borrowing by issuing billions of dollars’ worth of Eurobonds in the past few years. However, to sustain this trend, the Government will have to actually perform the all-important task of diversifying the economy because this is the only way it can improve corporate performance and unlock private credit, just like the International Monetary Fund, IMF, had advised in the past. However, doing this depends entirely on whether or not Buhari wins this all-important election.
But not everyone is a fan of the ERGP
Still on the Economic Recovery Growth Plan, macroeconomic indicators have fluctuated between Q2 2017 when the initiative was launched, and December 2018. For instance, latest GDP figures published earlier this week by NBS shows that the country’s Gross Domestic Product increased at the rate of 1.93% year on year.
While this is good news for the President Buhari administration, the truth is that it hasn’t always been this nice. In 2017, the GDP rate stood at 0.8%, and in 2016, it was -1.6%. When compared, therefore, with the 2015 figure which stood at 2.7%, it becomes obvious that the latest GDP figure isn’t something to dance about, after all.
Moreover, some Nigerians do not exactly feel the impact of the so called increase in GDP. Take for instance, a small business owner at Computer Village, Lagos, who identified himself as Mr Ebenezer, was asked if he thinks the latest GDP figure is indicative of good things to come. He said no, because he never gets to feel the impact when the economy is supposedly doing well, only when it is not.
“From 2015 till around early 2017, most of us were affected by the worst economic recession this country ever experienced in years. Again, that affected us all, and the CBN did not even help the situation with its controversial FX policies. So, how come after we felt the recession and the inflation, we are not feeling the rise in GDP? I mean, this is common-sensical, right? We see people suffering in abject poverty. We see unemployed graduates and we experience epileptic power supply. And here they are, presenting statistics to show that things are better when they are not. Who are they deceiving?
“We need to vote out this Government by all means and allow someone else the chance to try and restore the economy. Apparently, the APC has tried at this but failed. Now, we need someone who can achieve tangible results instead of dishing out unsubstantiated statistics.”
The main opponent, Atiku Abubakar, who could defeat the incumbent, is no angel
Today, many Nigerians are very critical of Nigeria’s current Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who has basically been the poster child for some of the Government’s economic policies. After all, it has been him who has gone all over the country talking about the millions of jobs the Government supposedly created over the past four years. Moreover, it is the Vice President who has been busy launching the Government’s TraderMoni initiative, which Transparency International recently branded a vote-buying scheme.
But while we criticise Professor Osinbajo, let us not forget so quickly that a former Vice President with a far worse damning political past, is now at the forefront of the race to head the most important position in the country. You guessed that right, we are now talking about Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. Many see him as a strong contender, who could potentially defeat the incumbent president. And they are right because, not only does Alhaji Abubakar have the political experience and clout, he is also preaching some economic messages which some voters seem to like. But is he really the man that can lead Nigeria to Eldorado?
Agreed, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar is an astute businessman, whose many business concerns have provided jobs for many Nigerians. But he is also a man with a sketchy past, whose alleged transgressions were supposedly so much to the extent his former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, “disowned” him. Ever since 2007 when he left office as Vice President, Mr Abubakar has been trailed by many corruption scandals; none of which he has been convicted of anyway.
Does he plan to continue the job he left uncompleted as VP?
One of Alhaji Abubakar’s most important assignment as Nigeria’s Vice President was to supervise the National Council on Privatisation, which sold off many under-performing and ill-managed state-owned companies. While the privatisation drew widespread criticism back in the early 2000s when it was happening, many praised the process. And now, Alhaji Abubakar has promised that one of his economic policies as Nigeria’s president would be to, among other things, reform public institutions. The man specifically has his eyes set on the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission, NNPC, which he accused of operating as a mafia, at the expense of the Nigerian public.
In the meantime, while Alhaji Atiku’s proposed economic agenda for Nigeria enjoys support from some people, it has also been criticised by some. These proposed policies include monetary and fiscal reforms such as floating the naira, positioning the manufacturing sector, solving the country’s epileptic power problem, actualising public-private partnership for the country’s infrastructure, etc. All these are election promises which may never even get fulfilled if he wins. But then again, can he actually win?
In conclusion, Saturday is Election Day
From all indications, Saturday’s presidential polls is definitely going to be a keenly contested one. And whoever becomes victorious at the would be expected to accomplish quite a lot; doing everything possible to position the Nigerian economy for success. Indeed, the winner will be expected to diversify the country’s economy, drastically reduce the unemployment rate through the creation of actual jobs of various kinds, and also, ensure a reduction of the country’s inflation rate, etc.
The inability to accomplish these and more would amount to failure. And Nigerians do not deserve to experience more of such. Therefore, as the candidates and their political parties ready themselves for Saturday, they should also bear in mind that the task ahead is a serious one. If they are not prepared to deliver, it is never too late to stand down.
How Access Bank got Japaul to pay up N37 billion loan that had gone bad
Brute force, Courts, quid quo pro are hallmarks of Access Bank’s debt recovery schemes.
In 2018 when Access Bank took over Diamond Bank, in what is the largest merger in Nigeria’s banking history, they knew it was not a match made in heaven like their PR agencies will make you believe.
In merging with Diamond Bank and taking over their juicy assets, they had also taken over the lemons that had for years bedeviled the bank who had pioneered mobile banking applications well ahead of its time.
When Access Bank merged with Diamond Bank, the latter had total loans and advances of N787.8 billion out of which N219.9 billion in loans were impaired. Oil and gas-related loans made up a significant chunk of the loans and were estimated at about N302.6 billion, most of them distressed.
Included in the oil and gas loans was a $66.4 million in loans owed to the bank by Japaul Oil and Maritime, as they were referred to at the time. The loans had gone bad accumulating unpaid interest of about $11.2 million. By the time Access Bank took over the loans, Japaul agreed to a restructuring rolling over both the principal and interest.
This is typical of most Nigerian companies burdened with debts they cannot pay. To avoid being run over by the bank, the debtors will negotiate a restructuring, extending the loans by one to three years and if lucky, reducing the interest rates. In return, the bank books new fees (which are often paid in advance of the restructuring) and then gets to avoid huge provisioning mandated by the central bank.
It is often a ‘win-win’ situation that essentially kicks the can down the road until, like in the case of Diamond Bank, the chicken comes home to roost. But Access Bank is not new to slugging it out with debtors, particularly those who do not pay up. Upon takeover in 2019, Herbert Wigwe, the CEO of Access Bank announced that his bank was going to go after Diamond Bank debtors. In an interview in 2019 he maintained that “we recovered N2.2 billion bad debt in the year under review. Access Bank will intensify effort to ensure that it recovers the debt owed to Diamond Bank. We will go out for Diamond Bank’ debtors and if they are not ready to redeem their debt we will publish their names in the newspapers.”
In 2019, Access Bank swooped on Japaul Plc seeking repayment of their Diamond Bank loans which was now about N37 billion. The bank took over Japaul’s trading assets and integral to the going concern status of the company. Before now, Japaul made money rendering marine services, dredging, mining and construction mostly for the oil and gas companies.
But business has been bad for years now leading the company into net accumulated losses of over N50 billion as of 2018. For the 5 years leading to 2018, the company posted back to back losses with revenues going from N5.3 billion in 2015 to about N85.8 million in 2019. External loans had also ballooned from about N18.8 billion to about N38.8 billion. Its share price had also fallen to about 20 kobo per share by the end of 2019. It was nearing bankruptcy and something had to give.
They began a court battle with Access Bank over the loans and the threat of a liquidation eventually settling for a deal. Sources inform Nairametrics that Access Bank is one of the most aggressive banks in the business when it comes to playing dirty with debtors. Unlike Diamond Bank, Access Bank is ready to battle in the courts and is ready to deploy any legal means necessary to recover their loans even if their actions are viewed as uncanny.
Recently, the bank obtained a Mareva injunction sealing the offices and taking over the assets of Seplat due to a related party loan owed by the latter’s Chairman, ABC Orjiakor. Just like Japaul, the loans owed by ABC Orjiakor were also obtained from Diamond Bank. According to sources, when Access Bank swoops in for their loan recoveries, they deploy all tactics in the books to ensure all or most parts of the loans are recovered from chronic debtors.
Eventually, Access Bank and Japaul agreed to settle the matter outside the court. In exchange for repaying the N38 billion loan, Access Bank settled for a repayment of N30.9 billion. The deal involves Access Bank taking over two of Japaul’ s Dredgers (12& 13) for N5 billion and a Barge (Beau Geste) for N25.9 billion. Japaul also gave up its land in exchange for working capital of N1.5 billion from the bank.
In return, Japaul gets to clean up its balance sheet erasing what is left of its debt, booking a profit of about N40 billion and wiping off its negative equity of N35.5 billion. However, in one fell swoop. From negative equity of N35.5 billion, the company’s net assets are now N4.69 billion. A win-win for everyone.
We are not exactly sure what Access Bank plans to do with dredgers and barges it took over from Japaul. Interestingly, in the deal, Japaul also gets to lease back the two dredgers for a period of 6 years from Access Bank for a sum of N1 billion paid annually from 2021 – 2026. Japaul got a one-year moratorium on repayment expiring in December 2020.
Japaul has since changed its name to Japaul Gold and Ventures citing the dwindling oil and gas sector for its reasons. The company believes gold mining and technology are the future and is seeking to raise N25 billion in equity to pursue this course. Its share price has ostensibly risen by 150% since the turn of the new year, the best performing on the stock exchange.
For Access Bank, aggressively going after bad loans have paid off immensely. In 2019 the bank recovered N38.9 billion in bad loans barely a year after taking over Diamond Bank. In the first 9 months of 2019, a total of N24.7 billion was captured in bad debts recovered. It is a strategy that is working and there is no betting against Access Bank doubling down on aggressive recovery this year.
Champion Breweries, Raysun deal highlights disclosure shortcomings
Is Heineken taking over Champions Brewery?
Champion Breweries Plc informed the Nigerian Stock Exchange, last week, via a press release that an insider, Raysun, had purchased about 1.9 billion shares at a price of N2.6 per share.
The disclosure was part of the stock exchange’s requirement that listed companies must reveal deals made by insiders of the company for the benefit of shareholders and the investor community.
That’s about how far the press release went. It did not reveal why Raysun was purchasing? Who they purchased the shares from and why the deal is being consummated? In terms of corporate disclosure, this was a dud.
Raysun is the largest shareholder and majority owner of Champions Breweries. Raysun is also an entity owned by Heineken, the majority shareholder in Nigeria Breweries Plc – the largest brewer in the country. Thus, Heineken is an indirect shareholder of Champions Breweries.
These relationships give this deal enough scrutiny to warrant a better disclosure starting from the actual purchase of shares revealed in the press release.
Here are some contexts;
Champion Breweries shares breakdown
- Champions Breweries has a total of 7.82 million shares outstanding at the time of this purchase
- Raysun held about 60.4% shares in Champions Breweries according to disclosure in its 2019 annual report.
- Asset Management Nominees and Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation own 12.3% and 10% respectively. The rest of its shareholders own about 17.3% or 1,351,954 units.
- At the current share price of N1.12, Champion Breweries is valued at N10.57 billion by the market.
- However, Raysun’s purchase of 1.9 billion shares at N2.6 per share (valued at N4.9 billion, almost half of the current market capitalization), now values the company at about N20.3 billion.
Where did the shares come from? This is a vital question and here is why.
Going by the number of shares they bought last week (24% of equity), they only could have been able to purchase that many shares by buying up all the shares owned by the Asset Nominees (12.3%), all the shares owned by Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation (10%) and another 3% from other regular shareholders.
It could also be that either or both Asset Nominees and Akwa Ibom IC sold part of their shares and then they made up the rest by purchasing some from the market. Why is Heineken, through Raysun, acquiring so many shares? Is there a takeover deal in the offing? Do they plan to merge Champions Breweries with Nigeria Breweries or still keep it as a standalone company? Will Champions Brewery cease to exist if there is a merger or will they delist following this massive acquisition of the shares of their subsidiary?
The speculation is palpable.
This is what happens when listed companies refuse to properly disclose transactions involving mega share purchases of this nature. How does a majority shareholder go from 60.4% of shares to 84% and an announcement is not made explaining or clarifying who sold and if this is a takeover bid.
But investors seem not to mind at the moment, if the momentum of the share price is anything to go by. A 57% year to date gain is a testament to this. It appears investors expect a mandatory takeover announcement to be made anytime soon and are scrambling for the shares ahead of any announcement.
Unfortunately, this is not how markets should work anywhere, and the sooner it stops the better. The Nigerian Stock Exchange has made massive progress with compliance to disclosure requirements and we believe strongly that they will at some point bring Champion Breweries to order and have them disclose all the requisite information about this transaction. Better late than never.
Downstream players suffer revenue declines due to Covid-19, forex, fuel subsidy
2020 has no doubt been one of the most challenging years for players in the oil and gas downstream sector, having to deal with several issues.
Nigeria’s downstream oil and gas players are in the midst of one of the lowest revenue declines in their history of operations. In an industry used to the highs and lows of economic and commodity price cycles, 2020 poses one of the greatest challenges to oil and gas companies.
Total Plc, 11 Plc, MRS, Ardova and Conoil are some of the major downstream players (all quoted) that have suffered revenue declines and margin drops in one of the worst years in modern history.
- Conoil Plc, one of the major downstream players reported its 2020 9 months results revealing revenue declined 21.84% YoY t0 N88.1 billion.
- 11Plc, another major player in the sector, also saw its topline revenues plummet from N141.5 billion in the first 9 months of 2019 to N114.7 billion in the corresponding period in 2020.
- Total Nigeria Plc, one of the largest players in the downstream sector also recorded declining revenues. In 2019 it reported total sales of N181.6 billion compared to N117.3 billion in 2019. The 35% drop was the largest of the lot.
- The only outlier of the lot was Ardova Petroleum which somehow managed to record revenue growth with 2020 9 months revenue rising to N116 billion compared to N110.7 billion same period the year before.
In general, revenues for the major oil and gas downstream players in the country fell by a whopping 21% from N646.8 billion in 2019 (9M) to N514.2 billion in the corresponding period in 2020. What is to blame for these declines? Covid-19!
The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a nationwide lockdown for most of 2020 that has negatively impacted demand for petroleum products across the country. The lockdown has grossly affected volumes for downstream oil and gas companies hitting their margins and profitability.
Businesses across the country such as manufacturers, airlines, restaurants, schools, the transportation sector and motor vehicle owners have all reduced their demand for fossil fuel.
The downstream sector has also struggled to take advantage of the drop in oil prices as they still need to deal with the multiple devaluation of the naira and being able to gain access to foreign exchange. Their inability to access the forex market leaves them with little choice but to continue to rely on NNPC, the sole importer of petroleum products for their inventories.
In a recent comment, the Chairman of Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN), Mrs. Winifred Akpani, lamented that “the inability to source FOREX from the official CBN FOREX window by independent marketers is continually hindering the effectiveness of the principles of DEMAND and SUPPLY market forces to correct the current inefficiencies in the pricing mechanisms adopted in the deregulation process.”
Mrs. Akpani also explained that inability of marketers to source FOREX creates a situation which can be described as “pseudo subsidy” in the market, suggesting that being forced to sell petroleum products at fixed prices means they cannot recover their importation cost, most of which is paid for in US dollars.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that the federal government regulates pricing irrespective of the unique operating costs of these private oil companies. Also, being the sole importer of petroleum products means the NNPC will likely pass on inefficiencies in managing cost to petroleum marketers, eliminating any chances of efficient pricing that can be obtained from increased competition. The effects of these are low profit margins and ‘never-shifting’ revenue positions, except for exceptional cases.
Last December, the Federal Government revealed it was ending its subsidy programme, increasing fuel to reflect its market cost. However, it balked after pressure from the labour unions, reducing prices without recourse to sector players.
Despite these challenges, the sector will likely eke out some profits largely due to cost cutting initiatives and income from ancillary businesses. However, dividend payment might be a challenge as it will be advisable for these companies to set aside cash for what could be a pivotal year.
The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will likely be signed into law this year and will produce new investment opportunities for the downstream sector if things go as planned. The government will likely relinquish its hold on the sector and fully deregulate the downstream before the end of the year.
When it does, those with a strong balance sheet will be winners.