Does it make sense to enter into difficult sovereign debt plea discussions with the vultures of finance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which is causing significant economic damage around the world?
Argentina, South America’s second largest economy behind Brazil, has a US$500-million payment approaching on April 22 to bondholders, which, if missed, will trigger a month’s deadline, until a bailout or default occurs. The COVID-19 pandemic crisis makes a default on sovereign debt more likely than not.
Argentina is asking its bondholders for a grace period to set up the conditions for economic growth, which will allow it to allocate some of its extremely limited resources for paying its debt, starting at 0.5% interest rate and gradually making its way to 4.5%, putting the average rate to 2.33%.
Coming back home, the Nigerian Government is not seeking a suspension of interest payments from its Eurobond holders, but looking for other alternatives like debt relief from the Chinese. The oil price wars triggered by the Saudis and Russians, coupled with COVID-19 pandemic shutting off global economic demand, has further impoverished the country, causing it to seek aid from unlikely avenues.
“We have not considered investors of our commercial paper,” Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, said. “If it happens anywhere, if it’s something that would work, then we will look at it.”
(READ MORE: Debt crisis looms in emerging markets)
Nigeria’s Eurobonds account for $10.86 billion or 39% of external debt as at April 7, 2020. The country paid $771 million in interest on its Eurobonds last year compared with $329 million in debt service to multilateral creditors, according to the country’s Debt Management Office.
Michael Nwakalor, a Macroeconomist at CardinalStone Research, in a phone chat explained the challenges in getting a suspension on payment for its sovereign debts
“No doubt, Nigeria needs as many funds as it can get to cushion the impact of the twin shocks it currently faces. On debt relief and restructuring, this is more likely to come from multilateral organizations like the World Bank and AFDB. Going the route of Argentina, by seeking to restructure and suspend repayments on private debt may have devastating consequences on Nigeria’s credit ratings and reputation. Creditors may now have to factor in the possibility of debt suspensions in crisis situations.”
According to him, If the FGN is able to get debt suspensions on immediate repayments for bilateral and multilateral debt, which makes up c.60% of the country’s external debt, that should provide some fiscal space even though a high domestic debt (67% of total debt) will still have to be managed.
Nwakalor buttressed more points on why it’s hard for Nigeria to get such bail out.
“Restriction of private debt repayments of the Argentina may be considered a default by rating agencies and it is clearly difficult to get private bondholders to collectively agree to accept stipulated terms as it may mean losses for savings of individuals, who are being hit by the crisi,” he added.
Creditors know they need to concede, as they are faced with two options: giving up future profits, or entering into decades-long litigation that is costly and unwanted.
Wale Okunrinboye, an Investment Analyst, Sigma Pensions Limited, in an email, explained why it might not be a bad idea for Nigeria to ask for a suspension of interest payment. He stated:
“A request for suspension of Eurobond payments, as admirable as it might sound under the present circumstances, would be a tough sell at this time as private investors would be required to swallow uncompensated losses during a difficult time.
”It is important to understand that private investors invest in Eurobonds to meet investment needs or defense liabilities. As such, asking them to suspend payments could trigger portfolio losses leading to fresh market turmoil in the EM Eurobond debt space, as well as adversely impact future access for African countries. As such, I do not think this request is likely to receive favorable attention.”
He explained that Eurobond debt is held by a wide list of disparate creditors that makes it difficult to obtain collective agreement on debt relief. Okunrinboye added that realistically, Nigeria can push for multilateral/bilateral creditors to provide suspension or cancellation of interest payments over this period and hope for quick resolution of the covid-19 outbreak.
Ecobank Transnational appoints Alain Nkontchou as new Chairman
“I am honoured to be appointed as Chairman of Ecobank Transnational Incorporated.”
Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI) has announced the appointment of Alain Nkontchou as its new Chairman of the board of directors.
Nkontchou, who is Camerounian by nationality, has been serving as an Independent Non-Executive Director of the pan-African banking group since 2015. A statement made available to the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) confirmed that his latest appointment took effect on June 30, 2020.
The Camerounian is taking over from Nigeria’s Emmanuel Ikazoboh, whose six-year tenure as Chairman of Ecobank’s holding company ended last month, even as he just reached the retirement age of 70. The company also noted that the new appointment is in tandem with its Articles of Association.
While reacting to his own appointment as Chairman, Alain Nkontchou said he is quite honoured and that he was looking forward to working with the rest of the board members.
“I am honoured to be appointed as Chairman of Ecobank Transnational Incorporated. Having served on its Board since 2015, I have seen Ecobank’s resilience and its proud history, built on strong foundation to secure the Bank’s future success. I look forward to working with the Board and Executive team as we continue our journey ahead and I know that we are well-placed to navigate through the current environment and set the standards in financial services for our customers across Africa. I would also like to express my thanks to my predecessor, Mr Emmanuel Ikazoboh, for his leadership of the Board and to wish him all the best for the future,” he said.
Alain Nkontchou co-founded Enko Capital Management LLP, a London-based asset management company with Johannesburg office. He currently serves as the Managing Partner and of the firm which specialises in prospecting investment opportunities in Africa.
Prior to this time, ETI’s newly-appointed Chairman was a Non-Executive Director at Laurent Perrier champagne between 1999 and 2009. He was also the Managing Director of Credit Suisse’s Global Macro Trading from 1995 to 2008. He held a similar role at JP Morgan Chase & Co.
Meanwhile, from 1989 to 1994, Nkontchou worked with Chemical Bank first in Paris and then New York. At the bank, he rose through the ranks to become the Vice- President, Head of Trading, and Sales. Apparently, he is an accomplished business executive.
Alain Nkontchou obtained an MSc in Electrical Engineering from Supélec and P.M. Curie University, Paris, and another MSc in Finance and Accounting from ESCP (Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris).
It should be noted that ETI’s stock closed yesterday’s trading session on the Nigerian Stock Exchange with a share price of N4.80. The share price gained by +1.05% to appreciate from its previous close of N4.75. Year to date, ETI’s share price has declined by about 22%.
Nigeria’s public debt is officially N29.83 trillion
Further disaggregation of Nigeria’s total public debt showed that N9.99trn or 34.89% of the debt was external.
The total public debt stocks of the Federal Government of Nigeria, states within the Nigerian federation, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) jumped to N28.63 trillion as of Q1 2020. This is according to a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which was released on Friday.
A breakdown of the report showed that the total debt stock of the states as of 31 March 2020 is N4.1 trillion. Meanwhile, these states’ total Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for 2019 was N1.3 trillion. They also received N2.47 trillion from FAAC.
Note that as always, Lagos State recorded the highest IGR at N398.7 billion. The state also received N117.8 billion in FAAC disbursements and has a total debt stock of N444.2 billion, thereby making up 10.8% of the total debt stock of the states.
On the other hand, Yobe State recorded the lowest debt stock out of all the states with just N29.2 billion. This made up just 0.7% of the total debt stock of the states. Meanwhile, the state generated a total IGR of N8.4 billion in 2019.
Part of the report by the NBS said:
“Nigerian States and Federal Debt Stock data as at 31st March 2020 reflected that the country’s total public debt portfolio stood at N28.63trn. Further disaggregation of Nigeria’s total public debt showed that N9.99trn or 34.89% of the debt was external while N18.64trn or 65.11% of the debt was domestic.
“Similarly, States and FCT domestic debt was put at N4.11trillion with Lagos state accounting for 10.8% of the total domestic debt stock while Yobe State has the least debt stock in this category with a contribution of 0.7%.”
— Dr Yemi Kale (@sgyemikale) July 10, 2020
Meanwhile, the FCT had total debt of N106.8 billion, making up 2.6% of the total debt stock of the states. The FCT also recorded an IGR of N74.5 billion in 2019 and received N71.9 billion in FAAC.
The Federal Government’s total domestic debt stock by Q1, 2020 was N14.5 trillion, with FGN bonds making up 72.5% of the total portfolio followed by treasury bills at 18.24%.
The total public debt stock has risen by 4% since December 2019, as the previous figure stood at N27.4 trillion.
You may download NBS’ Nigerian Domestic and Foreign Debt report by clicking here.
COVID-19: WHO reverses itself based on new discovery about the virus
This admission is coming on the heels of criticisms from experts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided an update on the modes of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from infected people, based on new scientific evidence.
The WHO on Thursday, formally recognized that the coronavirus can be transmitted indoors by droplets in the air, marking a reversal for the United Nation’s agency.
In a scientific brief, the WHO said that people who spend time in crowded places with poor ventilation are at risk of being infected by the coronavirus as the droplets circulate throughout the air in indoor gatherings.
This admission is coming on the heels of criticisms from experts who have been putting pressure on the UN health agency to update its description of the spread of the virus to include the possibility of airborne infections.
The WHO now admits that transmissions through aerosols, or tiny air droplets, could have been behind outbreaks of COVID-19 that have been reported in some closed environments such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship or places of work where people may be shouting, talking or singing.
Apart from refraining from having close contact with infected people and frequent hand-washing, the WHO pointed out that people should avoid crowded places, close-contact settings, and confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.
However, the WHO still focuses more on the spread of the virus by larger droplets that are discharged through coughing, sneezing and singing or from contact with a contaminated surface.
The WHO in its statement said, “Respiratory droplet transmission can occur when a person is in close contact (within 1 metre) with an infected person who has respiratory symptoms (e.g. coughing or sneezing) or who is talking or singing; in these circumstances, respiratory droplets that include virus can reach the mouth, nose or eyes of a susceptible person and can result in infection.”
It also revealed that based on what is currently known, the transmission of COVID-19 primarily occurs from people when they have symptoms and can also occur just before they develop symptoms when they are in close proximity to others for prolonged periods of time. While someone who never develops symptoms can also pass the virus to others, it is still not clear to what extent this occurs and more research is needed in this area.
The UN health agency had previously advised that the spread of the virus through the air is only common when people, mostly health care workers, were involved in medical procedures that produced aerosols, though a lot of evidence has surfaced suggesting that the virus can stay in the air for hours and infect a person when inhaled.