The world is in a fix. Covid-19, unprecedented as it is, has led to economic shocks owing to severe disruptions in the global supply chain, rising levels of corporate and public debt, rising levels of unemployment, negative shocks to commodity prices, and more. To cushion the negative impacts on economies around the world, global leaders have put policies in place hoping that it will stop or, at least, slow down the negative trajectory of these failing economies. It was in the same light that the Central Bank of Nigeria decided to lower the MPR rate to 12.5% from 13.5%.
How the Decision Came About
In a meeting held by the CBN’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on Thursday this week, a majority of the members voted to cut the rate from 13.5% to 12.5%. During an earlier meeting held in March, the decision to hold rates had been unanimous. However, given the deepening challenges of the present time, seven out of the 10 members at the MPC meeting voted to cut the rate. Even more interesting is the fact that the rest of the panel opted for a more aggressive easing, with two voting for a 150 basis-point reduction and one for 200 basis points.
Why the Decision Was Made
COVID-19’s adverse effects on the global economy have been unprecedented and severe. During the meeting, which was broadcast live on Thursday 28th May, the MPC had noted key observations in the macroeconomic environment resulting from the adverse impacts of COVID-19 as well as the drop in crude oil prices. Some of the key highlights of the current economic situation include:
- The significant decline in Manufacturing and non-Manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Indices (PMIs) to 42.4 and 25.3 index points, respectively, in May 2020, compared with 51.1 and 49.2 index points in March 2020.
- The marginal growth in broad money (M3) to 2.66 percent in April 2020 from 2.42 percent in March 2020, largely due to increases in Net Domestic and Foreign Assets.
- The significant growth of aggregate net credit by 8.07 percent in April 2020 compared with 4.90 percent in March 2020 (still below the indicative benchmark of 16.85 percent for the year.
The committee also mentioned the gradual improvement in macroeconomic variables, particularly the improvement in the equities market, the containment measures of the COVID-19 induced health crisis, as well as the impact of the increase in crude oil price on the external reserves. It also noted the stability in the banking system as shown by the increase in total assets by 18.8 percent and total deposits by 25.52 percent (year-on-year).
Given the overall economic situation and its impact on the average Nigerian, the MPC was of the view that any tightening of policy stance is, for now, inappropriate as it will result in further contraction of aggregate demand, thereby leading to a decline in output – which is necessary to sustain the supply chain for growth recovery. For the option of holding previous policy stance, the MPC believed holding may indicate that the monetary authorities are insensitive to prevailing weak economic conditions. Also noteworthy is the fact that this move to cut rates have been carried out by many other central banks across the globe, including Australia, Malaysia, and the U.S. Federal Reserve.
The Impact Of The Decision
The expected outcome of the decision of the CBN is to ensure that the economy reverses from the recession quickly. As such, the decision is geared towards stimulating growth and swift recovery. The cut, being the lowest in four years, rests on the optimism that it will possibly avert a recession. It, however, has its limitations. A clear challenge is the impact the rate cut will have on inflation which has been way above the target range of 6% to 9% for five years. There is also the issue of increasing pressure on the naira.
The rising question is whether the rate cut will do enough to prevent a recession. This is an important question, taking into account the volatility in the crude market – a sector that accounts for about 90% of exports and more than half of government revenue, the fall in private sector credit of 61% from just a year earlier, as well as all of the same challenges that spurred the making of the decision in the first place.
We are on the brink of a recession. Whilst policies like these could offer a buffer, the prolonged existence of the pandemic on the economy is one nail in the coffin that can only be halted by the provision of a vaccine. It is only when life reverts to normalcy that we can begin to undo the damage thus far.