Thirteen years ago today, I was getting set to oversee a meeting with a group of partners in a newly formed investment club. About a dozen of us, young and just at the cusp of family hood thought it was important to come together and put money aside for the future.
We had several options such as real estate or treasury bills, but we settled for the Nigerian Stock market. The decision wasn’t difficult to make especially when you look at the performance. Stocks were up 37.8% in 2006 and will close the first half of 2007 55% up.
Demand was high as everyone wanted a piece of what was then the fad. Private placements, right issues, IPOs were fast and coming and it was as if any offer placed in the table was sure to sell. The early signs that this was a bubble was when spare part traders abandoned their trade to get in on the gold rush.
The All Share index showed its first signs that the bears were around the corner when it fell by 5.15% in August 2007. As investors who were made to understand that investing in stocks for the long term was wise, we ignored the temptation to sell believing that stocks will rise again.
It’s 13 years now and the Nigerian All Share Index is down 52% between June 2007 and June 2020. In hindsight, we should have sold everything we had and simply bought dollars and kept it under our pillows. The stocks, we had hoped will deliver compounding returns over the years have delivered nothing but losses.
The Nigerian Stock Exchange is not a long-term market. We learned this 13 years ago but believed that experience was just a massive correction and that things will change. It did not and is unlikely to change so long as we remain a highly import-dependent economy. The stock market is only as resilient as the economy. If you have an economy like Nigeria that is good at growing its population and not its economics, investments in capital and money markets is a risky activity.
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The more we remain reliant on crude oil and high imports, the worse it gets and you lose more money. Thus, it is my firm belief that investing in Nigerian stocks for the long term is folly. There are much better investments out there that will deliver you better returns and reduce capital erosion, two of the major symptoms of the Nigerian Stock market. But why is this market not a long term investment?
Firstly, stocks rely heavily on foreign portfolio investors to drive demand up. Since former CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi allowed foreign investors to repatriate any portfolio investment into the country without restrictions, stocks have become heavily reliant on hot money to keep valuations high. Thus, when foreign investors exit, stocks suffer. They create a bubble when they enter our markets and leave bears to dominate when they exit, until they are ready to get back in again.
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Secondly, Nigeria’s susceptibility to frequent currency devaluations keeps market valuations in perpetual risk of capital erosion. For example, if your portfolio was worth N165, 000 in 2013 it was the equivalent of $1,000. Today, that portfolio is worth just $412 assuming N400/1. So, even if you are lucky to have a portfolio that has performed well over the years, it will struggle to outperform dollar investments on the medium term.
Also, Nigerian companies are hardly accountable with the way their businesses are run. Insider trading persists without control and suspicions are immediately swept away. There are no consequences for reckless corporate behaviour. Most of the corporate fraud and unscrupulous activities perpetrated in the great stock market crash of 2008/2009 did not lead to a single jail term for anyone.
Billions lost in stocks over the years have not been recovered. Whilst some companies have continued to grow their revenues and profits most remain unprofitable and lack the basics of corporate governance.
Investor protection is weak in this market as there are no reliable remedies for fraud induced market losses. The stock market is also very limited in the number of products available to buy. Apart from buying and owning stocks, there are little options to short-sell. We understand this is in the pipeline but it has remained there for years.
These are examples that explain why investing for the long term cannot work in Nigeria for now. Buy and hold forever is a myth at least in today’s Nigeria. You will get burned and likely lose the value of your investments.
Secret behind MTN’s blistering performance
Despite COVID-19 disruptions, MTN Nigeria’s 2020 financials showed marked improvements compared to its 2019-year-end.
MTN Nigeria Communications Plc (MTN Nigeria) released its audited financial results for the financial year ended December 31, 2020.
Despite a challenging 2020 to individuals and businesses caused by COVID-19 disruptions, MTN Nigeria’s financial and non-financial information showed marked improvements compared to its 2019-year-end as well as prior quarters of 2020 results that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indeed, the evolving pandemic which intensified lockdown, remote working, and work-from-home procedures, appeared to have led to increased adoption of MTN Nigeria data and digital services.
Specifically, year-on-year on non-financial information, mobile subscribers increased by 12.2 million to 76.5 million; active data users increased by 7.4 million to 32,6 million while the company’s mobile money business continued to accelerate with a 269.2 % increase in the number of registered agents to over 395,000 and 4.7 million active subscribers from approximately 553,000 in 2019.
Year-on-year on financial information, service revenue increased by 14.7 % to NGN1.3 trillion driven principally by voice (with revenue growth of 5.9 %) and data revenues (rising by 52.2 % led by increased data use and traffic); profit before tax (PBT) grew by 2.6 % to N298.9 billion; profit after tax (PAT) increased by 0.9 % to N205.21 billion; while Earnings per share (EPS) rose by 0.9 % to N10.1 (N9.93, 2019).
Nonetheless, significant increases were noted in its operating expenditure as well as capital expenditure. First, there was a 2.3 % increase in operating expenses arising from the rollout of new sites and the impact of naira currency depreciation affecting the costs of MTN Nigeria lease contracts. Secondly, EBITDA margin declined by 2.5 %age points to 50.9 % (from 53.4 % in 2019) There were also other significant cost rises including a 25.4 % increase in net finance cost, and 19.4 % increase in capital expenditure which had a 11.7 % knock-on increase in depreciation and amortization costs.
On the back of the year-end result, MTN Nigeria has proposed a final dividend per share (DPS) of N5.90 kobo per share to be paid out of distributable income and brings the total dividend for the year to N9.40 kobo per share, representing an increase of 18.7 %. MTN Nigeria paid N4.97 as final dividend for the year ended December 31, 2019. This was in addition to an interim dividend of N2.95, which brought its total 2019 dividend to N7.92 per share.
The proposed dividend implies a yield of 3.4%. Having paid an interim dividend of NGN3.50 in 2020, the proposed dividend, if approved, will bring the total dividend per share to NGN9.40 or c.19% higher compared with 2019. We expect a positive reaction from the market due to the marked improvement in earnings. However, the market’s reaction may be dampened by negative investor sentiments on equities arising from the uptick in yields on fixed-income securities.
We expect that the introduction of additional customer registration requirements requiring subscriber records are updated with respective National Identity Numbers (NIN), and the continued suspension of the sale and activation of new SIM cards will affect subscriber growth.
MTNN share price remains unchanged at the end of trading yesterday at N174 per share.
Tade Fadare PhD, is an economist, and a professionally qualified accountant, banker and stockbroker. He has significant experience working or consulting for financial institutions in Europe, North America, and Africa.
How does a bank make N19 billion a month?
The strategy for banks globally is to attract deposits at a lower rate than it lends out to borrowers.
How does a Financial Services Group make N19b a month, post a Profit After Tax figure of N230b in an environment where global commerce virtually ground to a halt in 2020?
The Zenith Bank Plc (Zenith) Year-end 2020 final results are a blockbuster, not just in the quantitative, but the qualitative as well. In all major headline numbers, Zenith posted growth on a Year-on-Year basis, specifically, Gross Earnings are up 5.2%, Net Interest Income up 12%, Customer deposits up 15.3%.
Somehow Zenith grew her loan book by 18% in a recession and reduced the volume of Non-Performing Loans in the same period. Zenith was also able to post a higher revenue number from non-interest income even as yields on fixed-income fell across Nigeria. I must stress, Zenith has posted these results by servicing her target segment of the high-end corporates in Nigeria.
So how did Zenith achieve this? I want to do a deep dive into how to make profits in a recession. However, it is important to start with a background on how banks make money which is basically in two ways;
- Interest income: which is income generated from the bank gathering deposits from customers and investors and “renting” out these funds to individuals and corporates for a fee called interest. Interest Income is seen as the main business of banks. It is a measure of how well the bank has fine-tuned its people, process, and systems to generate returns from a commodity called cash.
- Non-Interest Income: This is the income the bank generates from deploying its brands and people to juice revenues from activities that do not necessitate a transfer of cash. For Example, a bank asset management business leverages the bank’s skillsets to earn fees by providing investment advice to clients. Does a business want to expand? The bank can advise on the process to make that happen.
The strategy for banks globally is to attract deposits at a lower rate than it lends out to borrowers. This allows the bank generate a spread between cost and revenue. The bank’s interest spread can be magnified by the number of quality loans it creates as Interest Income rests also on the quality of the loan book. Positive spread drives the funding of other banking services and is supported by the banks internal competencies to manage risk
So a bank makes profits by
- Attracting cheap deposits
- Earning positive spread
- Providing value addition for a fee
- Effective Risk Management
All these have to happen simultaneously. A bank that sources expensive deposits by paying higher rates generates a lower spread. Lower spread exposes the bank to cost overruns and will prove fatal to long-term growth.
With this in mind, let’s review Zenith FY 2020 Performance
- Attracting Cheap Deposits: In 2019, Zenith’s total interest expense, which represents how much it paid to get deposits was N148b, that figure dropped in 2020 to N121b. this means the bank was able to grow deposits by 25% but at a lower cost. How? Zenith changed her deposit mix, reducing borrowed funds/leases and time deposits by 41% and 38% respectfully and increasing the share of current accounts by 155%. By swapping the deposit mix, the bank’s cost of funds ratio fell by 18mn%.
- Earning Higher Spread: Zenith grew Net Interest Income by 12.2% in 2020. This figure represents income earned from the deposits and investments of the banking group. Again, this was achieved by asset mix reorganization. In the face of falling rates especially on shorter-dated FGN instruments, Zenith shifted allocation from Treasury bills to longer-dated FGN bonds which paid a higher yield. Zenith’s Non-interest Income also grew to N275b a 5% jump from 2019. This is driven largely by extraordinary items including foreign currency revaluation gain, which is the gain realized from the revaluation of foreign currency-denominated assets. I must highlight this. Zenith was able to post a gain of about N43b which is a 256% gain from FY 2019 based on the Naira being devalued to the US Dollar.
- Providing Value Addition: Value addition will include all non-core banking services Zenith Group provides to the public including subsidiaries like the Zenith Penson Custodians which has N4t in assets under custody. Commission on agency and collection was a big contributor to Zenith’s non-core banking revenue.
- Risk Management: Zenith was efficient in deploying its internal competencies to minimize and avoid risk and impairments from the ordinary and extraordinary course of business. Zenith like other financial institutions saw a pullback in commercial activities from her clients. Take the Commerce subsector, the Non-Performing Loan share in that sector grew from 9% to 24%. Zenith, booked an increase in the number of NPLs by volume to N125m in FY 2020 but the bank was able to keep the NPL ratio down to 4.29%. An extraordinary feat.
Overall, the bank was able to navigate a difficult year and post a good return and a handsome dividend of N3 to investors. Zenith was able to achieve all this while increasing the staff strength by 4.6% to 7555 employees.
However, there are red flags as well:
- Net Interest Margin was down in FY 2020 as yields declined. If yield continues to stay muted, can Zenith keep finding profitable avenues to invest that N5.34 deposit base?
- Interest income positive in FY 2020 at 420b but when compared to 2017, interest income is falling.
- If you ignore the revaluation gain, then Non-Interest income will be considerably muted, possibly negative in FY 2020
- Fees on electronic products fell 36% in an environment where online banking has been not just sound business practice, but life-saving as well.
Overall, in an environment with months of local and international shutdowns, Zenith has posted good numbers and demonstrated it is possible to eke out gains from a hard environment. When one looks at the dividend yield, P.E. Ratio of the bank, for me, this is a Buy.
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