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.