Headline Inflation has assumed a new pattern over the last three months, primarily driven by pressures in the food basket, reflecting a shock to crop cultivation from covid-19 restrictions and border closures.
In addition, more recent developments in currency markets, where the Naira has weakened, as well as the increases in petrol prices following the removal of blanket subsidies have underpinned inflationary expectations.
Looking ahead, sizable increases in electricity tariffs which came into effect in September as well as continuing fuel price pressures could see inflation head towards 14% levels in Q4 2020. Given the supply-side driven nature of the inflationary bout as well as the recent pivot to unorthodox monetary policies (which include liquidity tightening measures via CRR debits), it is likely that the CBN will ignore these numbers and persist with its current stance.
Nigeria’s inflation surged in August with the CPI rising 13.22% y/y (July: 12.8% y/y), the highest level since April 2018, largely driven by pressures in the food basket, where prices climbed 16% y/y (July: 15.48% y/y) while the core index (which includes energy prices) decelerated to 10.5% (July: 10.1% y/y). On a monthly basis, the inflation climbed by 1.34% over August (July: 1.25%) — the highest monthly number since June 2017.
Pressures in Food, Utilities and Transport are driving the rising inflation numbers
Disaggregating the inflation numbers, three segments stand out (Food, utilities aka Housing, Water, Electricity and Gas and Other Fuels, HWEGF and Transportation) as central to the pick-up in inflation, as they accounted for ~80% of the variation in the monthly CPI print.
Food was central and I shall set out my thoughts on the drivers later in this report, but on the latter two, pressures are linked to pick-up in fuel prices following the removal of subsidies in March which has seen fuel prices rise by 15% over the last two months.
Figure 1: Component analysis of monthly inflation
Source: NBS, Authors Calculation
A combination of weaker farming activity, Naira weakness and covid-19 lockdowns are behind the uptrend in food inflation
Looking at food inflation, the big pressures came from the farm produce component which accounts for over 90% of food inflation. August usually marks the start of the main crop harvest season in Nigeria which peaks in September-October and as such in normal years, monthly inflation peaks in July and decelerates thereafter.
However, in 2020, monthly farm produce and food inflation readings over the last three months are at levels not seen since 2017 which would suggest factors hurting the supply side. Indeed, most grain and tuber crop prices are moving towards five-year trend levels.
Figure 2: Component Analysis of Monthly Food Inflation
Source: NBS, Authors Calculation
In 2017, my thesis then was that a sharp Naira depreciation drove heightened exports of Nigerian farm produce into the wider sub-region, forcing an upward adjustment in domestic prices.
In 2020, in addition to the sharp shift in the FX rate as well, the sense from reading on-ground sources like FEWSNET is that Covid-19 movement restrictions hurt the flow of labourers from neighbouring countries during planting season.
Accordingly, field surveys are indicating that the area under cultivation for most grain and tuber crops is lower than levels in prior years which is pointing towards a subpar crop harvest for 2020. As such, Nigeria is facing a more fundamental supply shock, which alongside the rising transport costs is likely to drive higher food prices.
The price pressures are likely to be steep in urban centres as is evident in the spreads between rural and urban inflation which have widened since the border closures. Thus, in a departure from prior years, when regional supplies from neighbouring countries moved through the border to temper these pressures, existing blockades imply that limited relief is forthcoming.
Solving the price runaway for food items clearly involves a combination of allowing targeted food imports or at least re-opening the borders to allow regional food trade flows to resume. However, Nigeria’s economic managers appear to be on the other side of this fence.
Figure 3: Rural and Urban Inflation
Source: NBS, Authors Calculation
But money supply growth has been restrained by CRR debits in the banking sector
The textbook monetary policy response to accelerating inflation is to raise interest rates to induce a shift away from consumption towards savings in a bid to force inflation to within a target level. This pre-supposed inflation was driven by an expansion in money supply often through credit growth. A look at developments on this front would rule this out.
As at the end of July 2020, annualized growth in monetary aggregates was mixed with strong growth in M1 (+33%) and M2 (+27%) relative to M3 (+10%). The muted growth in M3 relative to the narrower measurers of M1 and M2 reflect declines in OMO bills (- 72%) after the CBN elected to proscribe non-bank domestic investors from its sterilization securities sales.
This resulted in a drop in OMO bills from NGN8trillion at its peak in November 2019 to NGN3.5trillion in July 2020. As these monies flowed unhindered into the banking system, they spurred an expansion in Demand Deposits (+42% and Quasi-Money (+24%). Although these should ordinarily stoke concerns, a look at the monetary base (M0) throws up evidence of how the CBN has still managed to sterilize liquidity: via the cash reserve requirements.
Specifically, bank reserves have expanded at an annualized pace of 132% to NGN11trillion at the end of July or by some NGN4.8trillion – which is more than double the quantum of growth in Naira terms in M3 (NGN2trillion). Effectively, as many have argued, the entire move to outlaw access for non-bank (and tacitly banks) was essentially targeted at zero cost liquidity sterilization. Thus, while there has been growth in money supply from maturing OMO bills, the concurrent expansion in monetary base via CRR debits has effectively drained the financial system of excess liquidity.
From a more structural perspective, money supply growth is often driven by two sub-parts: net domestic assets (NDA) and net foreign assets (NFA). The CBN’s use of CRR debits has ensured that NDA growth over the first seven months of 2020 has been subdued (+1.3% annualized) relative to a faster expansion in net foreign assets (+54%) following the surge in FX borrowings with the IMF loan. In simple terms, the liquidity deluge from OMO bill maturities have been managed away.
Figure 4: Growth in Money Supply
So what gives?
In the near term, my suspicions are that the CBN is set to follow the global trend of ignoring the inflation numbers, which suits its ‘home-grown’ philosophy, that has underpinned a spate of interventions across a host of sectors.
These interventions have resulted in the CBN directing credit towards certain sectors (manufacturing, renewable energy, gas-to-power, housing, agriculture etc) at single-digit interest rates in a bid to stimulate activity. In combination with the Loan-Deposit Ratio (LDR) policy as well as the arbitrary nature of the CRR debits, which are well above the 27.5% target number, the CBN has been able to force banks to boost loan volumes as a coping mechanism in the face of collapse in net interest margins from lower rates on government securities.
Though sceptics remain over the efficacy of supply-side policies on stimulating production among other unorthodox policies such as offering better rates for offshore investors relative to onshore investors, the CBN’s recent policy of lowering minimum savings rate has provided a strong signal of its direction: there will be no reward for risk-free anymore.
Will this work or not? We will have to wait to find out. But interest rates are likely to remain lower for sometime.
And 3 more things…
- Changing the definition of core inflation: Presently, Nigeria defines core inflation as headline inflation less farm produce, which reflected historic stability in fuel prices due to the existence of subsidized regime. With the removal of subsidies and 30-day averaging period, fuel prices now move from month-to-month implying higher volatility. Now is the time to change the definition of core inflation to exclude farm produce and fuel in line with the theoretical meaning. Looking back, the spread between headline and the true core definition which the NBS publishes suggests maybe we should not have tightened policy as aggressive as we did in 2016-17 by focusing communication on the true core number. Economic policies should focus on more lasting structural drivers than transient one-off shocks like fuel & electricity price hikes which tend to have disinflationary base effects afterwards.
- Adopting a more meaningful inflation target: In Nigeria, that target level for inflation is defined as 6-9% for the headline number. Given the weight of food inflation (55%) in the CPI numbers as well as elements without recourse to monetary policy (like fuel and electricity prices), some (including myself) have argued that the 6-9% target for headline is meaningless. In countries which pursue inflation targeting, the target is more refined with preference for demand-side inflation metrics like core inflation, wage inflation or personal consumption expenditures. Nigeria needs to adopt something similar.
- Explicitly incorporating FX into Nigeria’s monetary policy reaction function: In theory, the core mandate of central banks is price stability, but this does not preclude the pursuit of other objectives. In the US, the Fed has a dual mandate that explicitly includes unemployment. I believe a proper explicit mandate for the CBN is one that requires that it optimize a reaction function of price stability and an export competitive exchange rate. The price stability mandate should entail lowering some measure(s) of inflation (preferably ‘core’ demand side measures) towards a target band defined as conducive for consumption and welfare in Nigeria over a medium-term period set as 2-3 years. This allows to evaluate the efficacy of monetary policy and provides a good feedback loop. On the other factor, given the importance to policymakers we need to include that the CBN target a competitive exchange rate. The idea in mind is a variant of what obtains in Singapore, wherein the nominal exchange rate must coincide with a REER level that ensures that Nigeria’s non-oil manufacturing exports are competitive. This way, we resolve this obsession for nominal exchange rate stability. Balancing both items and ensuring better communication are the ultimate goals for monetary policy.
Figure 5: Trends in headline and core inflation
Source: NBS, Authors calculation
Central Bank of Nigeria; resuscitating an ailing economy
Since the emergence of the novel coronavirus, the monetary authority has continued to introduce measures to support economic recovery.
Recently, the financial policy and regulation department of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in a circular announced the extension of the regulatory forbearance on its intervention facilities to Institutions impacted by the dampening economic effect of the lingering coronavirus pandemic for an additional year.
Though the country has exited recession according to the latest GDP report, the beneficiaries of these facilities still require regulatory support to completely get back to business before assuming the burden of servicing those facilities.
Earlier in 2020, the CBN had given the initial forbearance following the complete stall in economic activities brought about by the need to community transmission following the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic is nipped in the bud.
Consequently, the interest on the facilities was revised from 9.0% to 5.0%, with a one-year moratorium given on all principal repayments from 01 March 2020. Following the expiration of this forbearance, the CBN has announced the extension for another 12 months of the discounted interest rates for the CBN facilities. However, the rollover of the moratorium on these facilities will be considered on a case by case basis.
Since the emergence of the novel coronavirus, the monetary authority has continued to introduce measures to support economic recovery. The Bank has continued to extend support to industries that were hit by the negative effect of the coronavirus through the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) Commodity Association, Private/Prime Anchors, State Governments, Maize Aggregation Scheme (MAS), and the Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS), among others.
Yesterday, the CBN considering the impact of the economic frailties on the Nigerian poultries value chain and industries, released 50,000mtn of maize to cushion shortage of supply. Consequently, the price per metric tonne of maize has dropped to N180,000/metric tonne from N200,000/metric tonne, with an expectation that it would further plunge.
We acknowledge that farming activities have been significantly affected in 2020 due to covid-19 movement restrictions during the planting season as well as abnormal rainfall patterns which led to flooding of farmlands and the farmers/herders clashes which remain a significant threat to agricultural productivity.
These unfortunate events have led to a spike in food prices reflected in the food inflation rate of 20.57% in January 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Thus, we consider the provision of reliefs for farmers important to restore farming activities and output level back to pre-covid levels.
While we welcome these interventions given Nigeria’s current precarious economic situation, and how it has burdened businesses, we are of the view that the government needs to also keep an eye on resolving long-standing structural bottlenecks to truly maximise the full potential of Nigerian businesses.
CSL Stockbrokers Limited, Lagos (CSLS) is a wholly owned subsidiary of FCMB Group Plc and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria. CSLS is a member of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
Why NNPC should be commercialised
A commercialized NNPC with more committed employees would mean better accountability and transparency in its operations.
The Nigerian government is seeking efficient ways of positioning the country on its path to recovery and the petroleum industry which contributes about 90% of its exchange earnings would undoubtedly be critical on this journey.
The long-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which seeks to regulate the entire Nigerian Petroleum Industry and repeal a host of existing legislation is paramount in transforming the industry and introducing more efficiency particularly in its government-owned parastatals. The PIB has gained more traction in the current administration and is now awaiting deliberations by legislators.
A key highlight of the PIB is commercializing the State-run behemoth, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). This move would see the NNPC incorporated as a Limited Liability Company and be known as NNPC Limited. This company would conduct its affairs on a commercial basis without resorting to using government funds.
While this might seem like a bold move by the government, it still should not come off as a surprise…
Owing to the fall in crude oil prices from over $100/barrel to below $50/barrel levels in 2020, Nigeria’s exciting story with crude oil slowed down but has picked up in recent months. The country’s heavy dependence on the volatile crude oil market and its ineptitude in diversifying during its “oil-rich” days have now thrown its growth story in jeopardy. The once 3rd-fastest growing economy with foreign reserves in excess of $40bn now wallows in rising inflation complemented and a weakened currency.
Why do we need to commercialize NNPC?
A core theme with a number of government-owned parastatals is the plague of inefficiency and obscurity in the way they are run. To give an idea of the NNPC’s lack of transparency, the corporation only published the group’s audited financial statements for the first time in its 43 years of operation in 2020. It’ll be right to commend this administration is pushing for transparency but you can go on to imagine what went on during those opaque years of operation.
As expected, the results were not impressive. The corporation reported a recurring loss, albeit 70% lower in 2019. The significant reduction in losses may prove the government’s will in improving the operations of the NNPC, however, comments on the report noted that “material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the Group and Corporation’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
Moving down to the State-owned refineries with a combined capacity of 445,000 bpd, capacity utilization well below 20%, and recurring annual losses in excess of ₦150bn, we can agree that the condition of these refineries is utterly worrisome. Despite the government’s annual budget for Turn Around Maintenance of these refineries, they have now been shut down with plans to undergo a Build, Operate, and Transfer (BOT) model.
Chief among the NNPC’s problems is corruption. A number of investigative reports have explained how subsidy payments, domestic crude allocation, revenue retention practices, and oil-for-product swap agreements are smeared with corruption. The Senate has initiated countless probes and new management seeking transparency has been introduced by the President, however, it just seems like the rot has eaten too deep into the system.
What does commercializing NNPC mean for the country?
The government-managed NNPC has proved to be inefficient and riddled with corruption. A commercialized NNPC with more committed employees would mean better accountability and transparency in its operations. The possible introduction of more shareholders would strengthen the amount of funding available to the NNPC and further shift the burden of being the sole-financier away from the government.
Exploring an NNPC IPO
An Initial Public Offering (IPO) would see the NNPC’s shares traded on Stock Exchanges and position the corporation to raise much more funding, build trust and endear to the international community. While this might seem like a daunting task, Nigeria can perhaps take a cue from Saudi Arabia whose National Oil corporation; Saudi Aramco began raising capital for its IPO in December 2019.
The Saudi Crown Prince; Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) announced a valuation of $2trn enticing the world’s largest investment banks, appointed a new set of leaders on the board of the corporation, and executed a highly engaging local marketing strategy. Although the valuation figure was brought down to $1.5 – $1.7 trillion by financial advisors, Saudi Aramco successfully achieved its IPO raising nearly $26 billion for 1.5% of Aramco’s value.
NNPC’s fundamentals might not support an IPO currently as investors might be wary of the high level of risks involved but we can’t deny the immense opportunities an IPO would present not just for NNPC’s transparency and performance but Nigeria’s economic reform.
The recurring performance of the corporation with several corruption allegations, inefficiency, and unclarity is indeed worrisome. It is time to have the NNPC turn over a new leaf and operate on a commercial basis. This would afford the government the ability to deploy funds into other segments of the economy and have the NNPC focus on being a commercially viable entity.
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