Nigeria’s external reserve declined from $36.3 billion as of January 29, 2021, to $34.998 billion as of March 1, 2021, losing about $1.4 billion in just a month.
The rapid drop in the country’s external reserve is occurring despite the increase of Brent crude to over $66 per barrel as of February 24, 2021, from about $51 per barrel that it closed with on January 4, 2021.
Some analysts had attributed a couple of likely reasons for this drop. This includes the CBN intervention in the forex market to stabilize the exchange rate, low foreign inflows into the country, some CBN forex policies which discourage foreign investors.
The President of the Association of Bureau De Change Operators of Nigeria (ABCON), Aminu Gwadebe, during his chat with Nairametrics, said that the decline in Nigeria’s external reserve despite the recent increase in oil prices was due to supply shocks and shortages of foreign exchange due to drop of forex inflow from various sources.
Gwadebe said, ‘’You know we have a lot of supply shocks and shortages even before the appreciation of the crude oil prices, we just came out of recession with less than even 0.1%. We know the prices of crude oil, the demand came down throughout the Covid-19 period, even now with the new variant. So the IMTOs inflow has reduced drastically, export proceeds have reduced drastically, the I & E window has also gone down drastically. You know you can appreciate what is happening at the I & E window, their trade transactions sometimes hover up to N420/$1.’’
On why increased oil prices have not stopped the further slide in the reserves, the ABCON President said, ‘’Completely all the sources coming have dried up, the oil prices dried up, IMTO window dried up. We are talking about a month, and these are contracts that have been closed for 3, 6 months delivery, we are just witnessing it. It will take time, it’s a very good buffer, no doubt we rely on it heavily for 90% of our foreign exchange supply. So if we have that improvement, it will give the CBN the muscle, the wherewithal to continue to support the local market. It will give CBN the muscle to make any speculation, check any hoarding.”
‘’Now that we have prospects in oil prices definitely that news, that coming in of new inflows will give the CBN the muscle to make any speculation, to checkmate hoarding, because they are in I & E window, they are in BDC window, they are in a lot of windows, so they can come up with liquidity. Definitely, it is going to. And we have seen the impact because the way it was going before this increase in crude oil prices, it was worrisome and if you look at it now it has remained stable, the highest it went is N480 for the parallel market and its always trending down. There is that stability just for that news, so you can imagine when we start receiving the liquid grill just imagine what it will become just like people have predicted and analyzed N430, N450/$1 is what we might be looking at by the end of the year,’’ he added.
On his part, a treasury and financial analyst, Odinaka Nwokonkwo, while giving reasons why it should be that way, pointed to CBN obligations. He said the apex bank paid Eurobond maturities in January or thereabout, and did FX swap with local and international counterparts which may have matured and needed to be paid down.
He said, ‘’There is a Eurobond maturity that CBN funded for, so that would also reduce the reserves, then another thing is when you look at, CBN has been intervening in the forex market. So on that space, you are seeing retail, you are seeing SME and invisibles intervention weekly. Retail is biweekly and SME and invisible about $100 million weekly. So sometimes CBN has bilateral transactions with international institutions and local banks where they take their FX and basically give them treasury bills, so that also is part of the reserves.
‘’So if some of those swaps have matured and CBN needs to pay down these bonds, they will also see a reduction. So it’s a combination of a lot of things. And also what is the volume of sales of the oil, are we really selling more, is the quantity we are selling is the same as what we are selling before. The demand might drop a little bit because some countries also have a second lockdown.’’
Nwokonkwo also believes that in the next quarter, there might see an accretion because some of those obligations may not be there.
While pointing out that the accretion rate is slower than the debit rate, he said the oil price at $65 is not a significant increase compared to CBN FX obligations.
These external reserve figures and swings point to two things: Nigeria seems to be overestimating the power of it oil to keep the country running and the enduring reality it needs to find other ways of earning foreign exchange.