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NLC, TUC And Forex Market: Matters Arising

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In spite of Organised Labour’s recognition of the real advantages that a deregulated downstream oil sector would bring to the economy, there is yet no sign that Labour’s opposition to this policy has waned! Labour, of course, recognizes that NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), like all monopolies (especially state run monopolies) create price and market distortions which do not generally favour the masses. Thus, even when it is clear that deregulation will not only release at least N600bn revenue annually for critical infrastructural upliftment, but also reduce the space for corrupt enrichment within the petroleum sub-sector and induce keen competition with improved consumer services, Labour is not convinced that deregulation would translate into cheaper or stable petrol prices, especially when global crude oil prices follow an upward trajectory.

In truth, this column shares Labour’s apprehension and I will even make bold to say that any assurance from any quarter that deregulation as proposed in its present jaundiced form will bring down petrol prices from its current level even when crude oil prices continue to rise must be a calculated attempt to deceive Nigerians, before our income values are taken to the cleaners! Indeed, Deregulation within the context of our current monetary framework will be suicidal! In their eagerness to encourage Labour to embrace deregulation, government and its agents have been quick to point to the gains in the telecom sector with the advent of liberalisation. In truth, prices of mobile handsets and cell rates have tumbled endlessly over the past five years and Nigerians are urged to be patient so that the same favourable scenario would play out in the downstream oil sector; but, sincere and insightful analysts will be quick to caution against such expectation. In the first place, competition may indeed have impacted favourably on consumer prices, but the more important fact is that it is the increasing size of the market (the cost benefit of mass production/service) that has been the main driver of the favourable prices! Secondly, and certainly of equal significance, price reductions are made possible with an expanding market in the telecom sector by the nature of its revenue base; for example, telecom operators receive their incomes in local currency (i.e. naira) from Nigerian based customers, and furthermore, the telecom operators do not have any direct influence on the determination of the naira purchasing power!

Meanwhile, deregulation of the downstream sector may mean more suppliers, but the demand for petrol as in the case of telecom is unlikely to enjoy an astronomical increase, so the relatively static size of local demand for petrol will not increase and thereby instigate the cost savings that will ultimately reduce prices of petrol, especially when the crude oil market is buoyant! Thus, more refineries with increased capacities and an influx of importers will not necessarily increase demand such that prices will come down with the advantages of large scale production. Furthermore, it is clear that the universal driver of petrol prices is actually the international crude oil price movements. This is certainly the most significant factor in the pump price of fuel.

Yes, the distance between refineries and the market, and the index of efficiency in each refinery would also contribute to the price level, but in reality, these two factors may not account for more than 20% in the price structure of petrol; however, the most critical factor that could induce wild swings in petrol prices is certainly the market price of crude oil. The price of crude oil is, however, denominated in dollars and unlike telecom, our export revenue is consequently received in dollars and not in naira. Meanwhile, the naira value derivable from this dollar revenue is in turn determined in a market which is inexplicably dominated and controlled by the worst form of monopoly (i.e. government parastatals).

Thus, the foreign exchange market which determines how much our hard earned dollar income will command in the market, by its monopolistic nature, is plagued by price distortions, corruption, and market dislocations!! In spite of vastly increased export revenue, the monopolistic posturing of the Central Bank in the foreign exchange is in fact at the root of our underdevelopment! The CBN in its role position as the nation’s banker is the prime custodian of our currency; i.e. the naira, and it is appropriate that it controls all naira issues and it is, by its mandate expected to maintain price stability which also includes an appropriate monetary framework which ensures that the naira we all earn does not continue to buy less and less in the market! Thus, while a Central Bank’s monopoly of a nation’s currency issue and management is universally accepted as inevitable, the waters become seriously muddied when the same Central Bank becomes not only a major player but also a monopolist in the supply of foreign exchange to the domestic market; this would lead us into a very poisonous matrix that guarantees that our people become poorer with increasing dollar export revenue.

Currently, the CBN is annually responsible for about 70% of all dollar revenue that enters into the domestic forex market. The balance 30% or less is supplied by oil companies and a few exporters outside the oil sector! While these private dollar suppliers are legally permitted to approach the banks directly for the exchange of their dollars to naira, the owners of public sector dollar revenue in our reserves are not so lucky! Over the last three decades or so, the CBN has played the role of the all-knowing big brother with our dollar earnings. In the present framework, the CBN actually captures the monthly distributable dollar revenue, and proceeds, with no serious attempt at a market-determined naira/dollar rate, to print and supply loads of naira to the three tiers of government at its own unilaterally determined exchange rate! Consequently, with such framework, increasing dollar revenue will mean increasingly worthless naira value, as more and more naira will be pumped into the system with the attendant problems of excess liquidity, high interest rates, heavy government borrowing (not for infrastructural development but for reduction of excess cash in the system) increasing unemployment, lower demand and comatose industrial landscape as a result of CBN’s monopoly of the people’s dollar revenue!

As you may imagine, the above is a veritable paradox, as increasing dollar revenue (whether from crude price rises or additional export revenue) should realistically improve the value of the naira if the increased dollar revenue provides us with longer forex demand cover. For example, our $60bn or more reserves in 2008 gave us over 30 months demand cover according to CBN and our exchange rate hovered between N120 – N150=US$1, but compare this with our $4bn dollar reserves and four month’s demand cover in 1996 and yet our naira exchange in 1996 for just N80/$1.

Some Nigerians have argued that crude oil is our natural endowment and we should therefore enjoy a subsidy akin to agric product subsidies elsewhere in Europe and U.S.A. Thus, even if a subsidy regime cost us N1 OOObn a year (a third of federal budget) or indeed breeds corruption and dislocates the price structure, such Nigerians maintain that subsidy is our birthright! I do not have any quarrel with this argument, but the point is that the concept of incidence of subsidy is misplaced in this instance. It should be a realistic expectation that when crude oil prices increase, our nation’s treasury benefits with increasing dollar reserves, which would in turn improve our dollar demand cover; when dollar demand cover improves as per the above example, we should rationally expect our naira to be stronger against the dollar! A stronger naira, with rising crude oil prices should normally translate into reducing petrol prices locally!!

The cheaper petrol prices will, however, mean higher cost to all cross boarder smugglers of petrol who have contributed to push our daily consumption of petrol over to 30 million litres! What our economic experts do not tell you is that the resultant stronger naira, cheaper petrol prices, the damper on inflation, and a savings ofN600bn erstwhile subsidy are actually the real subsidies that ownership and export of crude oil provides!

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CBN Opens N500 Grants Portal For Graduates, Undergraduates

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To reduce the level of suffering associated with unemployment in the country, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has developed grants of N500,000.00 for graduates and students.
A statement from the apex bank, made available to The Tide, said qualified persons have been directed to visit cbnties.com.ng portal for the CBN N500k grants registration.
This, according to the statement, is under the Tertiary Institution Entrepreneurship Scheme (TIES), in partnership with Nigerian Polytechnics and Universities to exploit the potential of graduate entrepreneurs in Nigeria.
CBN said the aim of TIES is to increase access to finance for Nigerian polytechnic and university graduates and graduates with innovative business and technological ideas.
The apex bank added that it is also to address the trend of white-collar job seekers and focus on job creation.
The statement quoted the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, as saying that the scheme is designed to create a “paradigm shift from a ‘white-collar’ job search culture to an entrepreneurial culture to economic growth and job creation between undergraduates and graduates.
“As for the grant, CBN will allocate N500 million among the top five third best delivery organizations.
“The top five polytechnics and universities in Nigeria with the best entrepreneurial trends/ideas will be awarded first place: N150 million second place N120 million third place N80 million fourth place N80 million and fifth place. Location – N50 m illion”, it stated.
As part of the scheme, the CBN has announced that it will form a private and public sector expert organization (BoE) for two-year regional and national entrepreneurship competitions to assess the entrepreneurial and technological innovations offered by Nigerian polytechnics and universities.
BoE will also recommend high-potential projects and the variable impact on the award of the grant.
Projects funded under the scheme will be monitored by independent monitors set up jointly by CBN and MFIs.

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Economic Growth, Determining Factor For Policies In 2023  – Stockbrokers

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Chairman of Research and Technology at the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers (CIS), Mr. Akeem Oyewale, has said that economic growth and development should be the determining factor in policies ahead of 2023.
Oyewale, who said this recently at the institute’s Annual National Economic Review and Outlook 2022 webinar  in Lagos, urged policy makers to act in a spirit of justice and tolerance to avoid acts that could lead to violence in the run-up to the 2023.
Speaking on the topic: “Global Dynamics Shaping Nigeria‘s Economic Future”, Oyewale listed factors such as the process leading up to the 2023 general elections, the response to Omicron, and the effects of COVID-19, as what would also determine the growth of the nation’s economic development.
He used the fora to urge the Federal Government to intensify its engagement with Nigeria’s capital market to better smoothly finance the 2022 budget deficit without increasing borrowing.
Oyewale also directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to fully consider the effects on the capital market when making monetary and fiscal policies.
According to him, the philosophy of building an economy led by the private sector enshrined in the National Development Plan must be strictly adhered to.
On the need for new listings, Oyewale said Nigeria National Petroleum Company’s trading should continue with the public listing of its shares on the stock market.
This, he explained, would give Nigerians the opportunity to co-own one of the country’s commanding heights.
“The CBN and banks should grant trading facilities to securities trading firms in the country to maintain optimism in the capital market”, he said.
Speaking further, he urged pension funds and other institutional investors to increase their investment in the stock market to create much-needed stability and encourage new investment.
Earlier, President of the CIS Council, Mr Olatunde Amolegbe,  said the institute would continue with initiatives that would enhance its growth and development in 2022.
Amolegbe stated that CIS would undertake activities that would promote capital market literacy in all geopolitical zones of the country, saying that he would strengthen collaboration with international professional bodies such as CISI UK and others for the benefit of their members.
He continued that the institute was working to increase the number of Nigerian universities offering graduate and undergraduate courses in securities and investment/capital market studies.
“Our vision by 2023 is to see the Securities and Investments profession registered in the hearts of young Nigerian academics as their preferred career path and CIS as the model to be followed by other professional bodies,” he concluded.

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PenCom Completes Review Of Pension Reform Act 2014

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The regulatory body of the Nigerian Pension Industry, the National Pension Commission (PenCom) says it has deliberated on the review of the Pension Reform Act 2014 (PRA 2014).
This was contained in a statement to newsmen signed by Peter Aghahowa, Head, Corporate Communications of PenCom, who disclosed that the regulator organised the retreat on the review of PRA 2014 in Abuja between January 12 and 14.
According to Aghahowa, the retreat was aimed at identifying salient issues to be reviewed in the PRA 2014 as a prelude to advancing legislative action on the bill.
Aghahowa said it is expected that the National Assembly would subsequently organise a public hearing to provide an avenue for stakeholders to formally make input into the proposed amendments.
He also said that the PRA 2014 was enacted following a review of the initial PRA of 2004, which introduced legal and institutional frameworks of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) and established PenCom to regulate and supervise all pension matters in Nigeria.
According to him, the Director-General of PenCom, Aisha Dahir-Umar, during the opening ceremony of the retreat, had informed the participants that the PRA 2014 codified one of the most important socio-economic reform initiatives of the Federal Government.
He continued that she said this has brought about a pension industry that has accumulated pension assets in excess of N13 trillion invested in various aspects of the Nigerian economy.
He quoted her as saying that “the review is a corollary to some implementation challenges encountered with certain sections of the Act not long after its enactment in July 2014.
“This was also an addition to persistent calls from stakeholders for the amendment of some sections of the Act, which resulted in several legislative initiatives through the sponsorship of Bills for amendment of the PRA 2014 by the National Assembly.
“Consequently, the Commission as the regulator of the pension industry, decided to coordinate and harmonize the various efforts in order to achieve a comprehensive and constructive exercise for the review of PRA 2014”, he concluded.

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