So The Economist thinks Godwin Emefiele should be sacked? Part 2

Picking up from where we left off, i.e So The Economist thinks Godwin Emefiele should be sacked? Part 1. I’ll start with a personal story. I had been saving up some money for a while to buy some stuff. The stuff were priced in USD as were my savings. Since it was gonna be at least a year till I reached the target I had a bright idea. USD interest rates are something like 1% pa at best and I could get about 10% pa in naira. Given the relative stability of the naira I decided to change the savings to naira to get the better returns with the aim of changing back to USD when I hit the target. Lol! Dreams! When the first wave of devaluation hit I wanted to cry, my savings were now lower in USD than when I put them in even after accounting for the interest earned. Looking at the data that was there, I should have seen it coming and gotten out earlier – and it was clear, this was not going to be the only devaluation. In the ensuing pain and uncertainty, what were my actions:

  • I tried to pull out my money to the safer currency (USD): problem was the investment had a tenure and many people were trying to do the same. The slide was daily, especially on the black market which was all I had access to given Nigeria’s rules for accessing forex even back then. Oh the pain!
  • After a couple of back of the envelope calculations I decided ok, within a band I can recover the losses. But to give me added confidence and adjust for the risk I was going to negotiate a higher rate from the bank before rolling over.

It’s interesting how the actions of little me and my puny savings mirrors the behavior of large “foreign investors” in the face of uncertainty with a currency. They come here seeking the higher returns and will pull out at the first signs of danger leaving the stock market reeling or sending yields on bonds up as the interest rates are adjusted for the perceived risks. Ultimately they won’t bring the money back unless they have a fair idea of how the state of play will be. And that’s where we are now, many investors and analysts think that the CBN doesn’t really know what it’s doing and are standing by for an inevitable further devaluation as Standard and Poor’s put it. The tolls on the stock market are evident, as Bloomberg reports the Nigerian Stock Exchange has posted losses for seven weeks straight. What Mr. Emefiele therefore stands accused of is eroding confidence and making stakeholders fret.

“Whereas many investors were impressed by the previous CBN governor, Lamido Sanusi, who was sacked for exposing corruption, they fret about the harm being inflicted by the current one.” – The Economist

That view is echoed by others. A few more quotes from a BloomBerg report below.

“Emefiele is ‘putting off painful and inevitable adjustments’ in the exchange rate” – Bank of America

“He replaced arguably the most effective and outspoken central bank governor that we’ve seen in African emerging markets for some time… It’s only natural to think there’s less independence at the central bank.” – Aberdeen Asset Management

And it’s not only foreign investors who are thinking this. In the words of First Bank of Nigeria’s CEO as reported in Bloomberg,

“People just don’t believe the central bank has what it takes to sustain the exchange rate at the present level. The market needs to reopen. You cannot peg the naira at a level that the whole world knows is unrealistic.” –  Bisi Onasanya

But what is the take of the CBN in all this, since like my people say Agbejo enikan da, agba osika ni (he who judges based on one side of the story is a wicked soul).

The CBN actually responded to article in The Economist to state their reasons, I’ll summarize below and add a couple of comments about what I think. You make your decision.

  • The Nigerian economy is heavily dependent on imports and the exchange rate pass-through to inflation is high.” Since we import almost everything we consume, further devaluation will make everything more expensive and we don’t want that. On the face of it that is an excellent point. Difficult to argue with. Or is it? The CBN aims to maintain the inflation (how much prices increase year on year) within a band of 6% – 9%. So policy decisions will be made to keep things within that band. Well, according to data from the CBN website this morning, inflation now stands at 9.2% and is on an upward trend. The reason is simple, while the CBN says the official rate is 197 to the dollar, most people cannot access dollars at the official rate due to rules introduced by the CBN themselves. So with the black market rates knocking on 240 to the dollar, a fair portion of people are already trading at a devalued rate and hence the higher inflation we purport to avoid is already here.
  • Adjustments to a sharp decline in supply of American dollars cannot all be borne by an indeterminate depreciation… The demand side also has to be considered, not just in response to the pressure on the Naira but as an opportunity to change the economy’s structure, resuscitate local manufacturing, and expand job creation for our citizens.” Demand and Supply. The supply of dollars has reduced and hence it’s more expensive, why don’t we reduce the demand for it? Because clearly if restrictions are not put on how quickly the foreign reserves are being depleted, we will run out of dollars soon enough. So, if people would just stop trying to import everything and choose to make them in Nigeria instead then we won’t need so many dollars in the first place and the naira can breathe. Another excellent idea. I have nothing against all those good things quoted above but the question is, is this the best way to go about it? People import either because the stuff is not available in Nigeria or because it’s cheaper to bring it in. If it’s not available in Nigeria and it can be made/grown/conjured here, the way to make it happen is to find the obstacles and dismantle them, that is not the job of the CBN. If it’s cheaper to bring it in than make it here, it goes without saying, if you devalue your currency then the imports become more expensive giving your locally produced versions a chance to compete (Note that this will only work if the key inputs to your production can be locally sourced). In a sense by directing more and more people to the parallel market the CBN is already doing this, which leads to the next point.
  • “…the article believes the CBN should adjust to reflect the current parallel market rate, why was this suggestion not made in the week following the inauguration of president Muhammadu Buhari when the same rate fell sharply to under N190 per dollar?” This one is about the difference between black market rates and the official rate. The CBN is saying the black market rate is not a real indicator of what the exchange rate should be contrary to what everyone else is saying and cites the dramatic recovery to 190 just after the elections as evidence. I think using a blip as evidence isn’t best practice. The truth is the trend in the black market has been downward consistently and the gap between the official and parallel rates is a cause for concern. How so? That’s how you make thieves. The CBN continues to supply dollars at the official rate to a select few that meets its criteria, but with a 20% profit to be made from buying at the official rate and selling at the parallel market I can assure you that there are many scams ongoing right now designed to milk that differential. All the best policing that. Additionally the CBN itself said the convergence of the official and parallel rates was a sign of a working system in the past, I guess the position has changed.

Talking about changing positions, the CBN actively pursued a policy of improving liquidity in the forex market and better market determination of the rates in the past. That stance seems to have changed, the actions at the moment are defensive and people can smell blood. Tightening liquidity has been the result and this is a major concern as people hold back from investing in NigeriaJP Morgan tracks Nigerian bonds in their Government Bond Index for Emerging Markets (GBI-EM). The liquidity concerns led them to place Nigeria on a negative watch earlier in the year, as Reuters reports:

“If we are unable to verify sufficient liquidity in Nigeria’s spot FX and local treasury bond market … it will trigger a review … for removal,” JP Morgan said.”Conversely, if liquidity improves and investors are able to transact with minimal hurdles, Nigeria will be removed from index watch negative.”

In summary the CBN is trying to do the right things, I have no doubts about that. But they have chosen to go about it in a roundabout manner and that is affecting investor confidence. My personal opinion is that the CBN should concern itself with restoring liquidity and confidence to the market and let the naira find a new level. If that requires further devaluation, then that is what should happen. Maintaining an artificial rate that no one believes in in to achieve aims that are clearly not happening is a waste of everyone’s time and simply kicks the can down the road. I close with the words of Mr Onasanya from the article previously quoted.

“We need to bite the bullet and move on, or there will be repercussions over the longterm.

P.S. I don’t think he should be sacked, that’s a little drastic. What do you think?

 

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So The Economist thinks Godwin Emefiele should be sacked? Part 1

Some wonder which would be worse for Nigeria: allowing him to serve the remaining four years of his term or undermining the independence of the central bank by sacking him – The Economist

Ok fine, they didn’t quite say it was their recommendation, but you get the gist. It’s almost as if only the need to maintain the independence of the CBN is the only tenable defense in his favor. The contentious issue here is the foreign exchange rate. Before I go into further details, first a little background, starting with a pretty little picture I generated from Yahoo Finance.

NGN vs. USD with Brent Crude Overlay - Yahoo Finance

NGN vs. USD with Brent Crude Overlay. Chart generated from Yahoo Finance

What the chart shows is a two year history of the official naira to USD exchange rate (blue line) and the oil price over the same period (red line). Forget the absolute numbers for the naira for a minute since they’re so low as to be insignificant and lets concentrate on the percentage drop. As almost everyone knows, around the middle of last year crude oil prices started a freefall that didn’t stop till this year when prices recovered somewhat to about half what they used to be. Nigeria operates a system where it “pegs” the value of the naira to the USD i.e the CBN says 155naira = 1 USD and that it is (kind of, our favorite abokis can sell at whatever price they want). You see, late last year and earlier this year there were “step” changes in the rate, that’s a result of the CBN saying ok, instead of 155, the naira is now going to be 168 to the dollar, and then eventually with the closure of the official auction systems and a move to interbank rates the CBN effectively devalued the currency again to around 200 to the dollar.

These devaluations are due to the fact that, for the CBN to enforce a certain rate in the market, people have to be convinced, they need confidence that it is able to ensure that there is an adequate supply of dollars in the market for people to exchange whenever they may be so inclined. Since we don’t print dollars here and they don’t grow on trees yet, we have to earn them somehow in order to make them available. In Nigeria the main source is through crude oil sales. As crude oil value tanked, so did the ability of the CBN to maintain its previous pegs leading to the devaluations. It is a reality of life, ignoring it would have led to wiping out our external reserves and eventually to a speculative spree that may have seen a 400 to the dollar exchange rate. This is not far fetched, looked at what happened to the Ghanaian Cedi when the speculators came calling in the chart below (slightly different causes but you can make the link between speculations and exchange rates).

USDGHS

In 2011 1 GHC = 100NGN and then the slow devaluation of the cedi (the Bank of Ghana doesn’t peg but intervenes in the market by supplying dollars). The two crazy peaks are mainly speculation driven as people suspected that BoG abilities to intervene were severely impaired. Note the rapid drop as soon as the concerns are addressed. Chart generated from Yahoo Finance.

The CBN correctly recognized that the exchange rates were unsustainable and that the drop in the oil price may not be transitory. On this last note they’re particularly right given that Brent Crude Futures are being priced at about $70 through 2020 at the moment. So the question is not whether a devaluation was needed, it was about how much was enough – and that is the cause of most of the arm-wringing and finger pointing. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is quite convinced that the pricing is at an appropriate level, many people don’t believe so and think a further devaluation is necessary and The Economist is obviously in that camp leading to the article from which I extracted the quote below.

I understand that for the average person on the street devaluation is always a bad thing since it means almost everything becomes more expensive (hello inflation!). For the not so average, those foreign vacations and children’s school fees leave a bigger dent on the account. I feel your pain. But there are also good reasons to do it. But in the spirit of short attention spans and elevator pitches, I’ll deal with that and provide some more information on the CBN’s recent policies and what they are trying to achieve. The aim of course is for you to decide on your own if they actually do make sense. See you shortly.

Part 2 Here

#GreekCrisis101

A couple of days ago, a gentleman, James Schneider (@schneiderhome) did a very informative series of tweets on the ongoing Greek crisis. I squished it all up into a storify article which unfortunately I can’t embed here since WordPress won’t let me be great. Anyhow I found a time consuming and clumsy workaround so you can view the story below or follow the link.

P.S. There are many sides to every story and this narrative is only as unbiased as the writer can attempt. For a balanced opinion you should seek out narratives from more “austerity minded” writers as well. If I find a clear example I’ll share at a later time

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Blitz Series: What is the Solar Impulse 2?

It’s an aircraft, albeit a weird looking one that aims to achieve things that have never been done before.

Slider-challenge-flying-day-and-night-solar-impulse-2

Solar Impulse 2 (Image from: http://www.solarimpluse.com)

Last year, on the 9 March 2014, I watched slightly bemused as the awkward looking aircraft with a gigantic wingspan and a tiny cabin took off from Abu Dhabi on CNN. This was the first leg of a long journey round the world to prove a point – that it was possible to circumnavigate* the earth powered entirely by the energy of the sun. While we may not see commercial aircraft rising on the wings of the morning any time soon, this proof of concept is definitely one of the bigger steps towards a greener, more renewable future. It is absolutely laudable and demonstrates that a big chunk of the technology for that future, is already here. The official website echoes that message throughout.

As tends to happen to most things that are not short and sweet, I stopped thinking about the Solar Impulse 2 a couple of days later, after all it’s not scheduled to return to Abu Dhabi until August this year. All that changed last week a colleague who is an aviation enthusiast (he flies gliders in his spare time over the mountains straddling Switzerland and France) didn’t stop poking me to follow along as the aircraft did it’s most challenging phase yet, a 117.87hr flight from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii in the USA crossing the Pacific Ocean and smashing multiple records including; longest solar flight time and distance in a manned aircraft, and longest solo flight in any type of aircraft by time. Shout out to  André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, the men who are piloting this expedition.

In the spirit of short and sweet, I won’t bore you with the technical details of the aircraft beyond answering the obvious question of “how does a solar airplane fly at night?” That answer is actually the same for most forms of solar energy exploitation, you have a solar array that supplies power and simultaneously charges a set of batteries when light is available. When the light goes down, the batteries kick in and continue to power the system till the sun is back up. That simple explanation takes years of engineering and hard work to pull off in an aircraft like this so the feat is quite impressive. Let me invite you to discover a piece of the future via the following links.

Official website: this has got tons of information and even links to sign up as a supporter. You can also view in real time data from the plane when it’s in the air including how much power its using and the split between batteries and solar panels etc.

Youtube channel: this has got great clips from the project including some crazy GoPro shots.

Wikipedia: our favorite fallback has information on the entire Solar Impulse project and recommended links to broaden your knowledge of these exciting developments in clean travel.

Go check them out!

Update: unfortunately, during this historic trip issues with overinsulation on the aircraft’s batteries left many cells permanently damaged due to overheating. The entire battery pack will be replaced so looks like the plane is grounded in Hawaii till next year… Too bad 😦

* I’m not sure this is a strict circumnavigation since most of the flights are in the Northern Hemisphere, which means technically the plane will travel a shorter distance than if it had been flying round the equator. But that is besides the point. For a more detailed discussion of circumnavigation, check out this Wikipedia article.

This Yam, This Goat, This Country: Pwc On NNPC – Part 2

People must go to jail really. It’s a necessary part of the reforms.

Agùntáṣǫólò

No one has the right to retain money that should come to the federation account. Constitutionally, it should come and then , if expenses are legitimate, they should be presented transparently and properly approved. To even admit that you have withheld $10bn or $12bn and then say this is what I did with it is, frankly speaking, not even the beginning of an argument” – Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, speaking to Gavin Serkin, author of ‘Frontier

Part 1 is here if you missed it.

We now know the measurement of the yam ($69bn) that was left in the care of the NNPC goat. And we also know how much the goat handed back to the Nigerian treasury ($50bn). The debate now is what right the NNPC had to eat so much ($20bn) of the yam belonging to the Nigerian people, if it had the right to…

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This Yam, This Goat, This Country: PwC on NNPC – Part 1

This is just disgusting…

Agùntáṣǫólò

Friends and countrymen; I beseech you by the mercies of God that ye do whatsoever it is within thine powers to prevent a frolic between the yam and the goat. For, as surely as the rising and setting of the sun, such an enterprise yieldeth only corruption, nay a sad ending for the yam” – Goodluck The Jonathan, First of His Name

Finally, we get a chance to see what PwC, the auditors, saw when they looked into the black hole that is NNPC. The full report is here (200 pages). It is not pretty.

I am not an oil and gas expert and much of the industry and how it works confuses me. But the PwC report is written in English so let’s try to parse it.

Remember The King?

A quick recap of what started all of this – King Mohammed Sanusi II, in his former…

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Your Chance of Getting Mosquito Bites Could Be Genetic

TIME

If you’re always getting mosquito bites, you may be able to blame your genes, a new study suggests.

To understand whether the traits that make a person more or less attractive to mosquitoes are genetic—odors for instance—researchers conducted a study looking at 18 sets of identical twins and 19 sets of non-identical twins. Their findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers released mosquitoes into a Y shaped tube that allowed the mosquito pick a side to fly down. The twins’ hands were at either end of the tube (see photo). If the mosquitoes were attracted to the hands’ odor, they would fly toward them and if they were repelled by the hands they would fly away from them.

Interestingly, identical twins were more similar in the level of attractiveness to mosquitoes than non-identical twins, which the researchers suggest could mean that genes play a role. It’s…

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‘On such a full sea are we now afloat…’ – A Letter to the President-Elect

And my own advice “Please stop making promises you have no idea you can keep. Get there first, see what’s up, and then give a realistic timeline.”

Agùntáṣǫólò

Mr President,

I really don’t understand what it means to ‘stand on existing protocol’. Nevertheless, I will go ahead and stand on existing protocol.

1. On the day that Deng Xiaoping became leader of China in 1978, he was just under 75 years old. Between 1980 and 2010, China lifted 680 million people out of poverty. There can be no doubt about it — Deng Xiaoping’s reforms which opened up China’s economy played the biggest part in the stunning transformation of that country.

At a mere 72 years old; age cannot be an excuse for you. You’ve wanted this job for so long anyway. Now, it’s showtime

2. Between 1870 and 1910, over a million Swedes (around 20% of the country’s population at the time) abandoned Sweden for a new life in America. They left a country that was a pretty poor and dark place and suffering repeated crop failures…

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We are Nigeria!

Muhammadu Buhari with ballot paper before voting in Daura, northern Nigeria, on Saturday. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP. From The Guardian

This is not a long winded post. The last two days I’ve been glued to my screen watching the election results with rapt attention. Now that they are here, let me say congratulations to the President-Elect Buhari and thank you to President Jonathan for giving Nigerians a chance to exercise their democratic rights. Looking at the two charts below, 2011 vs 2015, it is clear that the people have made their voice heard. The difference is clear, particularly more so because it’s the exact same two candidates. This ability and willingness to express our views through the polls is what democracy is all about. For this I am ecstatic. No doubt there is a lot of work to be done, like the folks at the Guardian said “expectations are high and it will be easy to disappoint”, but for now I’m off to continue my celebrations (as much as I can with the constraints of my present quarters!)

2011_Nigerian_presidential_election

2011 Election Results – Image from Wikipedia.

2015_Nigerian_presidential_election

2015 Election Results – Image from Wikipedia.

God Bless Nigeria!

N.B. I have nothing but utmost respect for Professor Jega. Kudos!