Connect with us

News

The Economist Accuses Buhari Of "Worsening Nigeria's Economy"

Published

on

Domestic oil producers are feeling the pinch worst. Many borrowed heavily to buy oilfields when crude was worth more than $100 a barrel, and are now struggling to pay the interest on loans, says Kola Karim, the founder of Shoreline Group, a Nigerian conglomerate. This, in turn, threatens to create a banking crisis. About 20% of Nigerian banks’ loans were made to oil and gas producers (along with another 4% to underperforming power companies). Capital cushions are plumper than they were during an earlier banking crisis in 2009; but, even so, bad debts are mounting and banks that are exposed to oil producers may find themselves in trouble. “It wouldn’t surprise me if one or two went down,” says a senior banker in Nigeria.
The government’s response to the crisis has been three-pronged. First, it is trying to stimulate the economy with a mildly expansionary budget. At the same time, it is trying to protect its dwindling hard-currency reserves by blocking imports. Third, it is trying to suppress inflation by keeping the currency, the naira, pegged at 197-199 to the dollar. Only the first of these policies seems likely to work.
The budget, which includes a plan to spend more on badly needed infrastructure, is a step in the right direction. Although government revenues are under pressure from the falling oil price, Mr Buhari hopes to offset that by plugging “leakages” (a polite term for theft) and taxing people and businesses more. That seems reasonable. At 7%, Nigeria’s tax-to-GDP ratio is pitifully low. Every percentage point increase could yield $5 billion of extra cash for the coffers, reckons Kayode Akindele of TIA Capital, an investment firm. Mr Buhari also plans to save some $5 billion-$7 billion a year by ending fuel subsidies—a crucial reform, if he sticks with it. Even so he will be left with a deficit of $15 billion (3% of GDP) that will have to be filled by domestic and foreign borrowing.
Yet his policies on the currency seem likely to stymie that. The central bank has frozen the naira at its current overvalued official rate for almost a year. The various import bans (on everything from soap to ballpoint pens) are supposed to reduce demand for dollars, but have little effect. Businesses that have to import essential supplies to keep their factories running complain that they have been forced into the black market, where the naira currently trades at 300 or more to the dollar. Several local manufacturers have suspended operations.
International investors, knowing that the value of their assets could tumble, have slammed on the brakes and some have pulled money out of the country just as their dollars are most needed.
Nigeria is fortunate in having low levels of public debt (less than 20% of GDP), but it is not helped by high interest rates, which mean that 35% of government revenue goes straight out of the door again to service its borrowings. It would not take much to push it into a debt crisis.
Frustratingly,this crunch is one that Nigeria has been through before—under the then youthful Mr Buhari. Then, as now, he refused to let the market set the value of the currency. Instead he shut out imports, causing the legal import trade to fall by almost 50% and killing much of Nigeria’s nascent industry in the process. Between 1980 and 1990, carmaking fell by almost 90%. Today, as in the 1980s, the president is making a bad situation worse.

READ ALSO  COVID-19: Anambra State Govt Introduces Curfew
Advertisement
Comments

Trending