The Monetary Policy Committee, MPC, of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, on Tuesday ended its two-day meeting with a strong warning that Nigeria’s economy risks slipping into another recession if there is no synergy between monetary and fiscal policies to ensure macroeconomic stability.
Noting current challenges to economic growth to include rising inflation and pressure on external reserves as a result of capital flow reversals, the committee opted to continue tightening monetary policy by retaining all fundamentals.
The CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, who spoke with reporters shortly after the two-day meeting of the MPC members held at the headquarters of the apex bank, said the economy had started showing signs of weakness, noting that the slowdown emanated from the oil sector, with strong linkages to employment and growth.
He stated that the committee was concerned that there was a fresh threat of recession as the economy recorded growth rate of 1.95 per cent and 1.5 per cent during the first and the second quarters of this year, respectively.
Emefiele cited an instance with the late implementation of the 2018 budget, weakening demand and consumer spending, rising contractor debts, and low minimum wage were some of the risks to output growth.
Others, according to him, are the impact of flooding on agricultural output, continued security challenges in the North-East and North-Central zones, and growing level of sovereign debts.
Emefiele stated, “The MPC observed that despite the under-performance of key monetary aggregates, headline inflation inched up to 11.23 per cent in August 2018 from 11.14 per cent in July 2018.
“The near time upside risks to inflation remain the dissipation of the base effect expected from 2019 election related spending, continued herdsmen attacks on farmers and episode of flooding, which destroyed farmlands and affected food supply ultimately.
“In this regard, the committee urges the fiscal authorities to sustain implementation of the 2018 budget to relieve the supply side growth constraints so that they can address the flooding, which has become perennial on a permanent basis.
“Relative stability has returned to the foreign exchange market buoyed by the robust external reserves, with inflation trending downward for the 18th consecutive month.”
He added, “The gains so far achieved appeared to be under threat following the new data, which provides evidence of weakening fundamentals. The committee identified rise in inflation and pressure on the external reserves created by the capital flows reversals as the current challenges to growth.
“It noted that the underlying pressures have started rebuilding and capital flows reversals have intensified as shown by the bearish trend in the equities’ market even though the exchange rate remains very stable.
“The committee was concerned that the exit from recession may be under threat as the economy slid to 1.95 per cent and 1.5 per cent during the first and the second quarters of 2018, respectively.
“The committee noted that the slowdown emanated from the oil sector with strong linkages to employment and growth.”
On what could be done to stimulate economic activities, he stated that although growth remained weak, the effective implementation of the 2018 Federal Government budget and policies that would encourage credit delivery to the real sector of the economy might boost aggregate demand, stimulate economic activity and reduce unemployment in the country.
The CBN governor said the committee urged government to take advantage of the current rising trend in oil prices to rebuild fiscal buffers, strengthen government finances in the medium term and reverse the current trend of decline in output growth.
The MPC, according to him, also called on the fiscal authority to intensify the implementation of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan to stimulate economic activities, bridge the output gap and create employment.
The apex bank boss said the MPC expressed concern over the potential impact of liquidity injection from election-related spending and increase in federal allocations, which are rising in tandem with increase in oil receipts.
Emefiele added that the committee was concerned with the rising level of non-performing loans in the banking system, and urged the banks to closely monitor and address the situation.
He also expressed concern over the weak intermediation by Deposit Money Banks and its adverse impact on credit expansion as well as investment growth by the private sector.
While revealing the outcome of the meeting, Emefiele explained that seven out of the 10 members of the committee agreed to maintain the current monetary policy stance, while three voted to increase the rates.
According to him, the MPC decided to leave the Monetary Policy Rate, MPR, unchanged at 14 per cent.
Apart from the MPR, which was retained at 14 per cent, the committee also retained the Cash Reserves Ratio, CRR, at 22.5 per cent.
Also retained were the Liquidity Ratio which was left at 30 per cent; and the Asymmetric Window, which was left at +200 and -500 basis points around the MPR.
Explaining the rationale for the decision, the CBN governor said, “Tightening will tame inflationary pressure, tame the reversal of portfolio capital, improve the external reserves, and maintain stability in the foreign exchange market.
“Conversely, the committee also noted that raising rate would further weaken growth, as credit would become more expensive, non-performing loan would increase further, leading to a deceleration in output.
“In the committee opinion, the upward adjustment would not only signal the bank’s commitment to price stability, but also its desire to maintain all policy interest rates.”
He added, “A decision to hold all policy parameters will sustain natural improvement in output growth.
“There is need to maintain the current policy stand and await a clearer understanding of the quantum and timing of liquidity injection into the economy before deciding on possible adjustment.”
When asked about the state of the Nigerian banking system following the withdrawal of the licence of the defunct Skye Bank Plc, the governor insisted that the Nigerian banking system remained “sound and healthy.”
He said, “In every chain, there will always be strong points and weak points in a chain, but what we will continue to do is to make sure that that chain remains strong in all aspects of it. Notwithstanding that, as we see areas where there are weaknesses, we will do everything possible to make sure that we keep the chain linked together, and that is what we did with Skye Bank.
“As I have said before, I will love to see a situation where banks are not liquidated, that we have to think outside the box to see how much we can ensure that we have more banks in the country than have less number of banks in the country, and that is what we are doing.
“The situation with Skye Bank, as you well know, is that as at two years ago when the news broke that the bank had slide into negative capital as a result of Non-Performing Loan, at that time, we compelled the entire board and executives to resign and they did.”
Emefiele added, “After that, before we conducted an internal audit, the hole (financial gap) was about N370bn. After the forensic audit, it came to the level it is today, which is almost about N800bn
“So what we did was to say that having established a hole at this level, taxpayers’ money will be invested in this bank as a loan. So, we decided that there is a need to let shareholders know, particularly those that have lost their investments; we will try to make sure that small investors remain protected.
“It is for this reason that the name had to be changed for legal reasons. Having got to the point where the Central Bank of Nigeria has invested close to N800bn in this bank, at some point it must be seen to be owned by the CBN until we find investors that can pay a fair price for the bank.”
He gave an assurance that depositors’ funds in the bridge institution, Polaris Bank, remained safe, adding that the apex bank would ensure that it would not throw the over 5,000 workers of the bank into the labour market.