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FG’s debt management strategy sparks concern over naira

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There was a noticeable exit of some foreign funds from Nigeria’s currency market last week after treasury bills repayment by the Debt Management Office (DMO) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) pushed down yields. The development has triggered fears of naira weakness, writes TONY CHUKWUNYEM

In line with the Federal Government’s strategy of reducing its debt and debt-servicing costs, the Debt Management Office (DMO) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) last week repaid significant volumes of treasury bills instead of the usual practice of rolling them over.

The DMO set the ball rolling when it announced last Tuesday that it would repay a total of N198.03 billion worth of treasury bills maturing in December with part proceeds of Eurobonds it raised last month.

Details provided by the office showed that it would redeem N131.415 billion and N66.617 billion of Nigerian Treasury Bills (NTBs), which would mature on December 14 and December 21, 2017 respectively.

In a statement, the DMO explained that: “The NTBs will be redeemed primarily using proceeds of the $500 million raised through a Eurobond issuance by Nigeria in November 2017. The redemption over time will help reduce the refinancing risk associated with short-term borrowings through treasury bills.”

CBN repays N340bn worth of treasury bills

Similarly, on December 14, the CBN repaid a total of N340 billion worth of treasury bills comprising the  N131.4 billion worth of treasury bills issued by the DMO and  open market bills issued by the Apex Bank.

Traders said the   payoff increased banking system credit to almost N500 billion, lowering overnight rates to one per cent from five per cent the previous week.

The DMO had announced in October that as part of efforts to reduce the country’s debts and debt servicing costs, it would raise Eurobonds or syndicated loans for $3 billion to redeem part of a local treasury bill holding worth N2.7 trillion.

60:40 borrowing template

It will be recalled that the DMO had on June 20, 2016, unveiled a four-year borrowing plan, Debt Management Strategy (2016-2019), that it said was appropriate for managing the country’s debt.  Unlike under the previous 2004/2006 debt management strategy, where it was felt that the best way to manage Nigeria’s debt profile was to reduce the level of external borrowing and increase the rate of domestic borrowing (ratio of 84 per cent domestic borrowing to 16per cent external borrowing), the new strategy had a ratio of 60:40 borrowing template.

The DMO explained that the strategy was intended to keep money in the hands of private investors in order to spearhead a private sector driven economy.

Other objectives of this strategy, according to the DMO, are to free up space in the domestic market for other borrowers and achieve a more sustainable debt portfolio mix of 60 per cent domestic and 40 per cent external.

In addition, the redemption overtime will help reduce the refinancing risk associated with short-term borrowings through NTBs with tenors of 91, 182 and 365 days.

It further explained that this strategy of enabling the private sector to access funds and possibly at a lower cost than was hitherto possible is consistent with the government’s policy of a private-sector led growth.

Shedding further light on this strategy when she recently  represented the Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun,  at a session organised by the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts in Abuja, the Director-General , DMO,  Ms Patience Oniha,  disclosed that out of Nigeria’s  current debt  stock of N19trillion, 77 per cent was from the domestic market through the various products issued, including treasury bills, the Federal Government of Nigeria Bonds, the Federal Government Savings Bonds and the FGN Sukuk.

Oniha explained: “The implication of having that large amount in domestic debt is high debt service because the costs of – meaning interest rates – are high.

“If the government is so visible and prominent in the local market, it means that we have taken some of the money that should go to the private sector.

“Banks should be able to have large amounts of money to extend to the real sector. If we are not too prominent in the domestic market, there should be more room for banks and other financial institutions to lend to the private sector and, thereby, contributing to economic growth.”

Impact on currency markets

However, as government intensifies its debt management strategy, there are indications that the move may negatively impact the naira’s exchange rate.

For instance, traders said that following DMO’s  announcement last Tuesday, yields on treasury bills dropped by more than half to around seven per cent across board, adding that in response to the sell-off in bills, some foreign investors were booking profits and bidding to repatriate their funds thereby creating a liquidity squeeze on the currency market.

According to traders,  the development has caused low activity on the investor forex market as foreign players are not bringing in new funds but bidding to buy dollars, while banks are not willing to sell at lower than  N360  per dollar.

Indeed, 24 hours after the DMO announcement, Nigeria’s foreign exchange market saw transactions worth $1.34 million at its interbank window at a rate of N314.50 per dollar, as commercial banks traded the local currency at below the CBN rate.

The CBN has used a rate of around N306 to supply dollars to banks since it introduced a multiple exchange rate system in February. In April, the apex bank allowed foreign investors to trade the naira at a market-determined rate, which has weakened to around N360 per dollar.

Although the local currency’s exchange rate was still stable against the dollar at around N363 and N365 per dollar at retail exchange bureaus and the parallel market respectively at the weekend, analysts believe that it is likely to weaken in the coming days on the back of the treasury bills’ repayments.

For instance, commenting on how the naira is likely to fare against other currencies this week,   Reuters stated at the weekend that:  “The naira is under pressure. Nigeria repaid N340 billion worth of treasury bills on Thursday instead of rolling them over, in a move that lowered yields and prompted foreign buyers to exit.  Traders say the sell-off has led to a bottleneck in the forex market with thin inflows as foreigners bid to buy dollars.”

IMF’s disclosure

Interestingly, last Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) disclosed that even though foreign investors were still keen on Nigeria, they were yet to get over their concerns about currency controls, which the country has in place last year.

An IMF senior financial sector expert, Miriam Tamene, said there was interest in Nigeria’s securities market, adding however, that investors were being careful because fears of getting trapped still exist.

Tamene’s comments came after her team visited the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as part of consultations on developments on the economy. The report of the consultation will be presented to the IMF board in February.

“Investors are interested in Nigeria, but with difficulties they had in getting their money out recently, that confidence is not there yet. It has improved though, but they are still watching,” Tamene said in a statement released by the SEC.

Analysts point out that the CBN has kept liquidity tight since July 2016 to support the naira by attracting foreign inflows into the country’s bond market to boost dollar liquidity in the wake of the currency crisis occasioned by the slump in oil prices. They, however, predict that foreign investors will further reduce their investments in the country if, as widely expected, the CBN reduces interest rates next year.

Last line

However, as a financial consultant, Mr. Okey Agu, argued:   “It is true that foreign inflows are needed to increase dollar liquidity in the system and ensure naira stability. But government’s debt management strategy is aimed at reducing our debts and debt servicing costs.

“The government cannot continue increasing the country’s debt profile because it wants to attract foreign investors.  Besides, if oil prices continue to improve, the CBN will be able to defend the naira  without introducing policies that will hurt the economy in the long term.”

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Port industry worse under Buhari administration –Amiwero

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Lucky Amiwero is the President of the Council of Managing Directors of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents and Managing Director of Eyis Resources Limited. In this interview with PAUL OGBUOKIRI, he says that the hype on ease of doing business in Nigeria is a ruse in the port sector. He posits that Nigeria’s ports, though large, are far from being modern and are the most expensive in the world with no access roads and riddled with decaying infrastructure

 

What is your assessment of the port sector of Nigerian ‘s transport system under the Muhammadu Buhari government?

Well, this is the worse we’ve ever had in the port industry. Our access roads are bad, our procedures are archaic and most of the agencies of government are not performing their core functions like the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) appears a bit better because of the court cases but in almost every other area of our port operation, it’s like we have gone backwards by more than 500 per cent from our former position.

NPA for instance is not established for revenue collection as its core functions. There are three components of its core responsibility: One is the port operation that was taken over by Terminal Operators. Another of its core function is commercial regulation, which is now being handled by the Nigerian Shippers Council. The last is marine operation, which is farming out to different private operators.

 

Our ports have been left unregulated and becoming one of the most expensive in the world that you pay as much as N20,000 per day for a container that is left lying in the port because you cannot access the facility on time with your truck due to bad roads.

Do an analysis of the cost of doing business in Nigerian ports and you will agree that it is the most expensive in the world. Trucks will spend two to three weeks to access the ports and spend about four days to exit the port after collecting your consignment. This doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.

 

When you exit the ports with your consignment, you begin a battle of worries over likelihood of containers falling off or accident. People are dying on the Lagos ports roads. Have you not seen or heard of containers falling off on people?

 

Aside the accidents, the stress level of the port user has increased under this regime and this is terrible.

Fixing the ports access roads is part of NPA’s core functions under section 32 of its enabling law. NPA should take all the blames for not fixing the roads. It is their primary function to make them accessible.

 

NPA and the minister should take the blame. We have five ports clustered around here and they account for about 80 per cent of the cargoes that come into Nigeria. The stakes are high for us as a country if we develop our transport infrastructure for ease of vehicular movements to and from the ports.

Over 70 per cent of our revenue from the maritime sector is derived from Lagos, but we are not giving it commensurate attention. We are not predictable, we are not consistent and we are not transparent. These are the tools for trade facilitation and if they are not there, nobody can come into your country to invest.

 

There is this Presidential Council on Ease of Doing Business. Has it impacted on the maritime industry?

That council knows nothing about the ports. Most of them in that council have not seen a port in their lives. You don’t just go and bring people from your church and put them in a council that should oversee sensitive economic issues.

 

You need experts who have been in the port system. The woman that is the head of Ease of Doing Business has never come to the port before. She knows nothing about the operations here. She doesn’t understand the system and procedures. On ease of doing business on trading across borders, Nigeria is the worst.

 

Trading across borders is an important component of what we are talking about.

 

The Minister of Transport just goes about talking about rail; he has not made any impact here. The man knows nothing about this sector and is unwilling to learn. Most of the international conventions Nigeria is a signatory to are domiciled in the Ministry of Transport.

 

Amaechi knows nothing about the FAAL Convention that was used in facilitating trade in our ports between 2006 and 2008 and in 1999 when we have most of the laws that was used to reorganise the ports and make several maritime related laws.

 

Our port looks disorganised; SON, NAFDAC and other agencies of government are all operating unregulated. No coordinating agency, no lead agency. In fact nothing is working.

 

Look at Benin Republic, they asked Antwerp Ports to handle their port for them that mean most of Nigeria bound cargo will be going there. We will now be moving our smaller ships to their port to pick our cargoes to our archaic ports.

 

Benin Republic doesn’t have cargo. They rely on our cargo. For them to ask an advance port operator to manage their ports, they will give Nigeria very serious competition using our own cargoes.

 

Too many agencies want to play regulatory roles in our port. In Ghana the government awarded a contract of $4.5 billion for the expansion of Tema Port. Our transit trade has been taken over by Ghana.

Cargoes that should move from here to Niger, Chad and other countries are now moving from Ghana even though Ghana is longer, it is being patronised because their processes are better and easier.

 

Ghana has a more efficient system. The have an electronic tracking system tracking containers on transit, you don’t need Federal Operations to escort containers with guns. This is a small country that developed their system and we have so much to learn from them.

 

They are taking over our cargo and developing their system deploying technology to surpass Nigeria. Smaller countries are developing their ports to take Nigerian cargoes.

 

 

What is the implication of losing our cargoes to the ports of these neighbouring countries?

Soon bigger vessels with 20,000 TEUs capacity won’t be coming to Nigeria, they will be taking Nigerian cargoes to those ports. Within the West and Central African regions we need at least two transshipment centers. Some ports in the region are acting as centers already. Coted’ Ivoire, Ghana, Benin Republic and Togo are already operating as transshipment centers.

There is going to be a siphoning of most of our cargoes through their operations. The employment advantage will be in their favour. Where a ship berths, some jobs are created. The entire freight component, benefits of shipping companies, customs agents, terminals and others goes to the country where the ship berths

Most of our policy makers are ignorant about these things and the country is paying dearly for it. As a country, we seem not to have learnt anything from our mistakes. We keep going round the same circle of complaints because everyone in government or position is concerned about self enrichment.

 

Benin, Togo, Ghana and Coted’Ivoire have higher draft. This is not all about politics or getting favourable stories out in the media, it’s more about what your country put in place for economic growth and business development. Most of the ships coming here are smaller ships that have berthed in other countries and gotten the cargo transshipped. We have lost the economic advantage of having the mother ship calling in our port first hand.

For Ghana to have invested $4.5 billion in port development with careful project implementation agenda, they mean business. Nigeria has never done that. We either deploy funds that are not used well or we devise slogans to create impression that things are working.

 

Nigeria is not investing in the right directions. Our port concession has remained faulty from the foundation. No one has been able to look into what infrastructure the Concessionaires have built or real value they have added to what they met on the ground.

Ghana has dropped terminal handling and terminal delivery charges, our transport minister here is doing nothing. We have the market, we have the ports, we consume higher cargoes but we don’t have the infrastructure in place to accommodate large ships.

We have lost over two million jobs through a failing port system; Chad, Mali and Burkina faso are no more looking up to Nigeria for their cargoes because they are getting the service more efficiently from somewhere else.

We are in a very fierce economic battle with our neighbours in terms of ports development and maritime activities.

 

 

What are your views about emerging ports being planned by some state governments? Edo is talking about Gelegele Port, Akaw Ibom is talking about Ibaka Deep Seaport while Cross Rivers talks about Bakassi Deep Seaport and many more?

All these ports cannot work. I call them ‘political ports.’ Some people just want to pour money into them, abandon them and go away. Nigeria doesn’t need multiple transshipment centers now.

 

One of the core components of transshipment port is destination of cargoes. Do you have enough cargoes in Ondo, Edo Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers that all of them are talking about having deep seaports?

 

Ships you see coming to Lagos is because Lagos has potentials to consume cargoes, it has factories that need raw materials and many more including it’s population. Ships will not just move to any place just because you are constructing an emerging port there. Those things may just end up as abandoned projects.We have largely idle ports in Sapele, Onitsha, Burutu, Calabar, Warri. Ask yourself, how many ships are going there? Now some governors want to spend scarce resources to build more ports. Weeds and rats have overtaken some of these ports and you want to sink money into building new ones. It doesn’t make sense.

 

Lagos has what it takes to attract cargoes. Most of these states owing workers should not go into constructing political ports because they will amount to waste.

For instance, you cannot divert Lagos cargo to Calabar because you may not have the infrastructure to move it from Calabar to other parts of the country. These governors should look for something better to do with their funds and time. They should not go into expensive port construction projects that may end up being abandoned midway or being idle after completion.

 

 

Kaduna Dry Port, do you see the milestone as a major step forward in port infrastructural development?

 

The project remains an uncompleted one. They should finish it. As things stand, there is no law establishing the Kaduna Dry Port. So you need the National Assembly to do that with proper legal framework.

 

If the president or minister designates that facility as a Dry Port, what are they relying on to do so, is it NPA Act or Shippers Council law?

Our port related laws talks about navigation. It is centered on the marine sector. No provision has been made for Dry Ports in our laws. Part of our problem is that we don’t follow due process. That Kaduna facility can only be operated as a Customs Port or Bonded Terminal.

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Stakeholders: Auto policy, not executive order will boost industry

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President Muhammadu Buhari penultimate week signed an Executive Order aimed at boosting domestic production of goods and creating jobs in science, technology and engineering in the country, but PAUL OGBUOKIRI reports that auto manufacturers will not be able to take advantage of the ‘legislation’ unless the Federal Government summons the courage to implement its auto policy

 

President Buhari, has frequently spoken about ending Nigeria’s dependence on oil exports while also creating jobs by boosting local food production.

Months after he came to power in May 2015, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) restricted access to foreign currency to import certain goods in a bid to stimulate local manufacturing.

To further give a stronger effect to promote production and consumption of made-in-Nigeria goods, the president recently signed the Executive Order to boost domestic production of goods and service.

“I have repeatedly emphasised my vision for a Nigeria that produces what it consumes. To attain that vision, it is vital that local companies get preference in planning, designing and executing Sci, Tech & Eng. projects,” Buhari said on his official Twitter feed two weeks ago.

But speaking on the order, auto manufacturers in Nigeria under the aegis of Nigerian Automotive Manufacturers Association (NAMA) who were encouraged to invest in the sector by the country’s auto policy of 2013, are saying their investments are suffering, even as the second hand auto market is being tacitly promoted and allowed to flourish by the Federal Government.

“The Federal Government seems to be more focused on short term goal of earning more revenue from Customs Duty paid by second hand vehicle importers, than the implications of its action on industrialisation, economic activities, employment and vision 20:20:20”.

In a statement issued recently in Lagos, NAMA, which is an association of all vehicle companies, like the older PAN Nigeria Limited and ANAMMCO, as well new comers like Innoson in Nnewi, Coscharis Ford etc; argued that the negative impact of the policy shift on the economy will outweigh the short term benefits.

The statement said: “The Federal Government seems to be more focused on short term goal of earning more revenue than the implications of its action on industrialisation, economic activities, employment and vision 20:20:20”. It, therefore, called for stricter control of the inflow of the vehicles.

According to them, the age limit of 10 to 15 years would only add to the common scenario where our highways and roads are littered with broken down motor vehicles with their attendant impact on human lives and the environment.

The association called for a full implement of the 70 per cent tariff on imported second hand vehicles

“Compared with all other developing countries with vehicle assembly plants, our import duty on fully built up vehicles is the lowest. These countries charge import duties of between 30 per cent – 100 per cent and even impose other charges”.

The Nigerian auto industry imported and sold just between 8,000 and 10,000 new vehicles in 2017, a figure that is lower than the 15,000 projected for last year and is over 80 per cent fall from the 2014 to 2015 figures.

The Managing Director, Toyota Nigeria Limited, Mr. Kunle Ade-Ojo, gave this figure at the company’s forecast for the Nigerian automobile industry in 2017 at Toyota’s quarterly briefing in Lagos.

He said that the data showed that “imports dropped by about 90 per cent between 2016 and 2017 first quarter. In terms of retail sales, we are estimating, based on the information we have, that the auto market did about 2,000 vehicles compared to about 5,000 vehicles that were sold in first quarter of 2015, bringing it to a drop of over 50 per cent when you look in terms of retail sales.”

Meanwhile, Ndy Ekere a former Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering, and a Professor of Manufacturing at the University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom has said successive governments in the country have recognised the strategic importance of the Nigerian auto industry and its great potential in terms of job creation, contributions to foreign exchange earnings/savings, technology acquisition and skills development. For these reasons, the auto industry was seen as a key strategic driver for industrialisation, and an important component of the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) which was launched in 2014.

 

According to him, the National Automotive Industry Development Plan (NAIDP) which was  subsequently launched in 2014 is aimed at attracting Direct Foreign Investment (DFI), reviving the comatose plants, attracting new automotive assembly and manufacturing plants, and encouraging the transfer of modern and advanced manufacturing technologies required for the production of affordable vehicles in the country. “Another strategic objective of NAIDP is to curtail Nigeria’s dependence on imports by meeting demand with domestic production and in the longer term to make Nigeria a regional automotive hub.”

He further said that the auto industry is widely recognised as the greatest engine of economic growth in the world and has been famously called “the industry of industries” by Peter Drucker.

In spite of the challenging global economic recession, it remains a key sector of the economy of every major country in the world today, and is vast, accounting for more than one in ten jobs in industrialized countries. He said: “It is for these reasons that most developing countries look to their local automotive sector to serve as the catalyst for economic growth and for technological development by capitalising on the many linkages that the auto industry has to other sectors of their economy.” Nigeria cannot realize its economic potentials without a viable the automotive industry which drives its content locally.”

 

To this end, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi has expressed concern over the continuing neglect of the country’s automotive policy by Nigerians, saying the preference for used cars popularly known as Tokunbo is killing the economy.

 

Amaechi, who spoke at a two-day workshop for chief executives of mass transit organisations on the topic: “A National Agenda for Sustainable Mass Transit Operation and Development, said that the potential in the nation’s automotive policy has been largely undermined by tastes for foreign used cars, a development he said accounted for most of the road accidents across the country. He explained that the Federal Government had deliberately crafted the Nigerian automotive policy to facilitate procurement of brand new made in Nigeria cars by Nigerians, instead of depending on importation of used cars at the detriment of development of the nation’s automobile industry.

The minister said the policy was also designed to create jobs through local manufacture of cars in the country, while lamenting the amount of foreign exchange that is pumped yearly into importation of used cars, a situation he said has kept the economy down.

“As you are aware, the key objective of the Nigerian automotive policy is to make new cars more affordable for Nigerians, while at the same time discouraging importation of used cars called Tokunbo.

The Federal Government believes that the policy will create significant employment as well as improve quality of manufacturing. However, till date, no major investor has taken full advantage of the automotive policy, apart from Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company,” he said.

 

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FG sets new target for completion of Tin Can Trailer Park

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The Federal Government has expressed it desire to ensure that the Tin Can Trailer and Truck Park at Apapa is completed this year, saying the cost has been raised to N9.55 billion, from the initial N8.66 billion budgeted for the project.

The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola disclosed this while briefing newsmen in Abuja. Fashola said the truck park was part of the measures by the Federal Government to address the issue gridlock on Apapa Port access roads. He said: “The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing presented only one memo – a memorandum seeking the augmentation of the price due to the need for increased scope of work especially shoreline protection of the Tin Can Trailer and Truck Park, which is almost finished.

 

“It is an ongoing project. We sought council’s approval to augment the price from N8.66 billion to N9.553 billion which was an augmentation of N892.177. 289million. We expect that truck pack will now be completed this year and it will be one of the many multi-prong efforts being pursued to give relief to the Apapa area, to facilitate vehicular truck and trailer movement and also maritime and import and export business and general economic activity for Apapa in particular, Lagos at large and the country as a whole. The memorandum was approved.”
He disclosed that a design on a portion of the Apapa Creek Road and Coconut bridge has been handed over to the Dangote Group.

 

He further explained that what his Ministry intends to do would be to go for procurement process and FEC approval so that the project would take-off.

 

Fashola said, “I think road development is clearly the mandate of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, especially the work sector by legislation. There is multi-agencies’ collaboration. The Nigerian Port Authority, the Apapa Port, Tin Can Island that are critical to the economy are affected. So, there is multi-agencies’ interaction and that is what we have been having really and truly.

 

“You will recall that I briefed you about a four-kilometre stretch between the bridge from the Apapa Police when you are coming from Ijora, just to the junction of Point Road right through to Wharf Road, to the entrance of the Apapa Port. That is the stretch that the Dangote Group, the Flour Mills, and the NPA agreed to do as Corporate Social Responsibility as soon as possible. That is going on. It is a problem because after the works started, we found that the gas lines that supported most of the industries there and keep them in operation were within the right of way.

 

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