• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Relief for Nigerians as inflation to moderate around May

Godwin Emefiele

Nigeria’s economy may likely heave a sigh of relief should the inflation rate moderate in May as optimistically stated by Godwin Emefiele, Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), after announcing a hold on its benchmark interest rate and other parameters on Tuesday.

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), which concluded its two-day meeting on Tuesday, has been confronted with a policy dilemma, with inflation rising for 18 consecutive months to 17.33 percent in February 2021.

The dilemma that confronted the MPC relates to whether to focus on efforts to stimulate output growth or focus on the raging inflation, which at 17.33 percent is almost attaining the January 2017 inflation rate of 18.72 percent.

“The country just crawled out of recession in Q4 2020, if the MPC tightens, it would constrain liquidity, the interest rate would be high and it would make it difficult to access credit needed that investment need to drive growth and the economy could slip back into recession,” Emefiele said.

Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 0.11 percent (year-on-year) in real terms in the Q4 2020, representing the first positive quarterly growth in the last three quarters.

Though weak, the positive growth reflects the gradual return of economic activities following the easing of restricted movements and limited local and international commercial activities in the preceding quarters, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said.

“We would not lose sight on inflation. Inflation may move up in April, but we expect inflation to begin to moderate from May. By that time we should have our Q1 GDP numbers and we hope it shows significant growth and then we begin to attack inflation,” Emefiele said.

Read Also: Considering inflation, CBN holds benchmark interest rate at 11.5%

But analysts in the financial services sector disagree with the CBN governor’s optimism, citing a high level of insecurity, which has obstructed productivity in the agriculture sector.

Uche Uwaleke, professor of capital market and president, Capital Market Academics of Nigeria, said that would be too optimistic since inflationary pressure was more on food.

“I don’t see inflation rate moderating significantly till the end of the third quarter that is by September, about the time harvest season sets in. Besides, insecurity and likely flooding between now and May remain downside risks,” Uwaleke noted.

However, the committee decided by a vote of three members to increase the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR) by 50, 75 and 50 basis points, respectively, and six members voted to hold all parameters constant.

The MPC noted the overarching need of taming the rising inflation and sustaining growth recovery in the economy while focusing on downside risks associated with the injections.

Consequently, MPC voted to retain MPR at 11.5 percent, retain asymmetric corridor of +100 and -700 basis points around the MPR, retain CRR at 17.5 percent and retain liquidity ratio at 30 percent.

Razia Khan, managing director, chief economist, Africa and the Middle East, Global Research, Standard Chartered Bank, said the MPC outcome was large as expected, adding that there was a clear sense of optimism at the CBN given rising crude prices, that conditions would improve.

Preparations also seem to be underway for measures that will encourage foreign portfolio investors back to Nigeria, with reference to higher “money market rates,” Khan said.

“In our view, we should not rule out future harmonisation of FX rates. For now, however, given the risks to inflation, the CBN will want to manage developments carefully,” she said.

According to Ayodeji Ebo, head, retail investment, Chapel Hill Denham, the decision is in line with analysts’ expectation. “But we have begun to see a gradual shift towards a rate hike which we believe may be actualised at the next meeting if the first-quarter growth improves significantly. The CBN also emphasised that Nigeria still operates a managed exchange rate regime,” he said.

On the impact on the economy, Ebo said the move further supported growth in the economy complementing the government’s efforts, noting, “We don’t expect any major reaction in the capital markets as the decision is in line with expectations.”

The decision to retain rates is to strike a balance in a stagflation era, Uwaleke said. “While a reduction in MPR was not an option given rising inflation and exchange rates pressure, increasing MPR could roll back modest progress made in the area of credit to the real sector and economic recovery generally. So, the best decision under the circumstance was to hold rates and rely more on development Finance functions to stimulate economic growth,” he said.

Most central banks are maintaining accommodative monetary policies due to the lingering negative impact of COVID-19.

“You saw what happened in Turkey recently. The Central Bank Governor increased the benchmark rate to tame rising inflation and was sacked by President Erdogan. The new Central Bank Governor has announced he would keep rates low. So, the MPC’s decision is consistent with global trends among central banks,” he said.