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Africa’s major central banks embarking on policy easing cycle ride

Comments (0) Latest Updates from Reuters

By Vuyani Ndaba

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Africa’s major central banks are entering an easing cycle as they try to stimulate growth after months of drought, austerity drives and confidence issues across the continent, a Reuters poll found on Thursday.

Much of southern and eastern Africa is still recovering after an El Niño-related drought wilted crops last year. Poor business confidence in South Africa and foreign exchange restrictions in Nigeria have also hampered growth.

“We expect that African monetary policy is entering a widespread and protracted period of policy easing. This will provide a boost to growth,” said John Ashbourne, Africa analyst at Capital Economics.

Ghana, which agreed a three-year fiscal discipline deal with the International Monetary Fund in exchange for aid in 2015, cut 100 basis points from its benchmark interest rate in May and is expected to do the same on Monday, putting it at 21.50 percent.

Medians in the poll predict South Africa will make a first quarter trim of 25 basis points to 6.75 percent and while Kenya will hold steady on Monday it is expected to cut 100 basis points to 9.00 percent in the second quarter of next year.

Nigeria is expected to hold rates at 14.0 percent on Tuesday, and through this year, but will reduce borrowing costs by 175 basis points across 2018.

BATTERED CONFIDENCE CHIPS AT GROWTH

Aly-Khan Satchu, CEO of Nairobi-based Rich Management said policymakers in Africa’s biggest economies have lost credibility and it would be difficult to regain that.

To try to reduce demand for dollars, Nigeria banned the importing of 41 items, but that only fuelled the gap between the official and black market rates for its naira currency.

The policy, alongside a commodity price slump that hurt oil exports, has since 2015 forced its central bank to hike the benchmark rate 300 basis points to 14 percent as it tried to deal with much faster inflation and restore the currency’s strength.

Nigeria — Africa’s biggest economy — fell into recession for the first time in 25 years in 2016 but is expected to turn in growth of 1.0 percent this year and 2.5 percent the following.

South Africa is expected to expand 0.7 percent this year after escaping a six-month recession last quarter that was partly due to weak confidence and drought.

Confidence in South Africa’s economy has been sapped by the chopping and changing of finance ministers four time since the end of 2015 by President Jacob Zuma. The last change in March triggered a credit rating downgrade to “junk” status.

Kenya is expected to grow 5.2 percent this year and 5.9 percent next.

Growth slowed to 4.7 percent in the first quarter, hit by a credit slow down after authorities late last year capped the interest banks could charge on loans.

However, Ghana is expected to fare better than most, growing 6.1 and 6.8 percent in 2017 and 2018 respectively, supported by the IMF programme, recovering from 3.5 percent last year.

On Tuesday, President Nana Akufo-Addo said Ghana would not extend its three-year aid programme with the IMF beyond April 2018, but the fund urged it to do so to allow time to complete the programme’s goals.

 

 

(Editing by Jonathan Cable/Jeremy Gaunt)

 

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Holcim to wind up Nigerian company next month

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LAGOS (Reuters) – Holcim Nigeria plans to pass a resolution next month to dissolve the company after its Swiss-based parent firm merged with French rival Lafarge two years ago, the cement maker said on Tuesday.

Holcim Nigeria is now part of Lafarge Africa following a mega-merger in 2015 to create the world’s biggest cement maker LafargeHolcim.

LafargeHolcim Chairman Beat Hess has said the company was still adjusting its structures in big markets where both Lafarge and Holcim are present following the merger.

The cement maker said it will present the final accounts of Holcim Nigeria as part of the voluntary winding up process at a meeting of shareholders on Aug. 21.

Lafarge Africa expects to generate cost saving synergies of 9 billion naira ($46 million) by 2018 in Nigeria, following the merger, it has said.

The Nigeria-based business of the Franco-Swiss cement group is in the market to raise 140 billion naira in fresh equity and convert some loans into shares as part of a planned rights issue after it reported losses last year.

LafargeHolcim has said it will take part in a capital increase of the Nigerian unit to avoid diluting its nearly 73 percent stake, in a move which would also help simplify the ownership structure in Nigeria.

 

(Reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha, editing by David Evans)

 

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Etisalat Nigeria’s new CEO targets profit after regulator rescue

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By Chijioke Ohuocha

LAGOS (Reuters) – Etisalat Nigeria is focused on getting the telecoms group back on track to make a profit after it was saved from collapse, while working on the paperwork to eventually raise new capital.

“Our mandate is to make sure the business runs as profitably as it can. What is most important now is to … ensure that the business runs and meets its obligations,” the company’s new chief executive Boye Olusanya told Reuters on Tuesday.

Nigerian regulators intervened last week to save Etisalat Nigeria after talks with its lenders to renegotiate a $1.2 billion loan from 2013 with 13 local lenders failed.

Etisalat Nigeria has 20 million subscribers, making it the country’s number four mobile operator with a 14 percent market share. South Africa’s MTN has 47 percent, Globacom 20 percent and Airtel – a subsidiary of India’s Bharti Airtel – 19 percent.

“Once we’ve gotten ourselves to where certain decisions are made and the structure and form of the business is formed then maybe we would look at a capital raising structure that would be suitable for the nature of how the business will be run,” the new CEO said in an interview in his offices.

Olusanya, who took over as CEO of Etisalat Nigeria following the appointment of a new board led by Nigeria’s central bank, said that while the business could run without an immediate recapitalisation, he would not rule one out completely.

“Obviously if its possible to do it tomorrow we will do it, because that enhances the ability of this business to roll-out quickly, to get more subscribers, which is what everybody wants,” he added.

UAE’s Etisalat, which had a 45 percent stake in the Nigerian business, has said its exposure to Etisalat Nigeria related to services worth 191 million UAE dirhams ($52 million).

In June, Etisalat said it had been ordered to transfer its shares to a loan trustee after debt talks failed.

“We’re still in negotiations with Etisalat over the use of the brand name,” Olusanya said, adding that the technical service agreement with Etisalat covered the brand name but the telecoms company was run by Nigerians.

The former Celtel executive said he has plans in place to rename the company if needed after UAE’s Etisalat said it had terminated a management agreement and given its one-time Nigerian business time to phase out the brand.

All UAE shareholders in Etisalat Nigeria, including state-owned investment fund Mubadala, had exited the company and left the board and management, Hatem Dowidar, CEO of Etisalat International, told Reuters.

 

(Editing by Alexander Smith)

 

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Nigerian exchange bureau head urges rate unification

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By Oludare Mayowa

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria’s central bank must step up efforts to unify the country’s multiple exchange rates to sustain gains in the local currency over the last few months, the head of the country’s exchange bureaus said.

Africa’s biggest economy has at least six exchange rates which include one for Muslim pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia, a retail rate set by licensed exchange bureaus, and a rate for foreign travel and school fees, in addition to the official and black market rates.

Nigeria is battling a currency crisis brought on by low oil prices which tipped its economy into recession and created chronic dollar shortages. It wants to attract foreign investors and strengthen its currency to ward off inflation.

The central bank has been intervening on the official market in the last few weeks to try to narrow the spread between rates on the official market and black market – where the local currency trades around 30 percent weaker. It has sold about $5 billion since February.

The bank opened a currency window in April for investors to trade the naira at rates set freely between buyers and sellers, hoping to increase the amount of dollars available in Nigeria.

“The gradual convergence of the exchange rate on both black market and investor forex window is an opportunity for the central bank to unify rate in all segments of the forex market,” Aminu Gwadabe, president of the country’s Association of Bureaux De Change Operators told Reuters late on Thursday.

Gwadabe said a move to eliminate multiple rates would restore investors’ confidence in the economy and boost offshore dollar inflows, further strengthening the naira.

Central bank spokesman Isaac Okorafor said the regulator would sustain its current efforts to improve dollar liquidity in the market until it was able to achieve currency rate convergence.

The naira was quoted at 365 to the dollar on the black market on Friday, while the local currency was quoted at 372.70 per dollar at the investor window.

The local bourse rose to a two-year high on Wednesday as investors snapped up Nigerian stocks after MSCI increased the country’s weighting in its frontier market index.

Nigeria’s forex reserves grew to around $30.22 billion by June, from $26.44 billion a year ago, as oil production and oil price stabilise in the wake of OPEC and non-OPEC oil output cut deal, analysts have said.

 

(Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Toby Chopra)

 

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Nigeria to sell 140 bln naira bonds on June 21 – debt office

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LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria plans to auction 140 billion naira ($460 million) in bonds on June 21, the Debt Management Office said on Friday.

The debt office will sell 40 billion naira of bonds due in 2021 and 50 billion naira each of bonds due in 2027 and in 2037, using a Dutch auction system.

Settlement is expected the day after the sale. The bonds are re-openings of previous issues.

The central bank on Wednesday announced plans to sell 133.24 billion naira worth of Treasury bills at an auction next week.

Nigeria, which has Africa’s biggest economy, issues sovereign bonds each month to help fund its budget deficit, support the local debt market and maintain a benchmark for companies to follow.

The West African country expects a budget deficit of 2.36 trillion naira this year as it tries to spend its way out of a recession. It expects to raise money to cover more than half the deficit from the local market.

It has a series of debt issues lined up including a $300 million diaspora bond and a 100 billion naira debut domestic sukuk this month.

($1 = 304.68 naira)

 

(Reporting by Oludare Mayowa; editing by Alexis Akwagyiram)

 

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Nigerian acting president to sign budget on Monday

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ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s acting president will sign the 2017 budget into law later on Monday, one of his aides told Reuters, as Abuja plans record spending to pull Africa’s biggest economy out of recession.

The OPEC member has been in recession since last year, largely due to low oil prices and militant attacks on the country’s Niger Delta energy facilities. Oil sales usually bring in two-thirds of the government’s revenue.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is standing in for President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been on medical leave in Britain since May 7, his second prolonged absence this year. Buhari’s medical condition is unclear.

“The acting president will be signing the budget today,” the presidency aide said.

President Buhari issued a statement saying it was in the interest of the country for Osinbajo to sign the budget into law.

Lawmakers last month passed the record 7.44 trillion naira ($23.6 billion) budget plan, which is bigger than the 7.298 trillion naira draft spending plan submitted by Buhari in December.

Two other presidency sources who did not want to be named also said the budget would be signed on Monday.

Sources said Osinbajo was at an event in the southeastern state of Anambra on Monday and would fly back to Abuja for the budget signing ceremony later in the day.

Last year’s budget, passed in May 2016, was delayed for months due to disagreements between lawmakers and the presidency over spending plans that cut the supply of government money and deepened the economic crisis.

Buhari said in his statement, signed by his spokesman Garba Shehu, that the 2018 budget proposal will be submitted by October and parliament will conclude the process by December so the country can return to a normal budget cycle from next year.

 

(Reporting by Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh; Writing by Ulf Laessing and Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

 

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Starting up in Nigeria: a challenging environment

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Nigeria startups

Nigeria has massive potential for innovative tech start-ups, although there are numerous obstacles in their way.

While it is officially Africa’s biggest economy, the Nigerian nation is struggling. Talk of a recession has darkened the horizon for over a year. The slump of global oil prices has been a hammer blow to the country, while terrorism and oil refinery problems have worsened the situation. Nigeria is currently beholden to oil for 70% of its revenues; it must rebalance its economy to unbind itself from market volatility. The country realizes this, and is making an effort to diversify its revenue sources. Many are starting to look toward innovative start-ups to take the country in a new direction.

Big tech potential in Nigeria, Konga leads the way

The conditions in Nigeria are rife for daring tech start-ups to create new solutions and drive growth. Unlike other regions on the continent, Nigeria has high rates of mobile penetration with approximately 75% percent of its 175 million people using mobile phones and data services, making it the largest mobile market in Africa. However, this market is currently woefully underexploited. According to a 2013 report by consultancy firm McKinsey, only 1.5% of the country’s $500 billion economy took place online. This void presents a glaring opportunity for tech start-ups to create revolutionary new services.

Konga, is one such start-up that seized the initiative. Launched in 2012, Konga was an early pioneer in Nigeria’s tech space, offering online retail services. Today the company is thriving, offering a range of original solutions, which have connected all manner of suppliers and manufacturers to consumers across the country. Other innovators are also following Konga’s lead, carving out their own niche in Nigeria. However for every success, many start-ups struggle to overcome barriers in their way.

Unusual obstacles: reluctance and electricity

The issues facing start-ups vary. Some are complicated while some are frustratingly mundane. One simple yet formidable roadblock that start-ups face is the availability of electricity. For a new business trying to carve its own niche in the ecommerce space, a reliable energy supply is essential. However, when energy supply is unreliable, as it often is in Nigeria, a start-up has to generate its own power and purchase alternative fuel sources in order to consistently operate. Ultimately, this can lead to greatly increased costs which squeeze margins, snuffing the life out of promising but cash-strapped startup ventures.

KongaPay launch

On the whole, Nigerians are still very wary about parting with their money over the internet, for fear of their capital or financial information being stolen. This paranoia is not entirely without merit, as Nigeria is a hotspot for online scamming and phishing schemes. In order to accommodate these fears, some successful start-ups such as Konga and Jumia have built cash-only payment methods into their business. Konga has also recently created a payment system called KongaPay whereby money is held securely until orders are delivered. Despite these efforts, reticence remains. While some start-ups have survived, this reluctance has certainly deterred some consumers from using new services, reducing the customer base that new start-ups rely on for growth. Tech firms must realize they need to foster a safe and reliable online payment environment, and convince the masses to use it.

Investment is needed, although so is caution

New accelerator programs sponsored by large foreign entities are helping more start-ups get off the ground, especially in the Fintech space. However, Nigerian banks aren’t traditionally interested in providing loans to risky start-up ventures, and encourage start-ups to attract private equity investors instead. Fortunately, foreign private equity is really starting to pick up in Africa, with more and more investors willing to take a punt on a good idea. Regrettably, these investors sometimes undervalue Nigerian enterprises, and strong-arm inexperienced Nigerians into unfavorable deals.

Other issues such as the country’s poor logistics system can bring woe to start-ups who rely on delivering a physical product. Sometimes the lack of skills in critical areas such as accounting and marketing can kill a promising tech business before it can get off the ground. In other instances, eager entrepreneurs try to make an idea that has worked elsewhere work in Nigeria; without analysis and adaptation this often leads to the graveyard.

A veritable gauntlet of obstacles faces Nigerian start-ups. However, those that have survived are serving as a shining example to those that wish to follow. Success is more likely if a fledgling firm is aware of the pitfalls ahead, provided they have a great idea, a solid business plan and the business acumen to make it all come together.

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Old Mutual to invest in Nigerian real estate, agriculture

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

ABUJA (Reuters) – Anglo-South African financial services firm Old Mutual and Nigeria’s sovereign wealth fund on Friday signed agreements to set up two funds to invest in real estate and agriculture in Africa’s most populous nation.

Old Mutual and Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) said they would jointly raise a $500 million fund to invest in real estate and another $200 million to spend on agriculture projects in Nigeria.

The West African nation is in the middle of its worst crisis in decades as a slump in oil revenues hammers public finances and the naira. Gross domestic product shrank in the first quarter and the central bank governor has said a recession is likely.

Chief executive of NSIA, Uche Orji, said both parties will each commit $100 million as initial commitment for the real estate fund and $50 million for the agriculture fund.

“We are looking at office towers, commercial real estate,” Orji said. “We are investing equity in agriculture. We are looking at farming with emphasis on export.”

Poor infrastructure and access to capital is a major bottleneck to growth in Nigeria, which has made diversifying its revenue base and reducing a huge import bill its top priority.

“The most important thing is infrastructure. The problem is that its cheaper to move goods from China to Lagos, than move it from Kano to Lagos and that’s because we don’t have the infrastructure,” Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun said.

Nigeria established the Sovereign Investment Authority (SIA) in 2011 with $1 billion of seed capital in an effort to manage oil export revenues.

The new funds, which will stay invested for up to 12-years, will target returns of around 20 percent, Hywel George, chief investment officer at Old Mutual said.

A successful real estate investment in Nigeria can earn an returns as high as 30-35 percent, while rental income yields in cities such as Lagos and Abuja can easily reach 10 percent, developers and estate agents say.

However, navigating through opaque land laws, corruption, a lack of development expertise and financing, a dearth of mortgages and high building costs will take courage and influential local partners.

 

(By Chijioke Ohuocha. Editing by Ulf Laessing and William Hardy)

 

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Is time the only thing that Buhari needs to rebuild Nigeria?

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics

Muhammadu Buhari

Nigeria’s president inherited a multitude of problems from the previous administration. Does he have what it takes to overcome them?

Nigeria’s President, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari calls for time and space to achieve the objectives he laid out upon his election last year.

Buhari has openly declared his intentions for Nigeria’s future. He wants to build a country that future generations will be proud to inherit. This is rare in a continent where leaders frequently think in the short term – often selling off natural resources for instant personal gain, rather than investing in long-term solutions for Africa’s economic problems. Buhari’s Nigeria, he claims, is “for its children.” Whether these promises will materialize will depend on his ability to identify and build upon his past mistakes, and those of his predecessor.

Muhammadu Buhari comes from a large family; he was his father’s 23rd child, born in 1942 in Daura, Katsina state. He ruled Nigeria for 20 months in 1985 and has since lost three general elections to the People’s Democratic Party, which has dominated the political landscape in Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1999.

Winds of Change for Nigeria

Buhari’s perseverance has paid off and after waning public support for Goodluck Jonathan, he became the first opposition candidate to de-throne an incumbent leader in Nigeria. The issues inherited from previous governments will not be easy to overcome however, and continuing President Jonathan’s battle to contain the Islamic militants in the north will be Buhari’s biggest challenge.

Originally from Nigeria’s Islamic North, Buhari has alienated many from the mainly Christian south of the country by giving his support to Sharia law. Subsequently, he has had to strongly deny having a radical Islamist agenda. Deep-seated suspicion regarding his religious background and suggested support of Boko Haram has been quelled by a recent failed assassination attempt that left 82 dead, apparently orchestrated by Boko Haram forces.

Boko Haram, unemployment and rampant corruption to fight

Boko Haram

Boko Haram

He was previously mistrusted by the voting populace in the south, but President Jonathan’s failure to overcome the jihadi militia left Buhari with an opportunity to exploit. The 276 Chibok girls missing since 2014 have piled local and international pressure upon Nigeria’s administration. The Boko Haram crisis has left more than 20,000 dead and over 2 million displaced since 2009. Since his inauguration there has been a lot of posturing and even claims to have “defeated” the militant group, but terror attacks, kidnappings and suicide bombings are still rife, particularly in the North of the country. With an agenda to meet, but what appears to be little structural planning, it will take more than time or crude military suppression to overcome “the most deadly terrorist group in the world.”

Boko Haram is unfortunately not Nigeria’s only crisis. Buhari will also have to tackle large scale unemployment and rampant corruption. Buhari’s Deputy Prime Minster estimated that 110 million of Nigeria’s 170 million inhabitants are living in extreme poverty. He also noted that the majority of the wealth is going into the pockets of the nation’s privileged few. For Africa’s most populous nation, these economic issues add stress to the fractures caused by religious extremism and recent spates of violence. Making progress with these issues may also be the key to undermining the militant support among the population, with rampant unemployment being a key factor in their recruitment campaigns.

Buhari: an incorruptible and converted democrat for Nigeria

His biggest election promise is to tackle the fuel shortages that have blighted the population and stagnated the economy over the last several years. His plans are to increase production and improve distribution, while renegotiating terms with the rebel forces. In 2009 President Jonathan’s government agreed to pay militants $400 per month to stop their attacks on the fuel supplies. Once the money inevitably dried up, the attacks recommenced and the supply problems are now worse than ever. On paper, Buhari seems to be well placed to handle this crisis: he was the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources in 1976 and during his tenure heavily invested in pipelines and created 21 new petroleum storage units across the country. But his ability to negotiate with the Nigeria Delta Avengers is in contention; his rigidity and stubbornness are well known within the administration and beyond. Striking a balance between tackling the underlying issues, negotiations and strategic military moves will be key to eradicating the extremist violence that have dominated the political horizon in Nigeria.

Buhari claims to be a “changed man” and a “converted democrat,” taking full responsibility for all that happened during his short military rule in the mid-80s, and the part he played in the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected leader, President Shehu Shegari. If Buhari’s “incorruptible” and rare reputation for honesty holds true, he may be able to usher in a wave of change, washing away the culture of injustice and corruption, both in businesses and in government. He has appealed for time and patience, but will this be enough, or will the multitude of problems he faces just be too much to overcome?

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Nigeria says it paid contractors to finish economy-boosting projects

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – A Nigerian minister said on Friday the government had paid contractors 63.16 billion naira ($200 million) to finish delayed infrastructure projects, in an apparent bid to ease fears over the future of the schemes meant to boost the struggling economy.

Work on a series of road, power and other programmes had slowed or halted as the government struggled to make payments, amid delays in passing the national budget and foreign currency shortages.

Power, Works and Housing Minister Babatunde Fashola told an infrastructure conference in London that “63.16 billion naira have been paid out to contractors to finish infrastructure projects since the budget” was passed in May.

He did not say whether that covered all the outstanding payments. But the comments will come as a relief to contractors, many of whom were not paid for months.

They will also signal to foreign investors that there is some movement in the supply of money, which has been problematic over much of the last year due to foreign currency curbs introduced to conserve forex supplies.

The 6.06 trillion naira ($19.24 billion) budget tripled capital expenditure from the previous year in a bid to stimulate Africa’s biggest economy which is going through a crisis caused by low oil prices.

Nigeria’s economic development has been held back by erratic electricity provision and a poor road network, all of which falls under Fashola’s remit.

It was not clear whether the funds referred to by Fashola were part of the budget allocation.

Earlier this month the budget minister said Nigeria’s first quarter revenues reached only 55 percent of the government’s target due to recent attacks on oil and gas facilities in the southern Niger Delta energy hub.

 

($1 = 315.0000 naira)

 

(By Karin Strohecker. Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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