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CBN faults JP Morgan’s removal of Nigeria from Bond Index

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The Federal Government on Tuesday faulted J.P. Morgan’s announcement that it would exclude Nigeria from its local-currency emerging market bond indexes tracked by more than $200 billion of funds.

J. P Morgan hinged the decision on the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN’s) restrictions on foreign-exchange transactions, which it said prompted investor concerns about a shortage of liquidity.

The first phase of the exercise, it said would take place at the end of September, followed by a full exit by the end of October, the New York-based lender said in a statement signed by its spokesman, Patrick Burton.

But CBN, in a statement on Tuesday, signed by its  Director of Communications, Ibrahim Mu’azu, said while it respects the right of the J.P. Morgan to make this decision, it expressed its disagreement with the premise and conclusions upon which the decision was made.

In the statement jointly issued by the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Debt Management Office and the apex bank, Mu’azu said Nigeria was included in the index in October 2012, based on the existence of an active domestic market for FGN Bonds supported by a Two-Way Quote System, dedicated Market Makers and diverse investors.

However, in January 2015, J.P. Morgan placed the country on an Index Watch as a result of their concerns in the operations of our Foreign Exchange (FX) Market, such as lack of liquidity for transactions, lack of transparency in the determination of the exchange rate; and lack of a fully functional two-way FX Market.

Listing the steps taken by CBN, Mu’azu said despite the fact that oil prices have fallen by nearly 60 percent in one year, which should expectedly reduce the amount of liquidity in the market, the regulator ensured that all genuine and effective demand were met, especially those from foreign investors.

On transparency, the CBN mandated that all FX transactions were posted online in the Reuters Trading Platform so that all stakeholders can easily verify all transactions in the market. In addition, the Official FX Window at the CBN was closed to ensure a level-playing field in the pricing of foreign exchange.

He noted that a functional two-way FX market already exists in Nigeria. However, given the high propensity for speculation, round tripping, and rent-seeking in the market, it became imperative that participants are not allowed to simply trade currencies but are only in the market to fulfill genuine customer demands to pay for eligible imports and other transactions.

Mu’azu said CBN’s FX policies have resulted in the stability of the exchange rate in the interbank market over the past seven months and largely eliminated speculators from the market.

“Despite these positive outcomes, the J. P. Morgan would prefer that we remove this rule; even though it is obvious that doing so would lead to an indeterminate depreciation of the naira. With dwindling oil prices, we believe that an order-based two-way market best serves Nigeria’s interest at the moment,” he said.

“While we would continue to ensure that there is liquidity and transparency in the market, we would like to note that the market for FGN Bonds remains strong and active due primarily to the strength and diversity of the domestic investor base”.

Currencies Analyst t Ecobank Nigeria, Olakunle Ezun said Nigeria’s removal from the index will create a negative effect on the prices of current bond portfolios.

However, the subsequent rise in bond yields should provide a new re-entry point for investors interested in Naira denominated assets, which in turn will help boost FX inflows thereby supporting the local currency.

He also expects bond yields will rise, possibly by around 200 to 300 basis points, which in turn would increase pressure on the naira.

“This will heighten the naira volatility, with further depreciation most likely; as such we expect CBN to either increase the volume/frequency of inter-bank FX intervention or devalue the naira by another 18 per cent to N230 to dollar,” he said yesterday.

According to him, domestic investors would remain confident about positive real returns in naira denominated assets, but they might need to reassess portfolio composition in order to take advantage of the expected rise in bond yields while minimising any potential losses arising from the fall in bond prices.

For the banking sector, he said the outcome of the JP Morgan’s decision may create balance sheet position dilemma for deposit money banks (DMBs) that are cut in-between building portfolio holdings in government securities of around 17 to 19 per cent or shrinking balance sheet exposure to corporate risk assets.

JP Morgan said Nigeria will not be eligible for re-entry for at least 12 months from the date of exclusion, JPMorgan said. The country has a 1.5 per cent weighting in the biggest GBI-EM index, which is tracked by $183.8 billion of funds, according to the bank.

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BUSINESS

Nigeria loses N101bn worth of oil, says OPEC

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Nigeria’s crude oil production plunged by 2.3 million barrels in July 2022 when compared to what the country produced in the preceding month of June, data from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries showed on Thursday.

In its latest Monthly Oil Market Report for August 2022, OPEC stated that crude oil production figures based on direct communication indicated that Nigeria’s output dropped by an average of 74,000 barrels per day in July.

This implies that for the 31 days in July, the country lost about 2.3 million barrels of crude oil. The organisation further stated that the average cost of Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil, during the month under review was $105.12/barrel.

By losing 2.3 million barrels in July this year, it means Nigeria’s oil earnings fell by about $241.1m or N101.13bn (at the official exchange rate of N419.37/$) in the month under review.

Data from OPEC showed that Nigeria’s oil production in June 2022 was 1.158 million barrels per day, but this dropped to 1.084 million barrels per day in July.

The country had produced 1.024 million barrels per day in May this year, according to figures released by OPEC on Thursday.

The Federal Government, operators and experts have consistently fingered crude oil theft in the Niger Delta as the major reason for Nigeria’s poor output and its continued failure to meet the monthly oil production quota approved by OPEC.

The Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr. Muda Yusuf, blamed the challenges in the oil sector on the high level of insecurity across the country.

This, he said, had continued to discourage investors in the sector, leading to lower production of crude oil and lower earnings for Nigeria despite the increased cost of crude.

He said, “Investors in the oil and gas sector continue to lament the challenges posed by insecurity, oil theft, unstable policies and inappropriate fiscal regimes.

“The downstream sector has continued to be weighed down by the pricing regimes and the regulatory environments which have continued to dim the growth prospects in the sector.”

Meanwhile OPEC stated that crude oil prices dipped in July, as against their costs in June, adding that crude in OPEC Reference Basket fell by $9.17 or 7.8 per cent month-on-month in July to average $108.55/barrel.

“Oil futures prices remained highly volatile in July, amid a sharp drop in liquidity. The ICE Brent front month declined $12.38 or 10.5 per cent in July to average $105.12/barrel and NYMEX WTI declined by $14.96 or 13.1 per cent to average $99.38/barrel,” the global oil cartel stated.

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BUSINESS

Elon Musk says Twitter hiding key witnesses in bot battle

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Elon Musk got another $7 billion from friends and investors to buy Twitter

Elon Musk is accusing Twitter Inc. of hiding key witnesses in their legal battle over whether he must consummate a $44 billion buyout of the company, according to people familiar with the allegations.

Musk contends the social media company isn’t producing the names of employees specifically responsible for evaluating how much of Twitter’s customer base is made up of spam and robot accounts, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Musk’s lawyers have asked the judge in the case to force Twitter to identify the workers so the defense can get their records and question them, the people said.

A letter asking Delaware Chancery Court Judge Kathaleen St. J. McCormick to compel Twitter to hand over the names was filed Tuesday under seal. Under the court’s rules, Twitter’s attorneys have five business days to decide what should be redacted from the filing as proprietary information.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment on the filing.

Tesla Share Sale
The letter comes as the Tesla Inc. co-founder said Tuesday he is selling $6.9 billion of Tesla shares to avoid a sudden sale in the event he is forced to go ahead with the deal to acquire Twitter. That has prompted some analysts to predict the billionaire may settle the case.

So far Twitter has handed over the names of “records custodians,” who aren’t as familiar with the data at issue, the people said. Musk wants McCormick to force Twitter to come up with the names of the employees charged with monitoring those accounts, they said.

Both sides have issued a torrent of subpoenas to banks, investors and lawyers involved in the teetering transaction as they seek ammunition for an Oct. 17 trial.

“It’s another salvo in the discovery wars that are common in this kind of litigation,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who specializes in securities and merger and acquisition law. “Both sides are jockeying for position by targeting different information.”

War of the Bots

Twitter’s lawyers say they’ll need only four days in court to prove Musk is using questions about spam and bot accounts as a pretext to walk away from the deal. The company said it has turned over all its information about those accounts and that it intends to make Musk pay the $54.20 per share he originally agreed to.

Musk counters in court filings that Twitter’s handover of the that material hasn’t been robust and that the company has failed to produce evidence that spam bots account for fewer than 5% of its active users, as it has said in regulatory filings. He argues this gives him a legitimate basis for canceling the buyout.

He alleges Twitter’s disclosures show that the actual number of monetizable daily active users, or mDAU as the industry calls it, is 65 million less than the 238 million Twitter has claimed. He says Twitter also misrepresents how many of those users view advertising, the company’s main source of revenue. By his estimate, fewer than 16 million users see the majority of ads and should be counted as monetizable.

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Consumer prices rose 8.5% in July, less than expected as inflation pressures ease a bit

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Prices that consumers pay for a variety of goods and services rose 8.5% in July from a year ago, a slowing pace from the previous month due largely to a drop in gasoline prices.

On a monthly basis, prices were flat as energy prices broadly declined 4.6% and gasoline fell 7.7%. That offset a 1.1% monthly gain in food prices and a 0.5% increase in shelter costs.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones were expecting headline CPI to increase 8.7% on an annual basis and 0.2% monthly.

Excluding volatile food and energy prices, so-called core CPI rose 5.9% annually and 0.3% monthly, compared with respective estimates of 6.1% and 0.5%.

Even with the lower-than-expected numbers, inflation pressures remained strong.

The jump in the food index put the 12-month increase to 10.9%, the fastest pace since May 1979. Butter is up 26.4% over the past year, eggs have surged 38% and coffee is up more than 20%.

Despite the monthly drop in the energy index, electricity prices rose 1.6% and were up 15.2% from a year ago. The energy index rose 32.9% from a year ago.

Used vehicle prices posted a 0.4% monthly decline, while apparel prices also fell, easing 0.1%, and transportation services were off 0.5% as airline fares fell 1.8% for the month and 7.8% from a year ago.

Markets reacted positively to the report, with futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average up more than 400 points and government bond yields down sharply.

“Things are moving in the right direction,” said Aneta Markowska, chief economist at Jefferies. “This is the most encouraging report we’ve had in quite some time.”

The report was good news for workers, who saw a 0.5% monthly increase in real wages. Inflation-adjusted average hourly earnings were still down 3% from a year ago.

Shelter costs, which make up about one-third of the CPI weighting, continued to rise and are up 5.7% over the past 12 months.

The numbers indicate that inflation pressures are easing somewhat but still remain near their highest levels since the early 1980s.

Clogged supply chains, outsized demand for goods over services, and trillions of dollars in pandemic-related fiscal and monetary stimulus have combined to create an environment of high prices and slow economic growth that has bedeviled policymakers.

The July drop in gas prices has provided some hope after prices at the pump rose past $5 a gallon. But gasoline was still up 44% from a year ago and fuel oil increased 75.6% on an annual basis, despite an 11% decline in July.

Federal Reserve officials are using a recipe of interest rate increases and related monetary policy tightening in hopes of beating back inflation numbers running well ahead of their 2% long-run target. The central bank has hiked benchmark borrowing rates by 2.25 percentage points so far in 2022, and officials have provided strong indications that more increases are coming.

There was some good news earlier this week when a New York Fed survey indicated that consumers have pared back inflation expectations for the future. But for now, the soaring cost of living remains a problem.

While inflation has been accelerating, gross domestic product declined for the first two quarters of 2022. The combination of slow growth and rising prices is associated with stagflation, while the two straight quarters of negative GDP meets a widely held definition of recession.

Wednesday’s inflation numbers could take some heat off the Fed.

Recent commentary from policymakers has pointed toward a third consecutive 0.75 percentage point interest rate hike at the September meeting. Following the CPI report, market pricing reversed, with traders now anticipating a better chance of a lesser 0.5 percentage point move.

“At the very least, this report takes the pressure off the Fed at the next meeting,” Markowska said. “They’ve been saying they’re ready to deliver a 75 basis point hike if they have to. I don’t think they have to anymore.”

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