Less than two weeks to the presidential primaries of the political parties ahead of the 2023 elections, the US dollar has broken the N600/$ mark at the parallel market and set the tone for a possible uptick in the coming days.
The black market rate had traded between N570/$ and N590/$ since the beginning of the year while the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s intervention at the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange (NAFEX) has kept its rate under N420/$.
With the latest slump of the naira, the arbitrage between the parallel and NAFEX, which is regarded as the official window, is now inching close to N200/$. The spread measures the deviation of the controlled official rate from the real rate of exchange, with experts calling for liberalisation of the market to enable naira to find its true value.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have also warned of the repercussions of sustaining an artificially high naira while calling on the CBN to embark on market reform.
But the CBN has maintained that Nigeria, with the current high level of importation and underperformance of the industrial sector, cannot afford to float the naira completely as the exchange rate could spill out of control.
At the Lagos street market, yesterday, naira traded between N595/$ and N600/$ band. With the presidential primaries of the two leading political parties scheduled for Abuja next weekend, there is an expectation the demand pressure has not peaked, suggesting that naira is in for a protracted pressure.
At peer-to-peer (P2P) trading platforms, the dollar has been trading above N600 in the past three weeks, which had signaled that the black market rate could break through the psychological ceiling.
With that eventually happening, naira could be on a renewed free fall.
But there is also hope that it is a season to offload warehoused hard currencies for political campaigns to possibly shore up supply.
Experts are not sure where rising demand and supply of foreign exchange would lead the naira to, but the interplay between the movements of the two variables is a key factor in predicting the value of the naira in the tense political season. Godwin Owoh, a professor of applied economics, advised Nigerians to prepare for a steeper fall of the local currency, saying partisan politics and intra-party meetings, which are highly dollarised would bring much pressure to bear.
The CBN has promised to continue to protect the naira but its ability could be constrained by the equally falling reserve. For the first time in eight months, the gross reserves dropped below N39 billion on Monday, when CBN data put the figures at N38.92 billion. Effectively, the country’s reserves have depleted by $160 billion year-to-date.
Bismarck Rewane, an economist, had projected the reserve to collapse to $32 billion in the year as he expected the CBN to spend $8 to $10 billion defending the naira, which is taking much pressure from excessive importation.
The value of Nigeria’s imports increased by 64 per cent last year to N20.84 trillion. Sadly, the value of exports increased at a slower rate – 51 per cent – to N18. 91 trillion in the same period. The falling reserves and rising imports have put the apex bank in dire straits in its efforts to continue to defend the naira.