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Nigeria shuts illegal online banks, freezes business accounts

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The Federal Competition Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), in collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), National Information Technology Development Agency, and the Nigerian Police Force, on Friday, raided some illegal financial institutions operating on Opebi Road, Ikeja, Lagos.

Among the financial institutions affected were, GoCash, Okash, EasyCredit, Kashkash, Speedy Choice, Easy Moni.

The raid, the FCCPC said, was in response to customers’ complaints of malpractices by the financial institutions.

Speaking during the raid, the Chief Executive Officer, FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera, explained that customers had accused the financial institutions of violating their privacy in their debt recovery drive.

He said the agency had begun investigations into the allegations since 2020.

He said, “This information started quite a while ago. Some time ago, when the country was on lockdown in 2020 due to the pandemic, we started seeing the rise in money lenders”

“Because there was lockdown due to the pandemic, people needed small easy loan which is understandable. But over a period of time, people started complaining about the malpractices of the lenders, so we started tracking it”

“Towards the end of last year, we gathered quite a lot of information. We started working with some other key agencies and the FCCPC led the meeting where we all agreed there would be a joint effort to look into these businesses.”

According to Irukera, the interest rate charged by online financial institutions appear to violate the ethics of how lending is done.

He further said, “The key two things that were subject of concern were what seems to be the naming and shaming violation of people’s privacy with respect to how these lenders recover their loans.”

“Secondly, the interest rate seems to be a violation of the ethics on how lending is done. So, those were the two things that we set out to look for.”

“So, we started an investigation trying to determine the location of these firms. That has been a very difficult thing. We did that for several months and some of them have moved from one place to the another and we have been visiting these places for months”

The FCCPC boss, however, said investigations had revealed that the loan firms were neither Nigerian companies nor registered in the country.

“We found out that most of these companies operate from the same place. We also found out that many of them are actually operated by the same person. They are not Nigerian companies, they don’t have an address in Nigeria and they are not registered in Nigeria with the Corporate Affairs Commission and they do not have any licence to do their business”

As a result, Irukare said the agency had written to global app companies asking them to suspend the operations of the online banks.

He said, “Essentially, what they have is an app, and so we started gathering more information about them. We engaged the public and the people who had been their victims. They gave us more information”

“As we got more information we had enough evidence to convince the court to issue a warrant for us to proceed with an investigation into a search and seizure. And sometime last month, a court issued a warrant and between then and now, we were preparing a sting operation which is what you are seeing here today. The reason for this is because we wanted to be sure we are hitting at the place we could get many of them.”

He explained, “In addition to what you are seeing here today, the FCCPC has also issued multiple orders today. Two of them are going to vendors: Apple and Google stores where some of these apps are available. We have asked them to shut these companies’ apps down so that people will not be victimised anymore. Secondly, some of them (the orders) have gone to the bank, asking them to freeze the accounts used by these people.”

“I must add though that not all money lenders are operating illegally and that is why it has been taking time for us to track these people.

It doesn’t also mean that the people we are proceeding against today are the only ones, no. We want to start with them. We also understand that they are between five and seven companies operating at the same location.”

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BUSINESS

US stocks suffer biggest daily drop in almost two years

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US stocks posted the biggest daily drop in almost two years as investors assess the impact of higher prices on earnings and prospects for monetary policy tightening on economic growth. The dollar and Treasuries gained amid a pickup in haven bids.

The selloff sent the S&P 500 down 4%, with the plunge in consumer shares surpassing 6%. Target Corp. tumbled more than 20% in its worst rout since 1987, after trimming its profit forecast due to a surge in costs. Shares of retailers from Walmart Inc. to Macy’s Inc. were caught in the downdraft. The Nasdaq 100 fell the most among major benchmarks, dropping more than 5% as growth-related tech stocks sank. Megacaps Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. slid at least 5%.

Treasuries rose across the board, sending the 10- and 30-year Treasury yields down as much as 11 basis points. The dollar rose against all of its Group-of-10 counterparts, except the yen and Swiss franc. Gold caught bids in the move into havens.

The benchmark S&P 500 is emerging from the longest weekly slump since 2011, but any rebounds in risk sentiment are proving fragile amid tightening monetary settings, Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s Covid lockdowns.

In some of his most hawkish remarks to date, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the US central bank will raise interest rates until there is “clear and convincing” evidence that inflation is in retreat. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said Wednesday he sees a half-point rate increase at next month’s meeting and “probably thereafter.”

In Europe, new-vehicle sales shrank for a 10th month in a row as the industry remains mired in supply-chain crises, while euro-area inflation plateaued at a record high. Meanwhile, UK inflation rose to its highest level since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister 40 years ago, adding to pressure for action from the government and central bank.

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Netflix lays off 150 employees due to slow revenue growth and business needs

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Netflix is reportedly laying off nearly 150 employees in the coming days due to disappointing earnings and slow revenue growth.

According to a Variety report, the Amazon Prime Video rival might also terminate its contract with contractual contributors.

The layoffs are about 2 per cent of Netflix’s US workforce. “As we explained [in reporting Q1] earnings, our slowing revenue growth means we are also having to slow our cost growth as a company. So sadly, we are letting around 150 employees go today, mostly U.S.-based,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

The statement further revealed that the decision was primarily driven by business needs rather than individual performance. Netflix reported $7.87 billion in Q1, which was short of Wall Street’s estimates of $7.93 billion.

The report further reveals that nearly 70 part-time employees in Netflix’s animation studio will have to pack up and leave. A report by The Verge stated that about 26 contractors working on Netflix’s fan-focused Tudum website might see a termination.

“A number of agency contractors have also been impacted by the news announced this morning. We are grateful for their contributions to Netflix,” the company said.

Netflix, in its recent earnings call, revealed that it lost thousands of subscribers, which is a first for the company in over a decade.

The company expects to lose an additional 2 million in the next quarter due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Netflix has shut shop in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Dollar breaks N600/$ ceiling ahead of party’s presidential primaries

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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.

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