International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday cautioned Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over its new regulations to banks on the minimum lending ratio to customers.
In a statement issued by its Country Representative, Amine Matti, at the end of the Fund’s staff visit to Nigeria, IMF also warned the Federal Government to reduce its dependence on CBN for borrowing.
“Banking sector prudential ratios are improving. ”
“However, new regulations to spur lending—which has recently increased—should be carefully assessed and may need to be revisited in view of the potential unintended consequences on banks’ asset quality, maturity structure, prudential buffers and the inflation target.
“Continued strengthening of banks’ capital buffers would enhance banking sector resilience”, it noted.
According to IMF, the pace of economic recovery remains slow, as depressed private consumption and investors’ wait-and-see attitude kept growth in the first half of the year at 2 percent, a rate significantly below population growth.
“Spurred by one-off increases in imports, the current account turned into a deficit in the first half of 2019 after three years of surpluses.
“Gross international reserves have fallen to below $42 billion at end-August 2019, mainly reflecting a decline in foreign holdings of short-term securities and equity.”
Although a carryover from 2018 to 2019 helped increase public investment spending in the first half of 2019, revenue underperformed significantly relative to the budget target in the first half of 2019.
“Over-optimistic revenue projections have led to higher financing needs than initially envisaged, resulting in overreliance on expensive borrowing from the CBN to finance the fiscal deficit.
Also, the IMF confirmed concerns of federal Government interest payments continue to absorb more than half of revenues in 2019.
“The outlook under current policies remains challenging. Growth is expected to pick up to 2.3 percent this year on the strength of a continuing recovery in the oil sector and the regaining of momentum in agriculture following a good harvest.”
Revenue initiatives planned under the 2020 budget—including a VAT reform that increases the rate, introduces a minimum registration threshold and exempts basic food products—will help partially offset declining oil revenues and the impact of higher minimum wages, thus keeping the overall consolidated fiscal deficit elevated.
The current account’s shift to a deficit is expected to persist while the pace of capital outflows continues to weigh on international reserves.
Inflation will likely pick up in 2020 following rising minimum wages and a higher VAT rate, despite a tight monetary policy.
“A comprehensive package of measures—whose design and implementation will require close coordination within the economic team and the newly-appointed Economic Advisory Council—is urgently needed to reduce vulnerabilities and raise growth.
“The increasing CBN financing of the government reinforces the need for an ambitious revenue-based fiscal consolidation that should build on the initiatives laid out in the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative.
A tight monetary policy should be maintained through more conventional tools.
Managing vulnerabilities arising from large amounts of maturing CBN bills—including those held by non-residents—requires stopping direct central bank interventions, the introduction of longer-term government instruments to mop up excess liquidity and moving towards a uniform market-determined exchange rate.
“Structural reforms, particularly on governance and corruption and in implementing the much-delayed power sector recovery plan, remain essential to boosting prospects for higher and more inclusive growth.”