By Dipo Olowookere
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has disclosed that economic environment in Nigeria is still very challenging “despite some signs of relief in the first half of 2017.”
The global financial institution made this disclosure at the conclusion of its visit to the West Africa’s biggest economy, which fell into recession last year.
From Thursday, July 20, 2017 to Monday, July 31, 2017, the IMF team led by its Senior Resident Representative and Mission Chief for Nigeria, Mr Amine Mati, “held productive discussions with senior government and central bank officials.”
During the visit, the team also met with members of parliament, representatives of the banking system, private sectors, civil society, and international development partners.
Mr Mati, while commenting on outcome of the visit, emphasised that the country’s “economic backdrop remains challenging, despite some signs of relief in the first half of 2017.”
According to him, “Economic activity contracted in the first quarter of the year by 0.6 percent, mainly as maintenance stoppages reduced oil production.”
However, following four quarters of negative growth, the non-oil economy grew by 0.6 percent (year-on-year), on the back of a rebound in manufacturing and continued strong performance in agriculture.
He said various indicators suggest an uptick in activity in the second quarter of the year. Helped by favourable base effects, headline inflation decreased to 16.1 percent in June 2017, but remains high despite tight liquidity conditions.
The IMF senior executive noted that, “Preliminary data for the first half of the year indicate significant revenue shortfalls, with the interest-payments to revenue ratio remaining high (40 percent at end-June) and projected to increase further under current policies.”
According to him, “High domestic bond yields and tight liquidity continue to crowd out private sector credit.”
“Given Nigeria’s low growth environment and the banking system’s exposure to the oil and gas sector, non-performing loans increased from 6 percent in 2015 to 15 percent in March 2017 (8 percent after excluding the four undercapitalized banks),” he said.
Mr Mati pointed out that, “Faced with these challenges, the government has started implementing a number of important measures.”
He described the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) as driving the diversification strategy, and security in the Niger Delta improved through strengthened engagement.
“The new Investor and Exporter FX window has provided impetus to portfolio inflows, helped increase reserves above $30 billion, and contributed to reducing the parallel market premium.
“Important steps have also been taken in implementing the power sector recovery plan, introducing a voluntary income and asset declaration program and moving forward the 60-day national action plan to improve the business environment. Progress is also ongoing within the oil and energy sector through implementation of a new funding mechanism for cash calls,” he observed.
“However, near-term vulnerabilities and risks to economic recovery and macroeconomic and financial stability remain elevated.
“At 0.8 percent, growth in 2017 will not be sufficient to make a dent in reducing unemployment and poverty.
“Concerns about delays in policy implementation, a reversal of favourable external market conditions, possible shortfalls in agricultural and oil production, additional fiscal pressures, continued market segmentation in a foreign exchange market that remains dependent on central bank interventions, and banking system fragilities represent the main risks to the outlook.
“Acting on an appropriate and coherent set of policies to enhance an economic recovery remains urgent. This includes implementing immediately specific priorities that will help achieve the goals of the ERGP.
“In the near term, a stronger push for front-loaded fiscal consolidation through a sustainable increase in non-oil revenues would be needed to create space for infrastructure spending, social protection, and private sector credit.
“This should be simultaneously accompanied by a monetary policy that avoids direct financing of the government and is kept sufficiently tight, a unified and market-based exchange rate, and rapid implementation of structural reforms.
Pursuing these policies would help reduce macroeconomic vulnerabilities and create an environment for a diversified private-sector led economy,” Mr Mati said.
Concluding, he thanked the Nigerian authorities and “all those with whom they met for the productive discussions, excellent cooperation, and warm hospitality.”
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