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Free-floating the naira is disobeying the law – CBN

By Henry Boyo

THE title above is from Tuesday, June 11 edition of the Daily Independent Newspaper. In the related report, CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, engaged stakeholders, at an interactive session in Lagos, on why he has rebuffed the incessant calls by some ‘experts’ to deregulate and float the naira exchange rate, as a product of  the actual market dynamics of demand and supply.

CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele

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The above contrasting positions notwithstanding, hereafter, excerpts of the CBN governor’s observations on why he will not float the naira rate will be more closely examined. To this end, Emefiele’s comments will be followed by this writer’s rejoinders.

Emefiele: “A flexible exchange rate would not favour the poor. I am committed to protecting the naira. We cannot allow the naira to float freely.”

Comment: Notably, all successful first world economies, curiously, maintain floating exchange rates! Conversely, those countries where exchange rates are regulated, usually become poor, dysfunctional economies, often with multiple exchange rates; consequently, Nigeria with a regulated exchange rate mechanism is now the World’s Poverty Capital.

Instructively, however, the free-floating US dollar rate has remained fairly stable against other major currencies, even when the naira rate has conversely crashed from N0.5=$1 to the present N305-360=$1. Undeniably, CBN’s rate strategy has failed woefully, overtime, to protect the naira. Inexplicably, nonetheless, the naira rate has crashed, even when higher crude prices and best ever foreign reserves significantly improved Nigeria’s imports cover.

Emefiele: “It would be difficult to achieve a low interest rate regime, a stable exchange rate regime, robust reserve position, a low inflationary environment, and an environment of full employment simultaneously.”

Comment: Instructively, the abiding concurrent features in more successful economies with stable exchange rates, are “low interest rate regimes, with less than three per cent Monetary Policy Rates, and inflation rates, usually also below five per cent, plus a well remunerated and trained Labour force. Consequently, it is not true, as Emefiele claims that benign monetary indices and robust reserves and increasing employment cannot exist simultaneously. Notably, despite the regulated rate, the naira is presently nearer 1000th of its value against its dollar value over 40 years ago, when 50Kobo exchanged for $1.

Emefiele: “Put succinctly, we have watched some so-called economic and financial analysts through televisions, and others through the newspapers say that “to grow the economy and create jobs, the CBN must allow exchange rate to free float, and also allow inflation to rise; while at the same time allowing interest rates to come down. Again, I am not surprised at these views because most have done so with shockingly limited or outright incorrect information.”

Comment: Instructively, spiraling inflation instigates higher cost of borrowing, as it is irrational for anyone to lend money, below the inflation rate. However, higher interest rates also invariably drives industrial contraction and rising unemployment; consequently, this writer agrees with the CBN Governor that any “so-called economic and financial analyst” who advises that inflation should be allowed to rise significantly beyond best practice rates below four per cent, must certainly be poorly informed and grossly misguided!

However, as earlier observed, all eminently successful economies presently ‘free-float’ their currency rates. So the Naira rate mechanism is actually on the wrong side of the fence, and it is predictable therefore, that its rigidity to real market dynamics, i.e. price regulation, would create serious economic distortions which will constrain growth and pauperise our people.

Consequently, Emefiele is enmeshed in deep mischief when he suggests that he is dutifully defending the naira. In practice, CBN is probably, more correctly, a greater dollar defender than naira, as the present rate mechanism involves the weekly/bi-weekly auctions of small dollar rations, usually between $200-$300million, in a market that the same CBN had earlier, consciously, undeniably, flushed with surplus naira liquidity!

Predictably, therefore, naira’s free-fall is guaranteed in such lopsided auctions. Instructively, not even increasing dollar earnings, as witnessed since 1999, could rescue the Naira rate from systemic depreciation! Some critics will probably describe the CBN’s role in these dollar auctions as Treason!

Emefiele: “For example, we have watched some armchair analysts demand that the CBN stop ‘defending’ the Naira and simply allow market forces to determine the exchange rate. These analysts simply call for the Naira to be floated. To these analysts, let me remind them that the CBN Act demands that we ‘defend’ the Naira using the foreign exchange rate reserves. In setting out the five principle mandates of the CBN, Section 2, Subsection C of the CBN Act 2007 reads and I quote “… maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency.”

Comment: Admittedly, Section 2, Subsection (c) of the 2007 CBN Act actually stipulates Emefiele’s above quote. However, the same Section 2, Subsection (a) of the same Act, unequivocally mandates CBN to ensure monetary and price stability as the prime and foremost principle.

Regrettably, CBN has, notably, failed to achieve its prime mandate of price stability, as inflation has remained beyond 10%, in place of best practice 1-3% rates for the better part of 10 years! Instructively, with this abiding inflation rate, the sum of N1000 with an initial purchasing power of over $8 in 2005, now has below $3 purchasing power! Predictably, therefore, despite the Governor’s apparent celebration of the fixed Naira rate, inevitably, however, the subsisting incurable double-digit inflation rates will still precipitate depreciation and ultimately drive further Naira devaluation and deepen poverty!

Emefiele: “In effect, the CBN would be disobeying the law establishing it, if it sits idly by and allow the Naira to be determined wholly by those so-called market forces.”

Comment: Incidentally, official statistics indicate that the general price level continues to rise by over 10% annually!! Notably therefore, the CBN is knowingly disobeying its prime and foremost responsibility for price stability as espoused in Section 2, Subsection (a) of CBN 2007 Act. Curiously, however, successful economies never seem to be victims of market determined exchange rates.

Emefiele: “Those calling for floating of the currency betray their ignorance of the effects of significant depreciation, however short-lived, on inflation.”

The CBN’s refusal to adopt free-floating Naira rate only betrays the CBN’s inability to significantly reduce the perennial scourge of surplus Naira which drives higher inflation rates and higher cost of borrowing, which ultimately constricts consumer demand and hamstrings industrial expansion and job opportunities.  Furthermore, it is apparent mischief for CBN to finger the transparent mechanism of free-floating rates as a villain. Undeniably, the Naira poor exchange rate is attributable to the inflationary spiral fueled by Naira liquidity surplus that is unleashed, whenever CBN substitutes Naira allocations for monthly distributable dollar denominated revenue!

Worse still, the practice of auctioning dollar rations in a market, that is already consciously flooded with Naira by CBN, is a deliberate mechanism to continuously weaken the Nigerian currency! This observation is clearly validated by history as we have become poorer with increasing dollar reserves in CBN’s custody.

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