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IMF advises Nigeria on reducing vulnerabilities, boosting growth

Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has advised the federal government to take action on a coherent and coordinated set of policies to urgently reduce vulnerabilities and increase growth over the medium term.

The advice was contained in the report of IMF staff visit led by Amine Mati, Senior Resident Representative and Mission Chief for Nigeria.

The staff visited Lagos and Abuja from September 25 to October 7 according to the fund.

IMF ,Nigeria
IMF

It noted that although the economy was growing, the growth was rather slow.

According to the report, “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.”

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The IMF noted that Headline inflation had fallen, reaching its lowest level since January 2016, helped by lower food price inflation.

It said, hpwever, that Nigeria suffered a deficit in current account balances in the first half of the year.

According to the report, “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. The exchange rate in various windows remained stable, helped by steady sales of foreign exchange by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

“Carryover from 2018 to 2019 helped increase public investment spending in the first half of 2019, but 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. 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.

“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.

“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.”

The team held discussions with senior government and central bank officials. It also met with representatives of the banking system, the private sector, and international development partners.

Reacting to the IMF Visitation Report; Spokesman for the Minister of Finance,  Yunusa Abdullahi says “overall , the report is good because it acknowledged the effort of government in improving the economy through transparency and inclusiveness.”

He said that the IMF team particularly acknowledged the decreasing inflation rate” which has continued for nine consecutive quarters.

“The report also emphasized that  growth is expected to pick up to 2.3% this year on the strength of a continuing recovery in the oil sector and the regaining momentum in agriculture following a good harvest,” the spokesman said.

 

 

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