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UPDATE 3-Nigerian central bank chief pleads for calm as naira tumbles
February 12, 2015 / 11:17 AM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 3-Nigerian central bank chief pleads for calm as naira tumbles

* “Don’t panic,” central bank governor tells markets

* Governor rules out free float of currency

* CBN burning through $110 mln a day

* Devaluation pressure growing, despite looming election (Adds analyst, stock market)

By Oludare Mayowa

LAGOS, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Nigeria’s central bank chief said on Thursday there was “no need to panic” about a slide in the currency, after figures showed the bank had been burning through more than $110 million a day in a vain attempt to defend it.

The naira has crashed through the key level of 200 to the dollar this week in a rout sparked by weak oil prices and escalating tension over the postponement of a presidential election in Africa’s biggest economy.

However, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele said it was “appropriately priced” despite a nearly 25 percent slump against the dollar in the last three months, and investors should stay calm.

“We are not in the best of times but there’s no need to panic,” he told CNBC Africa in an interview. He ruled out an emergency Monetary Policy Committee meeting, and said floating the currency was not an option.

In the latest update on its reserves, the CBN said its stockpile of dollars had dropped to $33.4 billion as of Feb. 10, a decline of $1 billion in nine trading sessions since Jan. 28.

Dealers noted further intervention during chaotic trading on Wednesday and Thursday. On both days, leading banks triggered an agreed ‘circuit-breaker’ to halt electronic trading because of the pace of the naira’s fall.

The latest reserves data marked a dramatic escalation in efforts to stabilise the naira from the CBN, which last year forked out an average $20 million a day to prop up the currency.

The naira ended Thursday at a new record closing low of 205.60 to the dollar, compared with the central bank’s target range of 160-176.


Naira derivatives betting on the future level of the currency now point to it collapsing to around 280 to the dollar in a year.

The failure to stem the rout by tightening domestic liquidity or pumping dollars into the foreign exchange market piles even more pressure on Emefiele to devalue the currency for the second time in three months.

Most analysts had assumed this would happen soon after a Feb. 14 election, seen as a close race between President Goodluck Jonathan and ascetic former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.

But that vote was postponed last week until March 28, ostensibly on security concerns, leaving Emefiele the unenviable choice of ploughing through billions more dollars of reserves in the next six weeks or taking huge political heat.

“You wonder how they’re going to survive if you look at the pace reserves are falling,” said Renaissance Capital analyst Yvonne Mhango in Johannesburg. “I don’t entirely rule out something happening before March 28. Something’s got to give.”


Nigeria relies on oil for 90 percent of its foreign exchange, and the currency started to come under pressure in early November when the impact of the collapse in world crude prices started to be felt.

In another worrying sign for Abuja, which is facing a funding crunch due to the decline in oil revenues, a domestic bond auction fell short of expectations on Thursday, raising only 76 billion naira out of an intended 90 billion.

The stock market has also come in for a pummelling, with the blue-chip NSE 30 Index dropping 2.7 percent on Thursday to its lowest in more than two years.

Weighing on both equities and the currency in the longer-term is the fear of prolonged political stalemate or constitutional crisis in Africa’s most populous nation, whose economy has habitually suffered around election time.

This weekend’s vote was delayed after security forces said they could not guarantee the safety of voters. That has led to speculation that the military, which has largely stayed out of politics for 15 years, might be slipping back into old habits.

On Wednesday, the army denied any involvement in politics or taking sides between Jonathan and Buhari. (Reporting by Oludare Mayowa, Chijioke Ohuocha and Ed Cropley; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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