By Lukman Otunuga, Senior Research Analyst at FXTM
2020 will be remembered for its extraordinary uncertainty, explosive market volatility, unprecedented events, supply chain upheavals and a worldwide wave of monetary policy easing.
The new year 2021 may bring renewed hope and a return to normality for many developed and developing economies but what are the chances it will happen by the end of the first quarter? COVID-19 vaccination programmes rolled out in the EU, UK and US and Nigeria expect the first Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to arrive at the end of January. Hope for better days lies ahead and the positive news has been welcomed by investors.
However, while steps are taken to secure and improve the public health circumstances, economic circumstances are still troubled by the crushing impact of the pandemic. The economic impact of the pandemic will likely set personal incomes in Nigeria back four decades, according to the World Bank. The outlook for the full-year GDP growth is 1.1 percent compared to an estimated minus 4.1 percent, said the World Bank.
Meanwhile, Nigeria registered 1,184 deaths from COVID-19 and a four-week lockdown hit the informal economy hard, meaning that the short-term outlook appears clouded by persistent pandemic headwinds.
Fiscal policy moved ahead after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2021 appropriation bill of N13.59 trillion into law with the 2020 Finance Bill set to run concurrently. The annual budget dubbed ‘Budget of Economic Recovery and Resilience’ is expected to reposition Nigeria’s economy back to recovery, growth and flexibility. The bill shows an expected revenue of N7.99 trillion and an aggregate estimated expenditure of N13.59 trillion, implying a budget deficit of N5.60 trillion.
The medium-to-long-term fiscal outlook is one of the significant debt burdens which will need servicing. For a developing economy in the midst of diversifying away from a reliance on the crude Oil industry, this presents enormous challenges. The historical problems in Nigeria’s economy precede the COVID-19 exposures and are mainly to do with structural weaknesses bombarded by persistent external shocks.
The Nigerian economy slipped into a recession in the third quarter of last year after GDP contracted by minus 3.62 percent. Classically, recessions in Nigeria were mostly caused by a fall in the price of crude Oil and the relatively limited fiscal and monetary buffers within a structurally weak economy.
The economic recession is likely to trigger changes in the benchmark interest rates in 2021 to support a recovery. Monetary policymakers will probably be concerned about the misalignment of interest rates in the fixed income markets, further supporting the argument for one or multiple rate cuts in 2021.
In related developments, the introduction of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Special Bill as an alternative investment vehicle may absorb a proportion of the liquidity in the system and stabilise the interest rate environment, at least in the short term.
At this point, the best scenario for the Nigerian economy is to save the long-term outlook from a prolonged recession. The World Bank warned that in the next three years, Nigeria could enter a recession the depths of which haven’t been seen since the 1980’s. Efforts have been made to harmonise exchange rates, introduce a market-based pricing mechanism for gasoline, adjust electricity tariffs to reflect the costs and reduce non-essential expenditures.
While there may still be short-term pain ahead, there is still time to enact a series of potentially politically unpopular reforms in line with the World Bank’s recommendations. These include enabling the private sector to be the engine of growth and job creation and redirecting public spending towards development projects and investments in Nigeria’s people and youth in particular, said the World Bank.
Difficult choices lie ahead for investors, consumers, fiscal and monetary policy makers and other stakeholders in the Nigerian economy. Nonetheless, the ground covered so far is promising and with better confidence generated by the vaccination programme, Nigeria’s recovery could move into a higher gear.