The Nigerian government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) disagreed on the need to devalue the Nigerian currency even as the nation grapples with the ripple effects of recession amid increasing need to ensure macroeconomic stability.
The IMF said in its Article IV report on Monday that the government disagreed with its proposal to mark down the Naira, which it said is 18 per cent overvalued.
Allowing further depreciation would add to rising inflation, the government argued.
IMF on Monday said its latest assessment of the exchange rate revealed that the external position is substantially weaker than what is consistent with fundamentals and desirable policy settings, while gross reserves levels, projected to remain the same in the medium term, are significantly below the IMF’s metric.
In the midst of what the IMF described as “untransparent” foreign exchange policy environment, Nigeria’s exports, the lender added, remain “highly undiversified”.
Nigeria devalued the naira last year to close the gap with unofficial rates amid efforts to grapple with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic which affected global demand for oil and crashed prices.
But the government’s new position contrasts with the views of analysts who have called for a “more liberal” exchange rate.
The IMF said a clear exchange rate policy is needed to instill near-term confidence and bring long-term gains. It expressed worry about the current system, adding that its multiple windows and untransparent rules of FX allocation create uncertainties for the private sector.
The unification of various rates into one market-clearing rate is needed to establish policy credibility and a decisive break from the highly interventionist regime, it said. It would also eliminate existing Multiple Currency Practices, because an appropriately valued exchange rate would foster domestic industrialization more effectively than through a system of FX rationing where winners are chosen and protected and relative prices do not move.
Exchange rate flexibility may have short-term negative impacts, particularly on inflation, which should be mitigated, the IMF said Monday. However, it estimates that a 10 percent devaluation could push the inflation rate up by up to 2.5 percentage points, but the impact could be less if the parallel market rate is already reflected in the prices of imported goods.
The IMF said experience from other countries that have undergone exchange rate adjustment generally shows less pass-through and often a more transient impact on inflation, and some targeted support is likely needed to minimize the impact on the poor.
The corporate sector and possibly the banking sector could also face significant impact given that a third of banking sector loans are denominated in FX, it said, but strict and pro-active enforcement of existing prudential measures to limit FX loans to only those with FX earnings would limit the impact.
Although the IMF calls for a multi-step approach, in the immediate, it advised the government to eliminate the parallel market premium, remove and prevent further build-up of the FX backlog, and increase non-CBN participation in the I&E market window.
To prevent excessive overshooting, the lender said the government should be prepared to increase interest rates if needed, because higher interest rates will also be needed if inflation accelerates.
In the near-term, it advised that all exchange rates be collapsed into one well-functioning market exchange rate with the CBN conducting FX auctions through a pre-announced schedule following the immediate steps. The step, it added, should be accompanied by gradual removal of import restrictions and export repatriation requirements and the phasing out of CFMs.
In the medium-term, the IMF advised that the CBN should step back from its role of main FX intermediator in the country, limiting interventions to smoothing market volatility and allowing banks to freely determine FX buy-sell rates.
But the IMF in its report said the Nigerian authorities disagreed with its policy proposal.
It reported that the government argued that the major burden of macroeconomic adjustment does not need to be borne by the exchange rate, as current pressures are not related to the exchange rate per se but rather reflective of global developments.
The government said that investors exited most emerging markets at the onset of the pandemic and will only return when the public health crisis has waned, and global economic activity has picked up.
The government emphasized that Nigeria’s stable exchange rate has contributed significantly to price stability, one of the most enduring objectives of macroeconomic policy. Depreciating the currency could worsen economic concerns like inflation, it said.
The apex bank devalued the official rate of the Nigerian currency twice last year by about 24 per cent.
Investors and analysts opined that the naira may devalue by as much as 10% in 2021, according to a Bloomberg survey.
The naira settled at 398.50 to the greenback on the investors’ and exporters’ window Monday evening, up from N397.50. In the parallel market, however, it settled at N480.