IMF: Nigeria’s Economy Recovering

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IMF Executive Directors
  • Supports tax reform
  • Says persistent structural challenges restrain economic growth

Obinna Chima

Nigeria’s economy is recovering, the International Monetary Fund has said, giving President Muhammadu Buhari’s economic initiatives a pat on the back.

“Executive Directors welcomed Nigeria’s ongoing economic recovery, accompanied by reduced inflation and strengthened reserve buffers,” the IMF stated in its latest Executive Board’s 2019 Article IV Consultation with Nigeria.

It noted that real GDP increased by 1.9 per cent in 2018, up from 0.8 per cent in 2017, on the back of improvements in manufacturing and services, supported by spillovers from higher oil prices, ongoing convergence in exchange rates and strides to improve the business environment.

According to the Fund, headline inflation fell to 11.4 per cent at end-2018, reflecting declining food price inflation, weak consumer demand, a relatively stable exchange rate and tight monetary policy during most of 2018, but remains outside of the central bank’s target range of 6- 9 per cent.

It said record holdings of mostly short-term local debt and equity and a current account surplus lifted gross international reserves to a peak in April 2018, while the three-times oversubscribed November 2018 Eurobond helped cushion the impact of outflows later in the year.

The Fund, however, pointed out that persisting structural and policy challenges in Nigeria have continued to constrain growth to levels below those needed to reduce vulnerabilities in the country.

This, according to the fund, has made it extremely difficult to lessen poverty and improve weak human development outcomes, such as in health and education sectors.

It welcomed tax reform plan in the country, which aims to increase non-oil revenue, including through tax policy and administration measures.

The Washington-based institution noted that large infrastructure gap, low revenue mobilisation, governance and institutional weaknesses, continued foreign exchange restrictions, and banking sector vulnerabilities were dampening long-term foreign and domestic investment and keeping the economy reliant on volatile oil prices and production.

“Under current policies, the outlook remains therefore muted. Over the medium-term, with absent of strong reforms, growth would hover around 2.5 per cent, implying no per capita growth as the economy faces limited increases in oil production and insufficient adjustment four years after the oil price shock.

“Monetary policy focused on exchange rate stability would help contain inflation but worsen competitiveness if greater flexibility is not accommodated when needed.

“High financing costs, on the back of little fiscal adjustment, would continue to constrain private sector credit, and the interest-to-revenue ratio would remain high.

“Risks are moderately tilted downwards. On the upside, oil prices could rise, prompted by global political disruptions or supply bottlenecks,” it stated.

However, IMF pointed out that bold reform efforts, following the election cycle, could boost confidence and investments in the country, especially given relatively conservative baseline projections.

On the downside, it noted that additional delays in reform implementation, a persistent fall in oil prices, reduced oil production, increased security tensions, or tighter global financial market conditions could undermine growth, provoke a market sell-off, and put additional pressure on reserves and/or the exchange rate.

IMF Supports Nigeria’s Tax Reform

The IMF’s Executive Directors in the report, also welcomed Nigeria’s ongoing economic recovery, including tax reform, accompanied by reduced inflation and strengthened reserve buffers.

They noted, however, that the medium-term outlook remained muted, with risks tilted to the downside.
“In addition, long standing structural and policy challenges need to be tackled more decisively to reduce vulnerabilities, raise per capita growth, and bring down poverty.

“Directors, therefore, urged the authorities to redouble their reform efforts, and supported their intention to accelerate implementation of their Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.

“Directors emphasised the need for revenue-based consolidation to lower the ratio of interest payments to revenue and make room for priority expenditure. They welcomed the authorities’ tax reform plan to increase non-oil revenue, including through tax policy and administration measures.

“They stressed the importance of strengthening domestic revenue mobilisation, including through additional excises, a comprehensive VAT reform, and elimination of tax incentives.

“Securing oil revenues through reforms of state owned enterprises and measures to improve the governance of the oil sector will also be crucial.

“Directors highlighted the importance of shifting the expenditure mix toward priority areas. They welcomed, in this context, the significant increase in public investment but underlined the need for greater investment efficiency,” the report stated.

In addition, it recommended increasing funding for health and education in Nigeria. The fund noted that phasing out implicit fuel subsidies while strengthening social safety nets would mitigate the impact on the vulnerable, help reduce poverty gap and free up additional fiscal space.

“Directors recommended stronger coordination for more effective public debt and cash management. With inflation still above the central bank target, Directors generally considered that a tight monetary policy stance is appropriate.

“They encouraged the authorities to enhance transparency and communication and to improve the monetary policy framework, including by using more traditional methods, such as raising the monetary policy rate or cash reserve requirements.

“Directors also urged ending direct central bank intervention in the economy to allow focus on the central bank’s price stability mandate.

“Directors commended the authorities’ commitment to unify the exchange rate and welcomed the increasing convergence of foreign exchange windows. They noted that a unified market based exchange rate and a more flexible exchange rate regime would support inflation targeting.

“Directors also stressed that elimination of exchange restrictions and multiple currency practices would remove distortions and facilitate economic diversification.

“Directors welcomed the decline in nonperforming loans and the improved prudential banking ratios but noted that restructured loans and undercapitalised banks continue to weigh on financial sector performance.

“They suggested strengthening capital buffers and risk based supervision, conducting an asset quality review, avoiding regulatory forbearance, and revamping the banking resolution framework.

“Directors also recommended establishing a credible time bound recapitalisation plan for weak banks and a timeline for phasing out the state backed asset management company, AMCON.

“Directors urged the authorities to reinvigorate implementation of structural reforms to diversify the economy and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

“They pointed to the importance of improving the business environment, implementing the power sector recovery programme, deepening financial inclusion, reforming the health and education sectors, and implementing policies to reduce gender inequities,” the fund added.