Official: CBN “Floats” The Naira, What It Means!

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The Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele today announced that the CBN was adopting a  “flexible foreign exchange rate” regime in an apparent admission of policy failure and a belated response to the current economic disaster that the country is in.

The CBN Governor in a press briefing following the conclusion of the CBN Monetary Policy Committee meeting explained that “The MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) voted unanimously to adopt a flexible exchange rate policy to restore the automatic adjustment properties of the exchange rate,”. He also said that “retain a small window for funding critical transactions” and that “details of operations of the market would be released by the central bank at the appropriate time”.

What this means

The adoption of a “flexible exchange rate” regime is basically the CBN allowing the Naira to float against the dollar at the interbank, rather than holding on to a fixed peg. In what our analysts refer to as “semi-float” the CBN stopped shy of announcing a full float because it still resolved to retain the official exchange rate of N199 which it says it will use for funding “critical transactions.”

What this means however is that buyers of forex for holiday, school fees, medical tourism, online payments etc. purposes, will have to source for forex from the interbank at market determined rates and will no longer be able to buy forex at N199 or whatever official rate the CBN decides to adopt. So no more round tripping, no more arbitrage (at least except you are Buhari or Emefiele or whoever they sell to at N199). The CBN has basically shut the window to all Nigerians looking to buy dollars at official rates.

It is unclear how this will work as the CBN will need to put a massive structural operational framework in place to ensure this works perfectly. A market determined rate will also require strong regulations around a market that involves everyone with prices that are market determined. One expects the black market to disappear as all you need to do is walk to the bank and ask to buy forex at the market rate.

It is also important to note that for Nigerians to have a single market determined exchange rate there will have to be a significant inflow of dollars into the market at least large enough to meet 70% to 80% of demand. Without this, then we will continue to see a spike in exchange rate. One thing we can bet against is the Naira strengthening to below N300 in the next 6 months. The naira is not dropping below N300 anytime soon (except CBN rate) so the most we can hope for is that is stabilizers around N320. If foreign investors remain resolute at not investing in Nigeria, then things will only get worse. A N400/$1 could just be the new normal.

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