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Nigeria Central Bank Urges "Don't Panic" As Banks Halt Lending To Each Other

When the head of the central bank utters the two words "don't panic" you know the economy, currency, and financial system is in trouble...and that's just what Nigerian central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele just did. Following government intervention to sweep cash from local to central accounts, banks have panicced. As Reuters reports, overnight interbank lending rates spiked to 200%, which Emefiele opined was "a momentary action... just sentiment," but the interbank naira market was paralyzed for a third day on Thursday, with banks unwilling to lend to each other, even when rates fell back to 20-30%.

 

O/N rates spiking...

 

And CDS imply a notable devaluation is looming...

Charts: Bloomberg

As Reuters reports, Nigerian central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele ruled out a naira devaluation on Thursday and told people not to panic about a government order which risks draining billions of dollars from the financial system.

In an interview with Reuters, Emefiele said he was ready to inject liquidity if needed into the interbank market, which dried up this week following the directive to government departments to move their funds from commercial banks into a "Treasury Single Account" (TSA) at the central bank.

 

The policy is part of new President Muhammadu Buhari's drive to fight corruption, but analysts say it could suck up as much as 10 percent of banking sector deposits in Africa's biggest economy - playing havoc with banks' liquidity ratios.

 

With global oil prices tumbling, banks and companies are already struggling with the consequences of a dive in Nigeria's energy revenues that has hit the naira currency and triggered flows of capital out of the country.

 

Then JP Morgan kicked Nigeria out of its influential Emerging Markets Bond Index last week due to restrictions that the central bank imposed on the currency market to support the naira and preserve its foreign exchange reserves.

 

Since taking office in May, Buhari has vowed to rein in Nigeria's dependency on oil exports which account for 90 percent of foreign currency earnings. However, he has faced criticism from investors for failing to appoint a cabinet yet or outline concrete policies.

Amid confusion over the implementation of the single account policy, overnight interbank lending rates spiked to 200 percent, but Emefiele denied the policy had provoked a liquidity crisis.

"There is no shortage of liquidity," he said, pointing to an oversubscribed sale of treasury bills on Wednesday. "A spike is a momentary action. It's sentiment."

"I do not think there is any need for anybody to panic," he added.

Nevertheless, the interbank naira market was paralyzed for a third day on Thursday, with banks unwilling to lend to each other, even when rates fell back to 20-30 percent.

In a sign of the financial ructions, commercial bank cash balances with the central bank that are normally earmarked for foreign exchange or bond purchases plunged to 173 billion naira on Thursday from 486 billion two days ago.

 

Analysts had predicted that the TSA edict could suck 1.2 trillion naira ($6 billion) out of the commercial banking system. Emefiele said the amount would be less than one trillion, although he did not give details beyond saying the measure was designed to root out graft.

His comments did not instill confidence in the new rules among economists.

"It's an example of the government deciding on a policy without thinking through the mechanics of how its implementation will work," said Alan Cameron at Exotix, a London-based specialist in frontier markets - a higher risk subset of emerging economies.