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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

THE NIGERIAN STOCK EXCHANGE AND THE CHALLENGE OF GLOBALISATION


    Stock exchange the market where equities and bond are traded, monetary worth of companies and governments are determined, and different kind of assets are displayed in their absence, is significantly different from our layman understanding of the term market. Unlike the ordinary market a stock market is an international market that acts as barometer for measuring the health of a particular country economy. Stock market indexes like the New York Dow Jones, Japanese Nikkei, UK FTSE, and Nigerian all share index are the first sign economists and investors look unto when they want to measure the overall health of world economy or that of any other country in the world. At the eve of the recent fears about US debt, following the down grading of its bonds, stock indexes every where around the world falls signaling investors fear about the US economy and the world economy in general. Stock exchanges have remained one of the few key transmitters of the globalization process. It functions as a meeting point between local entrepreneur firms and international capital cannot be marched by any other market. Likewise it ability to satisfy both sides to a transaction- the entrepreneur firm and the international investor- cannot be performed by any other market.
     The Nigerian stock exchange is therefore, one of the two to three major windows that linked Nigeria to the globalization process, in this the NSE is more in significant than both the Nigerian foreign exchange market and its commodities markets. Since the liberalization of the Nigerian economy that began in the 1980s, the NSE has moved from the position of being a local hub for mostly domestic companies and investors to it current position of being a regional hub of investments coming to the sub Saharan Africa. Around the period 2007/2008 the NSE was ranked among the fastest growing stock markets in the world, attracting international investors from as far as Canada and China. In it drive to meet some of the challenges forced by globalization the NSE began the computerization of the it’s trading flat form beginning from the middle of 1990s. This began with the introduction of the central security clearing system (CSCS) in 1997 that has so far help to cut the number of transaction days taken to execute a single deal, from twenty days in those days to the current three days. Automated trading system (ATS), creation of various internet frameworks, and technological linkage were among the many changes that were introduced during the period in order to go with the demands of globalization.
    But the challenges of globalisation far outstretch what we have mentioned above, as the NSE is today it is yet to meet some of the most critical challenges forced by globalisation that currently other exchanges around the world are grappling with. The impact of the last global economic crisis on the NSE has been very devastating; in fact the exchange is one of the worst affected exchanges around the world.  Despite the recent short-lived recovery, the NSE is yet to recover half of its pre crisis level of transactions volume as measured by the all share index. Recently, the exchange was mired in leadership crisis that called it suppose corporate governance mechanisms into question.  Many governance questions raised by the recent leadership crisis are yet to be answered by the new management put in place recently. The same way that the NSE required listed companies to abide by the most valued of world corporate governance mechanism, itself too, most follow those rules if it wants to remain a global force to be reckoned with. The fact that modern exchanges around the world are run as public private companies (and, because of that international investors not only look at the listed companies they are putting their capitals into but also the stock market where the companies are listed) should have served as a signal for the NSE management to initiate more reforms.
   One of the most noticeable changes in the management of stock exchanges around the world during the last one decade is the move toward mergers between major stock exchanges around the world. The move though it has faced some set backs in the past, is one of the examples of changes forced by globalisation. This is telling you that one of the major agents of globalisation has to change in itself to conform to the reality of the process. The biggest stock flat form in the world, the New York stock exchange is noted around the world not only for the technology it deploys but it flexible simplicity to adopt to changes as they happen; in which case we cannot say the same thing about the NSE. The NSE is operating under a cabal that doesn’t want to see any significant change to the way it has been operating, because of the fear of erosion of their staunchly held power. In a period when the hurricane of financial crisis has forced bourses around the world to change their norm of operation the NSE remain adamant.  For example, the Asian financial crisis of 1997/98 is still in the minds of the Asian stock exchanges as one phenomenal factor that changed them to their present formations. As for the NSE, the last global financial crisis, with it impacts on the exchange, should have served as the same rallying point that will propel it to the next era of growth.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

NIGERIA’S PRIVATIZATION: BETWEEN GREED AND ECONOMIC GAINS


“The well-conceived and well-intentioned privatization programme, which was designed to, transparently, transfer state-owned assets to private hands to ensure better service delivery, has gradually been personalized and our prized economic assets and choice enterprises have been cornered and auctioned off to a tiny cabal of private sector interests closely associated, or in full partnership with those in the corridors of power, with little or no pretence at due process or transparency … (They) used the privatisation programme to auction our crowned jewels to themselves at rock-bottom prices” (ATIKU ABUBAKAR, The News, March 5, 2007)
 
  The above were the words of former vice president Atiku Abubakar, himself  an ex-chairman of national privatization council, before his later misunderstanding with his boss Obasanjo, that later jeopardized his chairmanship. The past weeks revelation by the senate committee on privatization has once again revealed to us how rotten the Nigerian system is and how greed can turn supposedly well intentioned programs into means of personnel aggrandizement. Privatization as at the time it originated (with lot of promises)  during the early 1980s, with the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher divesting of large chunk of government companies to the private sector, was introduced as a means of reducing wastage inherent in the bureaucratic running of public companies and to improve efficiency. The belief was that government should concentrate on provision of such things as defense, law and policing, external relations and leave the provision of things such as running of Airline, Hotel, and production of soap to the private sector who are better at doing that.
    It was the success of privatisation elsewhere that further spurs the machinery of privatisation in the developing countries; the strengthening of the private sector in countries like Britain, Germany and South Korea later lent credence to the belief that any thing private sector is good while any business that bears the foot print of government is bad. In general privatisation is good but it has it own price too, it was only in hand full of countries (mostly developed democracy) that the process was undertaking without the people and country paying dearly for it. A good example here is post Soviet privatisation and liberalization of the former communist countries in Eastern Europe, apart from the selling of government properties at give away prizes to government cronies, there was the socio-economic hardship that was caused by that IMF-World Bank engineered movement toward market economy. Millions of workers from Moscow to Kiev to Warsaw loss their jobs in addition to scarcity of basic good and service that caused prices to sky rocket resulting in increasing crime and social disorder. Majority of current post Soviet billionaires got their wealth from the privatisation of Russian state properties; like in Nigeria, billion of dollars worth of assets were sold to those political cronies at give away prices. The same thing happens in South America when countries like Chile, Peru, Brazil and Guatemala embraced privatisation and liberalization.
    The large scale thievery that happens in the case of Nigeria in the name of privatisation did not come to many as a surprise. Right from the time the process began in the early years of Obasanjo government; I told myself there is something else to this Obasanjo rush to sell government properties than just efficiency and economic gains. When I read in the headline of a pan African business magazine published from London (in the year 2000) that Nigeria is to realize 100 billion Dollars from sell of government assets, I told myself that somebody somewhere is going to get rich at the expense of the Nigerian masses. Now that strategic government assets such as Ajaokuta Iron and steel mills, NICON Insurance, ALSCON aluminum smelting company, Nigerian Airways, steel rolling mills in Delta and Katsina to mention but a few have all been auctioned off, Nigerians know better.  Unlike in the former communist bloc and South America where despite what has happen in the sell of these companies the privatized entities are now national champions, the same cannot be said of their Nigeria counter parts who are now in a more sober state than before the privatisation.
   


           Now that about 80% of the privatized companies are not functioning as was the confession of vice president Namadi Sambo and the president himself declare the process as a failure, what is next for this government? Should the whole process of privatisation be reversed as was the opinion of some commentators; and government, therefore, buy back it former assets, or a selective measure be taken where those auctions where it becomes clear that the government was cheated be cancelled and the bidding process start a new in the most transparent of manners? To me the second option should be taking, the sell of Ajaokuta, ALSCON, NICON and few others should be cancel immediately. Thereafter, these companies should be left under the care of government for some time to come. After all who say government cannot run companies, big companies are still been run by government agencies from developed countries like France, Italy and Canada to Asian giants like China, India and Malaysia. Now that Jonathan is serious about management of the economy and the attraction of foreign investors into the country, the entire privatisation process should (for a start) form part of his strategic moves toward achieving that aim. Any foreign investor who is expected to commit his capital in Nigeria will definitely be interest in what happen to our privatisation program. Therefore, the earlier Jonathan economic team realizes this the better for this administration drive toward attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which is unlike the highly speculative portfolio investments that are targeted at government Bond and equities.

Friday, August 19, 2011

AGANGA AND THE CHALLENGE OF ATTRACTING FOREIGN INVESTMENT


No any other African country has the diverse potentials that Nigeria is endowed with, this comprises both human and materials resources. With population of about 160 millions, Nigeria is 8th most populous nation and 32nd biggest economy in the world according to CIA World fact book, with the potentiality to surpass South Africa as the Africa biggest economy in not a distance future according to recent study by the investment giant Morgan Stanley. Notwithstanding these potentials, Nigeria rank among the poorest countries in the world with one of the lowest GDP per head around the world, ranked behind neighbors such as Ghana in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), and ravaged by chronic poverty problem. In term of some of the indicators for attracting foreign investment Nigeria is also far behind some of its competitors, for example, measures such as World Bank ease of doing business ranking, electricity generation per person, state of infrastructures, legal and court reforms, corruption, just to mention a few.
    It is in this atmosphere that Olusegun Aganga the minister of commerce and investment is expected to deliver on his promise of attracting the much needed investment required for rapid industrialization of the country. Some few days back the honorable minister in chart with journalist in the nation commercial capital, Lagos, shaded more light on the challenges ahead and what it will take to meet it up. According to him Jonathan administration has a target of N35 trillion investments in key growth areas in the next four years of the government. In order to realize this target the ministry will focus on Sovereign Wealth Fund, the pension fund, Nigerians living in the Diaspora, free trade zones as well as rejuvenation of small scale industries. Looking at the realities on the ground this is going to be a herculean task for Aganga. Recent data released by the central Bank shows that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflow into the country in 2010 has declined substantially by 78.1% to $668m, the third consecutive year this is happening. Unlike portfolio investment FDI is the investment that is required for the creation of the most needed jobs in the real sector of the economy.
     According to some estimate, Nigeria has 11th largest workforces in the world, with about 70% of them working in the agricultural sector, and still 70% of her citizens are living below poverty line. It shows a clear link between the poverty in the country and agricultural activities, a relationship that policy makers continue to ignore including in this Aganga’s road map. Interestingly, China which account for most of the investment in agriculture and mineral sectors in emerging countries has reduced her investment inflow into Nigeria. According to a release by the Central Bank, inflow from China reduces from $139 million in 2009 to $9.0 million in 2010. With over $1 trillion dollar in foreign reserve, China is the largest creditor country in the world, so I wonder how our policy makers would have missed that, thereby, allowing investment inflow from China to be declining. China did not even come sixth in the ranking of countries where the bulk of Nigeria’s investment is coming from.  The bulk of our foreign investment last year is speculative investment that was targeted at our equity market coming from the UK, and US.
    The most attractive destinations for FDI in the world did not achieve their positions just like that; they have some of the best infrastructures, and stable macro economic environment in the world. I always say it that foreign investors are not philanthropies; they are profit maximizing and risk minimizing capitalist looking for conducive environment for investment of their capital. Places like Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore that are darling of investors are known for their world class infrastructures. Talking of Nigeria’s infrastructures and administration, right from the point of entry into the country- our Airports- an investors will have a glimpse of what await him, Nigeria’s airports are ranked 86th in the world. Our telecommunication sector is no better, the telephone lines are dead, the only growth area is the GSM market. We are ranked a distance 163th in the world in term of internet hosts. The problem of insecurity is enough a challenge to send foreign investors away, and if you are thinking that foreign investors are not aware of all these you are wrong, because these investors pay world class consultancy firms fees to advice them on where they should put their money.
    Another factor that will make Aganga’s job a bit tough is the global economic condition. Currently, the global economy is in bad shape countries from Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Italy to the US are mired in debt problems. The global outlook for Oil, Nigeria’s main export is also not very promising. The uncertainties of the global economy will continue to push investors away from longer term engagements such as the one required by FDI into short term engagements - the equities and bonds - as we witnessed in the past one year. Despite these challenges mentioned above, Nigeria’s future potential is still bright if concerted effort can be put into putting the economy in order. For example, inflow into the manufacturing and production sectors last year increased by about 190% the highest into the sector in four years; imagine what would have happen in a different scenario where the power supply were better than what obtain then and now.