The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has recently unveiled alarming statistics, revealing that Nigeria’s Net Foreign Assets (NFA) have nosedived by a staggering 91.7%, settling at a mere N591 billion. This precipitous decline paints a dire picture of the nation’s economic landscape, with ripple effects that threaten to send shockwaves through the economy.*
This drastic drop follows a rollercoaster ride in Nigeria’s NFA that began in June 2023. At that time, the nation’s NFA soared to a remarkable N11 trillion, up from N4.9 trillion, only to subsequently dwindle to N9.2 trillion, then N7.1 trillion, and ultimately plummet to its current alarming state of N591 billion between July, August, and September.
The Enigmatic World of Net Foreign Assets
But what exactly are Net Foreign Assets, and why should Nigerians be concerned about this precipitous decline? Net Foreign Assets serve as a balance sheet entry for a nation’s central bank, revealing the value of the country’s foreign holdings, which encompass foreign currency, bonds, and equities, juxtaposed against its foreign liabilities.
In simple terms, the NFA acts as a ledger for a country’s central bank, showcasing how much it owns in foreign assets versus how much it owes. The most recent data suggests that Nigeria’s foreign liabilities may have surged in September, possibly due to alterations in how the CBN accounts for the nation’s foreign currency holdings.
The Puzzle of the Plummeting NFA
The drop in NFA has left economists, financial experts, and Nigerians at large scratching their heads. Was it a dip in foreign assets or the consolidation of foreign liabilities that caused this precipitous decline? Some experts speculate that it leans towards the latter, pointing to the CBN’s accounting rule tweak in 2017, which shifted foreign exchange swaps as off-balance sheet items, as a potential culprit. It is now under scrutiny from the Special Presidential Auditor, with the possibility of moving this item back onto the balance sheet.
This shift would potentially position the CBN as net short in USD, which is consistent with its limited ability to intervene in the foreign exchange markets. However, the central bank is yet to provide a clear explanation for this money supply plunge, leaving a cloud of uncertainty hanging over Nigeria’s financial stability.
The Consequences of a Depleted NFA
The dramatic plunge in Nigeria’s NFA from N7.1 trillion in August to a mere N591 billion in September is causing alarm for good reason. A reduced NFA can contribute to currency depreciation, indicating the central bank’s diminished capacity to stabilize the exchange rate through intervention in the forex market. This, in turn, can trigger inflationary pressures and higher interest rates, exacerbating the already precarious state of the exchange rate.
Additionally, lower NFA could deter foreign investors due to concerns about their ability to repatriate their investments, which would have dire consequences for the nation’s foreign direct investment and economic growth. Furthermore, it could create challenges for Nigeria’s balance of payments, potentially leading to currency account deficits.
The precipitous drop in Nigeria’s NFA should be a clarion call for a thorough investigation into the factors at play. The economic implications are far-reaching and require immediate attention, not only to safeguard the nation’s financial stability but to restore the confidence of both domestic and international investors in Nigeria’s economic prospects.