With changing political office, comes changing economic policy. At least, that is what millions of Nigerians are hoping for from newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari. The Nigerian capital market responded positively to the change in leadership, gaining 8.30%, its single biggest daily gain all year. High optimism for the new leader to follow through on his promise to reshape the national economy is sorely needed at this point.
With 170 million people to support, Africa’s biggest economy has been brutally slaughtered not only by the financial markets, but also sovereign credit rating agencies, due to the markets’ high dependence on a depleting resource, energy and crude oil. Nigeria’s vast reserves of hydrocarbons and the related business services sector accounts for 95% of foreign earnings and two-thirds of government revenue. However, since oil prices have steeply decreased by nearly 50% since last summer, the nation’s coffers have drained in turn. The local currency, the naira, has deprecated in value by nearly 18% against the dollar within the past six months, which is grim news for an economy that imports everything from milk to cars.
The central bank’s governor, Godwin Emefiele, implemented a monetary policy of interest rate hikes in November to battle the tumbling currency. Unfortunately, rising inflation rates and political tensions caused Standard & Poor’s to downgrade Nigeria’s credit rating to B+ from BB-, four rungs below investment grade.
For stability to reign in a country with almost a $500 billion economy, the natural resource curse must be broken. In my opinion, the $8 billion in portfolio investment leaving the country is exactly what makes Nigeria extremely undervalued. The plans for increased foreign direct investment and diversified industry platforms will beat the IMF’s estimated annual growth predictions of 4.8%.