2009 Outlook: Key Questions for the Director-General of the Nigeria Stock Exchange

If you had an opportunity to ask the Director General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange a question, what would you like to know from her?

Some investors, fund managers and equity analysts have sent in their concerns/questions; some of which were addressed by the DG, NSE at the Annual Review held at the Nigerian Stock Exchange on Monday, January 12, 2009.

However, the following questions, submitted by our board of analysts remain unanswered:

1) Bail-Out: Why has the Federal Government refused to provide a concrete bail out plan for the capital market, not just lip service? Do we think this will change with a change in the Federal Ministry of Finance given that other forward looking economies recognised the need to re-build confidence in its capital markets by taking actions that would bring about the much desired liquidity needed, albeit; with much more emphasis on regulatory control and accountability?

2) Alternative Market Strategies: The NSE (an SRO) along with other regulators has been talking about the introduction of simple options to the capital markets for over two years now. Why has this not been implemented?

At the moment, there are only two strategies investors can use in trading the NSE (that is, buy or sell) and in a free fall or in a downtrend as we have currently, there are usually no buyers for willing sellers.

Even with the introduction of market makers and ‘funding providers’, the makers will not be willing to buy shares that they know are fundamentally weak (given that the incidence of corporate governance and believability of financial reporting in the country is subject to risk discounting risk here relates to poor observance of standards and reporting requirements). If options are available or other strategies, investors can play the market even in a downtrend. The limited options/alternatives for traders at the NSE is keeping sophisticated ‘international’ investors from the NCM. The market appears too one directional.

3) Margin Accounts: With banks not providing margin loans to investors, it appears difficult for the Nigerian Stock Market to maintain any upward momentum or traction.

Has the Director General looked into other alternative source of financing for investors and brokerage firms?

Can the Federal Government provide brokerage firms guaranteed loans which can be loaned to investors based on strict guidelines as an alternative to an outright bail-out?

4) Demutualisation of the NSE: How does the NSE intend to conclude this key 2009 internal goals during a market cycle where most investors are not able to fully participate? The conversion of the NSE into a listed company appears desirable and precedents in Eqypt, J’borg and New York support the viability of such a proposition but to do so in a year where strategic management changes and movements have taken place, and will take place, as well as the governance and process capacity issues/challenges taking place will require a broad range of investor support.

We are interested in knowing more about the conversion of the not-for-profit organisation to a value and profit driven one in such a way as to allow each willing and able investor to participate.

5) New Products: The NSE recently launched five new indexes (including the NSE 30) working with reputable firms that have a history of creating such. We believe it is a welcome development that forward looking firms may create products around.

When will this be introduced in the market and does it not portend a dire signal for firms not included in the index or their sector not considered profitable enough to have a sectoral index?

Is it possible for the criteria or/and weighting of the index be made available for equity analysts?

6) Dealing with Current Challenges: in the last few weeks, there has been a spate of occurrences, not on such a large scale as to pronounce it a major crisis but it is a crisis itself, given that it is occurring in a market with confidence at its lowest ebb. Dud cheques have been issued to investors and fellow fund managers alike. What does the aggrieved receiver of such cheque have to do and what measures are in place to address these challenges given that it goes to the heart of the ‘confidence’ question?

7) Investor Enlightenment: The astounding reality of the market and indeed our larger economy was best summed up by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who in a departure from the less than believable comments of the CBN Governor, declared that the current crisis will visit the poor and rich alike.

If you consider the yearning of the hard working employee, market trader, artisans, aspiring manager, church goer and widower, who in the heat of the capital market boom were plastered all over with offers and media blitz on the viability and security of investments in the NCM, and who now have to worry about the expected income due from the market to meet obligations but cannot access it; you will know that the current meltdown will affect people differently.

Hope is a casualty in this market, so also is the believability of the operators because of their silence. Investors have simply been told to wait and allow ‘nature to take its course’. The caveat emptor that should have been ringing out in the first place now becomes breaking news at this tail end of market downturn.

These are the first death throes. The question is what sort of market will remain?

Yet, one heard not one expression of real remorse or accountability from any of them. They had nothing to offer except the time-worn counsel of confidence men: trust me. Instead of protecting our market or at least preparing the investors and players alike for the possible challenges, we did what we have always done best as a nation…deploy self denial as a shield from the truth.

Maybe not everyone was playing the ostrich game, at least not brazenly. While the CBN Governor embarked on a self effacing trip on being nominated to attend the world deliberations on the crisis, the Ministry of Finance was silent, shooting down everything pushed forward to ameliorate the situation without providing an alternative. The Director General of the NSE, to her credit, continued to show empathy, and spoke consistently about her heavy burden and desire to see that the ordinary citizen/investor is assisted to overcome the current challenge.

The question she has to provide now is: how do we hope to achieve this? What should the investor do from tomorrow?

Source: Proshare Nigeria

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ANOTHER BANKING CRISIS IMMINENT!: MOVE YOUR MONEY TO STRONG BANKS…EXPERT ADVISES

Mr. Ori Adeyemo, a Forensic Accountant and crusader for best practices in the banking industry, has warned that the Nigerian banking industry is facing an imminent collapse unless urgent and reasonable measures are taken by the Federal Government to curtail the slide into what he described as anarchy and chaos. 

“By the nature of my job, I am privy to the fact that the books of most Nigerian banks have been in very bad shape over a long time, not minding the spurious financial returns that they post to deceive gullible Nigerians from time to time.

“I am aware that anytime the year end of a bank is months away some banks stop all lending activities to embark on aggressive mobilization for deposits and engage vigorously in short-term inter-bank placements in order to jerk up their balance sheets.  I am aware that it is at this point in time that spurious bank charges unashamedly suddenly appear in the account of the customers if only for the purpose of declaring huge profits to the shareholders at the next Annual General Meeting (AGM).”

Questioning the survival strategy of the affected banks at declaring huge profit while yet not engaged in lending activities which is supposed to be the primary activity of a commercial bank, Adeyemo said: “I reliably gathered that some banks no longer lend money to their customers, this is a palpable sign of distress just as some do not lend beyond three months maturity period.  Now, with their stupendous overhead to defray on a monthly basis, how are they supposed to cope? Most banks have lost huge sums to the stock market while actively engaged in trading their shares. That was when most Nigerians wrongfully thought that the stock market was a ready treasure till.”  

In a review of how banking activities had impacted on the downturn in the capital market and had also thrown banking industry into worries of losses of huge sum, Adeyemo explained: “Over the past few months when the obvious slide in the stock market started, investors have lost not less than N3.5 trillion as a result of the depression in the market.  I understand that the loss came about from the maturity of the credit facilities which were taken by investors to buy FirstBank Plc public offer from other banks for which various collateral security such as share certificates, landed properties, etc; were deployed.  It must also be stated that FirstBank Plc returned over N600 billion of unallotted shares after holding the funds for over eight months at a paltry five per cent  per annum interest rate.  Meanwhile, the aggregate of charges which customers would have borrowed the returned funds from other banks cannot be less than 25 per cent  per annum.  The effect is that at the expiration of a credit facility, a demand is made on the investor to pay up or sell off the shares by the exposed bank thereby leading to a supply glut in the market as desperate investors simultaneously besiege the market looking for how to dispose various shares.  The net effect is a continuous loss of value on a daily basis.

“The investors who operate margin account with these banks are worse off since the exposed banks would have been mandated to dispose of the collaterised shares once the price drops to a threshold usually set at about 130 per cent of purchase price not minding the initial equity contribution made by the customer.

“It is a hidden truth that the hitherto astronomical rise in the price of the shares in the Nigeria Stock Exchange is as a result of price manipulations by banks.  These banks I understand give money to stockbrokers who they mandate to transact in the shares of the sponsoring banks thereby jerking up the price sequel to the bank entering into the market to source for fresh funds.  For example, a bank may give say N1 billion each to five stockbrokers to be trading in its shares.  These stockbrokers are given a target to meet within a specified period of time, say six months prior to a public offer.  The brokers then set out to buy and trade in the bank’s shares in the market in order to create an artificial scarcity thereof leading to a continuous upscale in market price.  After say six months, when the price would have risen to the desired height, the bank would then announce its entry into the market with fanfare whilst discounting the new offer price after the shares would have been put on technical suspension.  There and then, you will see gullible Nigerians rushing over themselves to buy these over-priced shares with huge funds secured from the banks.

“Now, with the loss of value of shares at the Nigerian Stock Exchange, banks have lost a lot of money but they are keeping quiet about it.  Also, the money which they lent to customers for the purpose of margin account has been wiped away having drastically dropped to a dismal level of say 20 per cent of initial purchase price.  In other words, these banks cannot even sell the collaterised shares as doing so will erode whatever security that they can rely upon since the share certificates have become worthless papers.  The banks too cannot bully the margin account customers to defray their debt whilst charging interest at an illegal default rate.  If the total loss of value in the stock exchange is N3.5 trillion, then the contribution of the banks alone cannot be less than N2 trillion being the most active players

“Is it not curious that at this point in time no bank can tell their percentage of risk exposure? This helps the banking public to know which banks are in good standing and which ones are not.”

Last week, after a period of assuring Nigerians that all was well with their banks, chief executives of banks decided to formally request the Federal Government to intervene in the nation’s financial sector to forestal the effect of the ongoing global financial crisis on the system.

Meeting under the aegis of the Committee of Banks’ Chief Executives, the bankers agreed to request the Federal Government to intervene in the nation’s financial market through a package of measures similar to those introduced in developed countries and that the Central Bank (CBN) should continue to support the interbank money market.

In response to the request for bail-out from government by the banks chief executives, Adeyemo observed: “I am not against bail-out of the banks that we have in Nigeria. My worries border on the unethical conducts of the banks that rather than focus on dispensing professional banking service would rather be engaged in all sorts of things like printing, security guards, stock-broking, estate developing, recharge card sale, telephone handset vending, etc; while neglecting its core functions of banking.  The bail-out will certainly salvage the economy while at the same time reinforce citizens’ confidence.  However, I am against allowing some of the present day fat-cat cocky executives from benefiting from their fraud and corrupt malpractices after ruining their so-called vast empires.

“I can tell you that things have become so bad that some ranking officials of some banks have started moving their own deposits away from their own  banks to some of the first generation banks. On the whole I see that just about six banks of the 24 operating banks would cross the healthy mark if a thorough examination of their books is conducted today. So, I need to warn Nigerian depositors to start conducting their own due diligence on their  banks.

“Depositors should start asking questions, they have to interact with other customers to know how the bank is attending to them. Do they have issues with facilities, are their issues with immediate payment of withdrawals and others.”

Adeyemo said in the light of saving depositors’ fund, he subscribes to a Federal Government initiated bail-out of the banks, but has his own suggestion on how it should be applied: “I subscribe to the Federal Government buying preference shares of maximum 30 per cent into the banks on a temporary basis of say a five-year period. The FG must not, however, attain majority shareholding in the banks.  This way, the board of the affected bank would be restructured with the Federal Government’s representatives on the board on a minority scale.  The Government may then sell off their investment as situation improves.”

Adeyemo noted with regrets that if the National Assembly had heeded his warnings when he petitioned it to probe banks, perhaps the present time reality would have been avoided: “It is a sorry case that the chicken is coming home to roost so shortly.  I candidly recall that it was in November 2007 that I forwarded two petitions to both the Senate and House of Representatives warning that with the present bad and precarious financial state of health of these banks, there was a need to institute a probe into their activities, otherwise the Federal Government may be required to bail them out in due course.  This petition led to the probe of the banking industry in May/June 2008 until the probe process was compromised.  I believe that if the probe had been conscientiously and painstakingly executed, maybe we would not find ourselves in this mess.”