Danger Signals For Nigerian Investors In Dubai Properties

The loud pitches about the high returns in investing in properties in Dubai rent the Nigerian national space all through 2008. It was auspicious for Dubai real estate vendor in the country at that time; the Nigerian stock market, prosperous over a straight five-year period beginning in 2003, had suddenly copped out in the […]
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CAPITAL MARKET CRASH: THE CASE AGAINST THE BANKS

EFCC Boss

EFCC Boss

When the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission demanded that some banks’ chief executives that had become richer than their banks should be questioned, it was the first formal acknowledgement of the abuses some commercial banks chief executives perpetrated in the Nigerian stock market while the gains and benefits in the market were on the upward swing.

Yet in a report filed by Reuters, a news agency, and published in various national newspapers in August 2007, it had become apparent that there were wary signs of obvious manipulations in the market for the benefits of a few, especially, banking chiefs.

“Investors in Nigeria’s burgeoning stock market are seeing danger signals that the recent rally is turning into a bubble,” the report filed in the third quarter of 2007, had observed .

“Concerns focus on banks, where share price growth has been spectacular since a wave of consolidation in 2005. Most bank stocks have more than doubled in value this year (2007) alone — some have risen by more than 500 per cent — and the majority now trade at more than 20 times their expected 2008 earnings,” the report alerted.

Furthering its alarmed reading of the stock market back in 2007 when it seemed everybody was a winner in the stock market, the Reuter report added:

“Investors say these multiples are unsustainable, even for a fast-growing “pioneer” market like Nigeria, where investor confidence has been growing steadily since economic reforms began in 2003. The report quoted Mr. Jonathan Chew of Imara Asset Management UK Limited which had $25 million invested in Nigerian securities back then as saying that:

“All the indicators of a market going out of control are here, when the entire retail sector is talking about stocks and shares, you know it is getting toppy,”

Reuters had observed then that fears of a bubble in the banking sector have mounted on reports that some banks were engaged in highly leveraged share purchase schemes through stockbrokers. The Reuters 2007 report supported this claim with the opinions of notable operators in the market.

“One senior bank executive said he knew of one case where a capital market operator borrowed six billion naira from a bank to invest in that bank’s shares.” The report asserted while quoting Bismarck Rewane who the report described as a consultant with Financial Derivatives Co. in Lagos who agreed that the practice (highly leveraged share purchase scheme) was widespread.

“Margin trading is the biggest gamble in town right now. It’s very dangerous,” Rewane was reported to have said.

The Reuters report also quoted Godwin Obaseki, managing director of Afrinvest, who said banks have extended big loans to brokers, perhaps as much as 20 per cent of the whole country’s credit.”

Obaseki was, however, quoted in that report to have said he did not know of cases where banks insisted on the loans being used to buy their own shares, which according to him, would be illegal.

More than a year after the report was filed, the Nigerian stock market had unraveled, the suspicion and alarming indicators have been more or less confirmed by the outburst of the SEC’s DG on banks’ high exposure to the stock market, but more than this is the confirmation of the existence of the illegality Obaseki had denied in 2007 about banks granting loans to stock brokers and investors on the condition that they use the facilities to buy their (banks) shares.

Indeed, the practice became a standard in the banking industry especially during the second wave of public offers conducted by listed banks on the Exchange. Industry players talked of how banks provided funds for brokers and other investors to acquire their own shares during public offer. Industry watchers explained that most of the banks resorted to this to make their standing in the capital market look good to the investing public.

Besides, public offers by the implicated banks provided opportunities for bank chief executives and other directors to jostle to take position in the equity of the bank to acquire enough stakes in the bank either to position for influence or to later trade in the equity when price of the stock moved up,” an expert revealed.

“Again, banks also engaged in providing funds to brokers and investors to acquire shares of banks considered choice banks, especially the shares of First Bank Plc, this is one of the reasons the public offer of the bank was over-subscribed by more than 600 per cent, the bank merely wanted to raise N100 billion but it ended up with more than N600billion, money mostly funded towards acquisition of its shares from other commercial banks,” the stock market expert said.

“The idea is that since public offers provide the opportunity to acquire enough shares without the possibility of price moving as a result of demand for the shares outstripping demand as it would happen in the secondary market, funds are routed into the market to acquire as many shares as possible during the public offer with intent at trading in the shares when they are listed for transaction in the secondary market,” the expert further explained.

While the bullish run persisted in the market, the performance of a bank’s stock in the stock market was a measure of the buoyancy of the bank, expert said; this, coupled with the desire of bank’s management to raise cheap funds from the market made many banks to provide funds to willing stock brokers and selected investors to mop their shares in the secondary market. Prices of such banking stocks naturally moved up because of the pressure of the programmed demand on the stocks.

“I can tell you that at a point in time, it seemed as if the only preoccupation of most banks was manipulating the stock market to wring out the last hope of gains. All these contributed to defacing the market and inevitably led to the crash of the Nigerian stock market,” an analyst submitted.

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

REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT MAY BE IN TROUBLE SOON – EXPERTS WARN

Many investors have taken a flight to the safety of real estate in the aftermath of the worrisome protracted correction that had turned the Nigerian stock market into the grazing ground of the bears with stock prices continuously hitting new bottoms by the day.

Analyzing the prospects of a downturn in the real estate sector, a second tier bank managing director explained that the frenzy of investors’ movement to the real estate sector would end up in creating artificial value for property which, as result, will lead to a correction in the sector.

“Everybody is now rushing to the real estate sector because the stock market is no longer providing the kind of capital appreciation we witnessed up to March this year.” The bank’s MD observed.

“But the problem I see is that not many people are giving consideration to proper valuation of property. Like it happened in the stock market, the herd mentality is being enacted in the real estate sector, especially those that are rushing to take position in highbrow areas. For instance, in the Lagos area, most investors think that properties in the Lekki-Ajah corridor would continue to appreciate forever. This is a wrong notion because the price of these properties is high at this moment for reasons of high demand pressure.

“What I believe will eventually happen is that properties would soon be priced out of reach of usage. When you get to that point, people that had bought into these properties with intent at trading them off may not be able to free their investment because there would be nobody to buy, even letting may no longer be feasible because of over pricing. When we get to this scenario, the only plausible response would be another desperate bid to get out of the sector; the consequence would be too many properties asking to be bought by too few buyers. This leads to price crash” The MD argued.

“I will counsel that anybody who wants to go into property should consider newly developing areas that are just growing so that they can buy cheap and tend the properties with a medium to long term view.” He advised.

Mr. Ori Adeyemo, a forensic accountant, however, reviewed his consideration of the fate of the real estate sector from the background of the banking credit relationships with their customers.

“The logic is simple enough. The two most reliable forms of collateral for Nigerian banks are stocks and properties. Now with the protracted fall in the stock prices, stocks that have been pledged as collateral to banks have become more or less worthless such that stocks are no longer popular with banks as collateral.

“But there is a tie-in somewhere in the credit transaction between banks and their credit customer. Most customers had pledged their properties as collateral to secure credit to finance their stock market transactions, some had gone ahead to use the money from the credit transactions from their banks as margin participation funds with their stockbrokers and in some cases, their banks.

“Of course, I had always warned that the stock market was headed for a crash, but not many people heeded my call. Now that we found ourselves in this situation of price falling endlessly, it translates to mean that banks cannot redeem their funds from selling pledged stocks, so the next would be to start offering the properties pledged as securities in the open market in the desperate bid to recover their money from their credit customers. You will expect that so many properties would be in the market at the same time competing with those other properties investors had taken position in. The result is a saturation of the properties market on the supply side. What I see is properties prices falling drastically.

“At this point in time, I advise the average investor to remain calm and proper evaluation of whatever is his or her next investment step because situations tend to change drastically at time like this.” Adeyemo suggested.