Cancellation of uniform year-end saves banking sector …bank stocks now best buys – experts

As published in the Sept. 28, Iss. 33. Site Admin. ol’Victor Ojelabi

The idealism of Central Bank governor, Prof. Chukuma Soludo, did transform the nation’s banking industry. From a motley crew of pretender-financial institutions, Prof. Soludo presented to the nation on the first day 2006 a manageable community of 25 banks that have passed his test of the N25billion mark.

On the attainment of this feat, believed before 01-06-2006 to be an impossibility, the Nigerian banking public celebrated the Professor of Economics and, of course, got inebriated with the promise of greater things to come from the banking sector. Banking experts caught on to propelling excitements steaming from the office of the CBN governor, “with more money from consolidation, banks were going to drive the active sector” was the chorus.

The industry did make a jump to new levels of growth, Nigerian banks, have since 2006 been involved in financing billion plus naira projects in the hefty oil and telecommunications sectors, that was unheard of in the pre-consolidation era. Personally, I am enamoured with the gleam of glamour and high tech platforms on which Nigerian banks dispensed financial services to the public.

The banking consolidation certainly has an impact in galvanising a trendier banking culture and it shows in the lifestyles of bankers and their institutions that have become celebrities in the public place with each competing for media attention in a rather morbid claim to the nation’s number one ranking in the banking sector. So much that Nigerians were regaled with figures of banks that had crossed the one billion dollar shareholders’ fund, some other countered on their multi-trillion naira asset and all that. For the naïve watcher of the banking sector, the easy conclusion would be a sector that is vibrant on all measures of indices. The investing public was apparently taken in, for good reasons too, banks had become the main drivers of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, accounting for the biggest chunk of trading activities in the market in terms of volume and value.

All these together must have emboldened the CBN governor to push farther his idealistic template to ensure a banking industry that can compete with any other across the world on credibility of operations and status ranking in translating turnover to profit. Unfortunately, this altruistic illusion was the undoing of the CBN governor. Soon after he announced that the nation’s banks must all adopt the same December year-end, all manners of strange things started happening.

The same year-end implies that each bank would stand alone in presenting report of activities to investors. This would provide the basis for comparing the profile of banks against one another and of course, lend credit to claims by each bank.

Then a state of near stultification of the ordinary banking operations commenced. Banks started a desperate hunt for deposits to shore their vaults in the run up to the year-end deadline. To secure these deposits, banks were ready to obligate themselves to very high interest rate. There were clear signals that the economy was grinding to a halt as banks lending activities were thrown to the back offices in preference for deposits drive.

The inter bank rate, the rate at which banks lend themselves money sprinted beyond the year on year average, there were suspicion that banks needed to use this borrowed funds from other banks to make their books look good.

The signs of trouble were noted in the CBN Quarterly report but not many gave much thought to it. The report notes that “With tight liquidity conditions in the money market, following the upward review of the MPR from 9.0 to 9.5 per cent in December, 2007, deposit money banks (DMBs) accessed the CBN lending facility more frequently to square up short-term positions. Consequently, a cumulative sum of =N=8,658.91 billion was granted to DMBs on overnight basis in the review period, compared with =N=523.91 billion in the preceding quarter.”

The report further asserts that “available data indicated mixed developments in banks’ deposit and lending rates in the first quarter of 2008. With the exception of the average savings deposits and seven-day savings rates which, fell by 0.26 and 0.16 percentage points to 2.97 and 5.38 per cent, respectively, all other rates on deposits of various maturities rose from a range of 7.75 9.90 per cent in the preceding quarter to 9.48 10.71 per cent. On the other hand, the average prime and maximum lending rates fell by 0.44 and 0.07 percentage points to 16.05 and 18.17 per cent, respectively. Consequently, the spread between the weighted average deposit and maximum lending rates widened from 15.01 percentage points in the preceding quarter to 15.20 percentage points. On the other hand, the margin between the average savings deposit and maximum lending rates narrowed from 10.77 percentage points in the preceding quarter to 10.31 percentage points. The increase in interest rates during the review quarter was attributed to the upward review of the MPR in December, 2007. At the inter-bank call segment, the weighted average rate, which was 8.25 in the preceding quarter, rose to 10.30 per cent, reflecting the liquidity squeeze in the inter-bank funds market.”

The CBN was rather being merely academic with its reasons for the lending rates’ differentials and liquidity squeeze, by the time the reports for subsequent quarters are made public the spiking of credit relationship between banks on one hand and with the CBN on the hand, would tell of the tension that would have run the banking sector aground if the CBN had gone ahead with same year-end policy.

The unusual tempo of activities in the sector eventually got the CBN scared of the dire consequences if it insisted on going ahead with the same year-end policy. It was obviously a beaten Prof Soludo that informed the nation of the CBN’s decision to cancel the same year-end policy as a result of what the apex bank described as observed unhealthy trend/development in the industry whereby some banks were mobilizing deposits at very high interest rates that were inconsistent with economic fundamentals which was becoming a threat to market stability.

The CBN confirmed in the public announcement that it was compelled to cancel the same year-end policy “in the light of the developments in the economy and the misplaced perception that the interest rate trends are linked to the requirement of a common year end and therefore decided that the year end will no longer be a requirement. Consequently, each bank and discount house is at liberty to adopt its own accounting year end as it deems appropriate and can inform the CBN accordingly.”

The announcement has certainly calmed the brewing storm in the sector, so it is back to business as usual. Banks will continue to declare enormous profit, banks would continue to inundate the investors with sparkling financial positions and because banks drive the national economy in an awkward inverse relation to the active sector that should, in the ordinary sense of economics, drive the national economy, banks would continue to make more money than any other sector of the economy. This is why any investor wishing to make the fast break in the stock market should now start hunting for banks’ stocks. With the exception of Unity Bank and Wema Bank that are currently on suspension, all consolidated banking stocks listed hold great prospects, principally because bankers know how to play the Nigerian economy better than any other sector player. This is a lesson in fundamental consideration in investment decision making.

WE ARE VINDICATED

Since mid-2007, we had stridently made calls for reformation of the Nigerian stock market, we had published stories of infractions that threaten the integrity of the market, we had revealed manipulative antics of some operators and their collaborators, and had asked for more pro-active monitoring and supervision of the market, especially in transactions involving moribund companies. Some had hailed our courage for revealing the truth, some had vilified us, and some did not even pay any attention to our positions. But a five-month bearish run in the market has justified our position calling on all market players to play by the rules. The roll-out of emergency measures to put in abeyance the unwholesome domination of the capital market by the bears, have justified our principled position.

Yet, the surveillance continues.

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FINANCE MINISTER PETITIONED OVER CBN REVERSAL OF BANKS’ UNIFORM YEAR END

A corporate lawyer, Mr. Roy Bassey Ukoh and a forensic accountant, Mr. Ori Adeyemo, have, in a joint petition forwarded to the Minister of Finance, protested the reversal of the adoption of common year end by commercial banks as earlier directed by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The two petitioners said they were compelled to write to the Minister in the overall interest of the banking public and asked for the reversal of the cancellation of the uniform accounting year end for banks in Nigeria which, according to them should have started in December 2008.

Describing the earlier directive contained in CBN Circular No. BSD/DIR/CIR/GEN/VOL2/008 issued on August 25, 2008, as laudable, the petitioners insisted the CBN Governor made an unpardonable somersault of his laudable policy of making December 31 of each year, the uniform accounting year end for each bank starting December 31, 2008.

Stating that such change of policy is not in the best interest of the general public but a compromised attempt to serve the parochial interest of the banking cabal, who are the Managing Directors of the 24 banks operating in Nigeria in other to cover their apparent lapses, the petitioners argued that CBN rationalizing the cancellation of the directive to the desperate mobilization of deposits and which led to the hiking of interest rates by banks, according to the two petitioners is not accepted and grossly untenable.

“We consider both excuses given by the CBN Governor as totally unacceptable and crassly untenable. It further goes to confirm our unassailable conviction that the Nigerian banking industry is not only weak, in dire state of distress but also desperately needing surgical operations to survive irrespective of the spurious splendid financial results that these fraudulent banks churn out from time to time (in active collaboration with the CBN) all in order to continually deceive the gullible unsuspecting Nigerians to invest their hard-earned money in the thrash shares of these sinking banks.” The petitioners reasoned.

Making further assertions on the impropriety of the cancellation of the common year end for banks, the petitioners asserted that: “It is a classic endorsement that the consolidation of the banking industry which the CBN carried out on December 31, 2005 has irredeemably failed if after telling Nigerians that it now has mega-banks; these same banks are still in hot pursuit of deposits at whatever costs not also minding the fact that these same banks had gone to the capital market times without number to mobilize funds. The question now is: what has happened to all the billion of Naira mopped up by Nigerians banks from the capital market from year 2004 to date? Nigerians need to know.”

“The CBN Governor has always been aware that Nigerian banks have been defrauding their customers through the passage of spurious and illegal bank charges into the accounts of innocent customers thereby leaving behind unpaid debts leading to the deceitful foreclosures of collaterised assets of the customers or the settlement of bogus debts at extremely high costs. For the unfortunate ones, it has always been a tale of woes leading to the collapse of businesses, ill-health and sometimes paying the ultimate price of untimely death. To worsen matters, whenever a report of the nefarious and illicit actions of the banks is brought to the attention of the CBN; an illegal referral is made by the CBN to the committee of Ethics & Professionalism which is a sub-committee of the Bankers’ Committee made up wholly and exclusively of bankers with nobody protecting the interest of bank customers thereby making banks judges in their own case.” The petitioner further asserted.

Making further allegations, the petitioned observed that: “Another very important point to deliver is the fact that the CBN Governor is in the knowledge that banks have surreptitiously been stealing Federal and State Governments funds through non-remittance of 10% Withholding Tax on declared dividend as well as interest on deposits, 5% Value-Added-Tax (VAT) as well Personal Income Tax yet have blatantly refused to call them to order knowing fully well that by virtue of Section 3.2.5 of the CBN Monetary, Credit, Foreign Trade & Exchange Policy Circular No. 37 of January 02, 2004, it is the responsibility of the CBN to collect these deductions from the banks for and on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria within seven days of collection. The various excess and spurious bank charges clandestinely laid into the accounts of both arms of government all in a bid to defraud in billions of Naira cannot also be wished away.”

“As investigative accounting consultants, we are in the knowledge that the books of these Nigerian banks have all along been cooked and spiced accordingly in order to present fake excellent performances. A veritable way of doing this is to aggressively mobilize deposits at the adopted scattered year ends and also to temporarily put a stop to lending when the accounting year end of banks is near.

“The banking cabal has also made it a point to be shifting deposits among themselves in order to help out each other and they are aware that a uniform accounting year-end will put a final stop to this unwholesome malpractice.

Alluding to one of the reasons the common year end would have done the banking industry some good the petitioners observed that: “Nigerians will recall that prior to the announcement of the uniform accounting year end for banks; every bank in Nigeria was always celebrating any achievement that they can think of from the mundane to the unimaginable. At that time, it was commonplace to find banks celebrating best bank with highest deposit base, the first bank to deploy certain banking software in Nigeria, the first bank to hit the trillion Naira asset base, the bank with the highest turnover and all what not. However, we note that with the announcement of the common accounting year-end, all this rubbish has stopped.

“We must not forget the so-called compromised ratings given to banks by the foreign rating agencies based on the falsified financials published, which these banks would then celebrate as if they have won the football world cup. It was either the banks were awarded A+++++ or AAAAA or some stupid figures by their collaborating foreign rating agencies without looking at facts behind the figures published.

“We wholly support this uniform accounting year-end for banks since it will enable Nigerians and the whole world to be able to separate the chaff from the grains but this laudable and well-thought-out policy by the CBN is being killed before it is born and therefore every attempt must be made to stop the unwarranted and self-serving shift or cancellation of the uniform account year-end.”

“It cannot be disputed that the capital market in Nigeria has lost over N3.5 trillion due to depression with the Nigerian banks accounting for over N2 trillion thereof. You will also admit that this was what led the CBN to issue a guideline allowing the banks to reschedule margin accounts by at least one year. We sadly note that even with this understanding, the CBN is yet to fully inform Nigerians as to the extent of the loss incurred by the banks as a result of their participation vide gambling with depositors and investors monies in the capital market.

“Our submission is that with the full implementation of this uniform accounting year-end policy by the CBN; Nigerians will be able to know the healthy banks from unhealthy or dead-woods because as things currently stand, the adopted scattered year-ends gives latitude for fraudulent and creative accounting manipulations, which undoubtedly amounts to corrupt malpractices which the CBN is now advocating and encouraging through the back door.

“It is an understatement to say that if you are allowed to have your way by shifting or out-rightly canceling the uniform accounting year-end of these banks, you would have succeeded in postponing the doomsday, which would eventually come considering the whole lots of unwholesome and unprofessional malpractices being daily perpetuated by these banks unrestrained.

“We cannot but state once again that the financial state of these banks is in sordid state and the earlier that the CBN and the banks come clean to tell Nigerians the truth the better.” The petitioners concluded.