Volume II, Issue 18

Magazine cover 18This week on the June 08, 2009 edition of Fortune&Class Weekly:

  • FIRS bars ETB, Spring Bank, Wema Bank – The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has barred three banks from collecting taxes and other revenue due to the federal government on its behalf.

The banks, Equitorial Trust Bank (ETB), Spring Bank and Wema Bank were given the marching order because they refused to accede to the request by the FIRS to sign the mandatory collection agreement, a source in FIRS has confided in Fortune&Class.

According to the high level source in the revenue collection agency, the FIRS have had to introduce the mandatory collection agreement as a legal contract between it and financial institutions that desire to serve as collection agencies for it (FIRS). (read more)

Who Is In Charge Of The Stock Market? Daisy Ekine, SEC DG, Moves To Tame NSE DG, Okereke-Onyiuke

daisy ekineThe demutualisation of the Nigerian Stock Exchange has become the standard issue to determine the agency that wields ultimate authority and control on the Nigerian stock market. Simply put, demutualisation means that the Nigerian Stock Exchange transforms into the equivalence of a quoted company with its share available to the investing public for subscription and trading.

The imagination of the investing public had been excited since since October last year when  the Director-General of the NSE, Prof. (Mrs.) Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke announced that there would be a demutualisation of the Exchange, announcing in the same breathe that she and seven senior officials of the NSE are to retire voluntarily.

According to the DG of the NSE, at a February 2009 press conference, the Council of the NSE had appointed Accenture, the global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company to help with the demutualization and transformation of the Exchange to become profit making, she explained at the press conference that “ we have to re-orientate and transform the management and staff (of the Exchange) to look at the Exchange as a profit making company like First Bank, Unilever, Japaul and even our own Central Securities Clearing System.” …

Bank Managers Divert Customers To Black Market Lenders

Chukwuma Soludo, CBN GovernorChukwuma Soludo, fmr CBN Governor

Some branch managers of commercial banks in Nigeria have become lending authorities by themselves, a Fortune&Class investigation has revealed. The activities of these managers, according to the investigation, has led to the emergence and thriving of a black market for lending which, however, has become a source of worries and consternation for customers who are protesting how they are being exploited by the black market lenders.

For each bank branch, there is the unofficial lender, operated by the branch manager with the connivance of some other bank branch officials. When a customer approaches the branch with a request to raise fund for a business, the customer is as usual, confronted with a long list of requirements to be considered before loan application is approved. …

Agagu is Arrow-Head of SW 8, Wema Bank New Core Investor

Segun Oloketuyi, Olusegun AgaguSegun Oloketuyi, Olusegun Agagu

It has been reported that barring any unforeseen circumstance, Mr. Segun Oloketuyi, an executive director with Skye Bank, may soon be named as the new group managing director of Wema Bank Plc following the successful acquisition of 27 per cent controlling shares by new core investors, SW8 Consortium, in the bank.

Until recently, officials of the bank and regulatory agencies involved in the ownership structuring of banks in the country have decidedly kept sealed lips on the individuals and interests involved in the SW8 Consortium.

To sate the going curiosity of investors that desire to take position in the bank, Fortune&Class reveal that Dr. Olusegun Agagu, former governor of Ondo State is the arrow head of other mainly political personalities behind the SW8 Consortium.

Agagu served as Minister of Power in ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet between 1999 and 2003 and was elected Governor of Ondo State in 2003. Agagu re-election for a second term was, however, challenged this year by Dr. Olusegun Mimiko who eventually secured the rulings of both the election petition tribunal and the appeal court panel that asserted that Mimiko was the rightfully elected Governor of the State.

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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.

Former Wema Assets MD Arrested

The calm that pervades the banking hall of Wema Bank was rustled last week when Mr. Bayo Ogundipe, former President of Wema Asset Management Limited, a subsidiary of Wema Bank was, according to Proshare NI, arrested.

A source close to Proshare NI confirmed that Ogundipe moved to and detained at the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) at Milverton Road, Ikoyi in Lagos, Nigeria.

The source further confirmed to Proshare NI that Ogundipe was held over an alleged fraud of about N1.0 billion perpetrated during his tenure as the Chief Executive at Wema Asset.

Wema Asset had traded as the Trustee and Corporate Finance Division of Wema Bank, and subsequently as Investment Banking, Corporate Finance and Asset Management division under Adebisi Omoyeni, the erstwhile Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Bank.

However, Proshare NI could not gather more details on this, and as at the time of filling in this report, it could not also confirm the true situation from SFU as regards the arrest of Ogundipe.

Delay of Public Offer Returned Money: Wema Registrars Accuses Access Bank of Forgery, Manipulation

Cover design 38

Cover design 38

Mr. Gbenga Oyebode (SAN) Chairman of the Board of Access Bank Plc was intent at justifying his bank’s decision to change its registrars, so, he announced to shareholders gathered at the venue of the bank’s 2008 Annual General Meeting that because his bank was dissatisfied with the services of its former registrars, Wema Registrars, over the handling of its last public offer, Access Bank decided to jettison the registrars services of Wema Registrars for a new registrars firm, United Securities Limited.

That public condemnation of the services rendered by Wema Registrars sent a surge of outcries through the ranks of personnel at Wema Registrars culminating in a formal protest to the management of Access Bank and a threat to head for the court of law if the libelous condemnation of Wema Registrars as contained and read by the Chairman of Access Bank at the last AGM was not retrieved and apologies offered. Wema Registrars threatened to sue for a redress of N.5billion if Access Bank refused to address its demands.

Will this be the torrid end to a business relationship that had flourished for close to a decade? Those that have followed events that marked the relationship between the bank and registrars say a legal battle may truly be imminent especially in consideration of the disdain with which Access Bank had dealt with its erstwhile registrars even up to the point of demanding an apology for the public hacking of the quality of services rendered it (Access Bank) by Wema Registrars.

“Wema Registrars was not going to make a fuss over the ways Access Bank had conducted its public offer. As far as we are concerned, we’ve done a good job of even saving them from present sanction by the Securities and Exchange Commission for the many breaches of regulatory compliance guidelines relating to public offer allotment and returned monies.” A Wema Registrars insider says.

“Of course we knew they had decided that they were going to establish their own registrars firm, this was clearly stated in their public offer prospectus, we couldn’t have been bothered, it is their right, but what I think is not right is for them to hang our reputation on a bad name in the public to justify and cover up their manipulations of their own public offer. I don’t think this is appropriate for a financial institution that wished to be respected.” The source protests.

Historically, Wema Registrars had managed registrars related functions for Access Bank since 22 December, 1997, it (Wema Registrars) was in charge of the bank’s first public offer in 1998 where the bank raised the sum of N462,000,000 mainly through 5,347 subscribers. And had since then, managed three other public offers (2001, 2004 and the now controversial 2007). Wema Registrars also handled the bank’s 2001 right issue and 2006 bond issue as well as the share reconstruction exercises between Access Bank, Capital International Bank and Marina International Bank in the run up to the consolidation of the bank.

So, why did the management of the bank’s 2007 public offer turn such a sore point in the relationship between the bank and the registrars?

Another Wema Registrars source argues that this could be adduced to the bank’s desperation to manipulate the offer proceeds and conveniently use Wema Registrars as the fall guy if the regulatory authority smelt the rat, and as things turned out, to also use their (Access Bank) own deliberate obfuscation of the offer allotment and returned monies process as good excuses to persuade shareholders and regulatory authorities of their need to change registrars.

“The fact of intent at manipulating the offer was clear enough.” The source says. “Despite the fact that the offer closed two weeks later than earlier scheduled because of an extension from the original closing date of August 29th 2007 to September 12th, 2007, the registrars did not receive the returns from Access Bank, as required, until very late. In fact, one of the returning agents to the subscription that had sold 261,849,400 units valued at N3,901,556,060 to about 4000 subscribers did not submit details of its returns to the registrars until December, 2007, just some few days to the final submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission.” The source reveals.

“Even at that, so many agents attempted to submit to the registrars much later than this date but they were rejected by the registrars, but obviously, the bank did not reckon with the breaches of the regulatory authorities, so they accepted the agents’ late returns without recourse to the registrars. This led to so much hiccups in the shares allotment process.” The source added.

Matters became rather desperate when the Securities and Exchange Commission specifically directed by a letter of January 4, 2007 to the registrars that by January 11, 2007 the dispatch of returned monies to subscribers that were not fully allotted shares they paid for.

Meanwhile, all monies raised had, at this time, being domiciled in the vault of Access Bank with direct control by the bank. Ordinarily, this should not be. A capital market veteran informs that funds raised during public offers should be the direct responsibility of the registrars until all necessary administration had been concluded on the offer.

“It is at this point in time that the issuing house(s) would turn over the funds to the issuer that is the company raising the funds through public offer.” The veteran explains.

Issues on dispatching returned monies to unallotted subscribers became rather suspicious when, according to a source, Wema Registrars dispatched a letter to Access Bank to prompt an early dispatch of cheques for returned monies but the bank refused to even acknowledge the letter. Two other letters, one on January 21 2008 and the second on February 1, about a month after the dispatch was supposed to commence, did not elicit any form of response from Access Bank. It was not until February 15, a clear month plus four days after the dispatch should have commenced when, Wema Registars, according to inside source, was compelled to write another reminder to Access Bank, outlining the grave consequence of the breaches of regulatory requirement regarding the dispatch of returned monies that the bank decided to give consideration to the registrars request by calling a meeting for February 21, 2008 where issues of the returned monies will be ironed out.

An official that was present at the meeting intimates Fortune and Class Weekly that representatives of the management of the bank decided to change the rules of returned monies to subscribers by insisting that notifications should be made through the media that subscribers with over 50,000 unallotted shares should go to Access Bank’s designated branches to collect their refund.

“We protested that this was a clear breach, informing them that the SEC may not take kindly to the arrangement because the bank should not, in fact, be seen as having control over the funds raised through the public offer at that point in time. But then, they insisted, so we really had no choice but to concede to them. Now, at this point, a draft of the newspaper advertisement for the notice to investors was handed over to the registrars who published it on Monday, February 25, 2008 in the Punch and This Day newspaper.

“Besides, a draft of the letter informing investors to approach Access Bank directly for their refunds was also handed over to the registrars by Access Bank. This was vetted by the registrars, provisionally appended her signature and then returned the draft to Access Bank officials on the understanding that the Registrar would check with the Securities and Exchange Commission to ensure that the actions would not contravene the Commission’s directives on matters relating to returned monies.
When the registrars asked for the draft for further inputs, according to Fortune and Class Weekly source, officials at Access Bank were not forthcoming.

“We were already frustrated when, suddenly, on March 6, more than two months after the dispatch of the refund should have commenced, in fact, it should have been concluded by that date, about 4,000 letters were brought in cartons to the registrars office.” The source says.

The registrars staff were patently aghast at the letters suddenly dumped in their office by Access Bank.
“We were more than surprised when we opened one of the letters. We realised that Access Bank had, in fact, printed our official letter headed paper without discussion or approval from us and, had, gone ahead to print the draft letter we thought still needs some inputs, on the forged letter headed papers of Wema Registrars.

“The clear conclusion we reached at this point in time was that Access Bank did the printing of the forged letter head paper without the registrars knowledge to cover their many breaches of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s guidelines for the refund of the returned monies. This was further reinforced by the fact that Access Bank dumped the offensive letters in our office on the same date the officials of the Securities and Exchange Commission were examining their (Access Bank) books with respect to the public offer.

“The same day they dumped the letters, we forwarded a letter of protest to them (Access Bank), copied to the Director-General of SEC, dissociating ourselves from the non compliance of Access Bank with the SEC’s regulations on returned monies as contained in the forged letters.” The source reveals.
Curiously, sensitive as this matter had turned out; the Securities and Exchange Commission is yet to take an active position on the issue. This troubles other capital market operators that had been following the unraveling of the suspected breaches involved in the Access Bank public offer.

“This is typical.” A capital market operator says. “This explains why so many subscribers to public offers get short changed. You can imagine what beneficial transaction and trades the bank would have undertaken with money that should have been refunded to subscribers for close to a year after the conclusion of the offer way back in September 2007. What is the excuse the SEC would give for not investigating this case which had been formally reported to it by the registrars that managed the offer? The apparent lethargic reactions to sensitive issues like this only lead to loss of confidence in the stock market because the exploitation of the mass of investors is obvious.” The operator protests.
An Access Bank spoke person, Mr Segun Mamora, however insisted that the bank had to be directly involved in dispatching returned monies to its public offer subscribers because it became apparent that Wema Registrars could not manage the volume of responsibility deriving from the massive number of subscribers to the 2007 public offer.

“The fact is that when it was becoming obvious that the time was running out on the schedule of returned monies for the offer subscribers that were not allotted, we had to call a meeting where we met with the Registrars. After evaluating the situation, we all agreed that Access Bank should assist Wema Registrars in the dispatches. A letter was drafted which the parties agreed to and we undertook to dispatch them as agreed.

“There is no issue involved here, Access Bank and Wema Registrars have both gone before the Securities and Exchange Commission to explain the matters involved and it has been resolved.”

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