Nigerian banks still trying to recover from an economic contraction in 2016 now face a triple whammy of coronavirus, plunging oil prices and volatile markets that could further delay progress.
The 2014 collapse in crude dried up foreign exchange in Africa’s biggest producer of the commodity, resulting in the first recession in 25 years and a currency devaluation. Businesses struggled to make repayments, heaping piles of toxic loans onto the books of lenders.
The conditions, “pose downside risks to the profitability of banks in 2020, mainly given the likely impact on asset quality and loan growth,” Aderonke Akinsola, a banking analyst at Lagos-based Chapel Hill Denham said by phone. “Capital adequacy ratios of banks are more at risk amid the current macro realities.”
The central bank on Monday announced the extension of a one-year moratorium on the repayment of all principal debt repayments among a range of measures to buffer the economy against the impact of the coronavirus.
Oil has slumped to around $31 a barrel, below the government’s $57 target, amid a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and as widening global efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus risks triggering a drop in demand.
If oil prices remain at current levels for the next two quarters, Nigerian banks’ problem-loan ratios could rise beyond the initial expectation of 6%-8%, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The banking industry’s non-performing loans as percentage of total credit dropped to 9.3% as at mid-2019 from 12.5% a year earlier. The regulator wants it below 5%.
Most Nigerian lenders have their oil exposure hedged at $40–$50 a barrel, which will mean they would have to make provisions if prices remain where they are, said Emmanuel Adeleke, a banking analyst at ARM Investment Managers in Lagos. He “expects flat growth in earnings for most banks this year.”
What banks are saying:
- Zenith Bank Plc forecasts loans growth of 2% this year versus 22% in the prior year. Deposits will probably increase 2% and profit-before-tax by 4%.
- “We have to be conservative and cautious,” Chief Executive Officer Ebenezer Onyeagwu said on an investor conference call from Lagos last month.
- Guaranty Trust Bank Plc expects profit-before tax to rise 1.4% from 8% in 2019, while loan growth may slow to 13% from 19% last year, the lender said on March 13. The company plans to diversify from banking into insurance and asset management to cushion itself from some of the economic challenges.
- Access Bank Plc will target sectors less exposed to the effects of the coronavirus and the oil industry, the lender said last week. Non-performing loans that were restructured last year will probably start performing in 2020, provided the operations of the companies are not hampered by the virus.