President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed

By Lukman Otunuga

2022 could be a critical year for Africa’s largest economy as it navigates through Covid-19 and inflation-infested waters.

Global economic conditions remain strained by the coronavirus menace while soaring inflation across the world has prompted major central banks to tighten monetary policy. In 2021, Nigeria reported almost 250,000 reported cases, even as 16 million vaccinations were administered. Given how disruptions created by the pandemic clouded the economy’s growth outlook, heavyweights like World Bank and IMF projected GDP to expand between 1.8% to 2.6% in 2021.

On the bright side, Nigeria enjoyed easing inflationary pressures last year unlike other major economies like the United States, United Kingdom, and South Africa among many others. This placed the Central Bank of Nigeria in a comfortable position to leave monetary policy unchanged, at a critical time where the economy embarked on a fragile road to economic recovery. The sharp appreciation in oil prices also provided Nigeria a tailwind, bolstering export earnings and government revenues – further lifting sentiment towards the economy.

As 2022 gets into full swing, there are a couple of external and domestic themes that will influence economic growth. Inflation remains one of the primary themes that will influence global sentiment this year. Untamed inflation has prompted central banks to join the global tightening bandwagon. The Federal Reserve has indicated they could raise interest rates three times in 2022, the Bank of England surprised markets with a rate hike last year, the South African Reserve Bank also raised interest rates. However, with coronavirus cases soaring across the globe, some central banks are likely to think twice before raising rates. Central banks like the European Central Bank, People’s Bank of China, and Bank of Japan among many others fall into this category. We may see a world divided by various spheres of monetary influence as one camp embraces hawks and the other doves. This places Nigeria in a tricky position. Given how the Nigeria general election will be held in February 2023, the decline in inflationary pressures may be halted by political spending this year. If inflationary pressures make a return in 2022, the Central Bank of Nigeria may be forced to tighten monetary policy. However, cooling inflation will buy the central bank more time to leave monetary policy unchanged in an effort to support the economic recovery.

Last Friday, it was revealed that the US economy created 199,000 jobs which were far below the 400,000 market expectations. Although the NFP numbers were disappointing, the US unemployment rate fell to 3.9% from 4.2% in November while hourly earnings jumped 4.7% versus the expected 4.2%. These bright spots may strengthen bets over the Federal Reserve raising interest rates sooner than expected. In fact, traders are currently pricing in an 82% probability of at least one Fed rate hike by mid-March 2022. Should the CBN take action, this may be in March or May.

After ending 2021 roughly 35% higher, Brent has entered the new year on a steady note. The commodity remains supported by OPEC’s optimistic outlook for oil demand and the global economic recovery. Prices have also found short-term support from geopolitical developments and production shortages. Nigeria could have one less problem to think about if oil prices remain at elevated levels throughout 2022. However, the persistent uncertainty around Covid-19 and the threat of fresh variants trigger fresh restrictions could cap oil’s upside gains.

Essentially, Nigeria’s outlook remains influenced by the same old themes. If oil prices remain stable, foreign exchange currency reserves and governments revenues will likely rise. High oil prices may support the CBN’s effort to defend the local currency against external and domestic risks. Alternatively, if oil prices weaken, this could hit reserves, weaken the Naira and ultimately weigh on economic growth. When considering how the Fed remains on a path to monetary policy normalization, the narrowing interest rate differential between both currencies may hit the Naira further.

The world pinned hopes on stability and normality returning in 2021. Instead, it was another uncertain year defined by soaring inflation and Covid-19 variants. With rising inflation a cause for concerns and central banks tightening policy, this could be another wild year for global markets – especially if Covid-19 cases continue to rise. One economy to keep an eye on is China. The economy is expected to expand 8% in 2021 according to the world bank. Robust growth in China may translate to a jump in demand for oil markets which will be a welcome development for Nigeria.

Lukman Otunuga, Senior Research Analyst at FXTM

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