Central Bank of Nigeria raises benchmark interest rate to 9.25 percent, up from 8.75 percent
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's central bank monetary policy committee on Monday raised its benchmark interest rate for the fifth time this year in anticipation of upward inflationary pressures and to support the weakened local currency. The MPC lifted its benchmark rate to 9.25 percent, up from 8.75 percent, a move at the top end of analysts' expectations. Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, said although inflation had declined in the last two-months, high government spending, a new minimum wage, the likely removal of fuel subsidies and a flood of expected liquidity from the state "bad bank" were all likely to push prices higher.
"Concerns remain about sustaining the current inflation trend. The anticipated high liquidity in the near future would have a bearing on inflation in the near future," Sanusi told reporters, reading from the MPC communique in Abuja."The fiscal stance continues to be expansionary. In addition there is the weight of structural factors such as the announced hikes in electricity tariffs and the expected removal of the petroleum subsidy."
The committee voted 8-3 to raise rates and they all agreed to maintain a 200 basis point corridor around the MPR, meaning its recommended deposit rate is 7.25 percent and lending rate 11.25 percent. Sanusi said the decision to lift the benchmark rate was also influenced by the need to support the naira, which weakened to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar for four months on Monday.
The central bank has tried to prop up the local currency by selling dollars at a bi-weekly auction and through monetary tightening but without sustained success."It looks as though there is a clear intent to bring real interest rates to positive levels, in order to shore up support for the naira," said Razia Khan, Head of Africa Research at Standard Chartered.
"With GDP growth between 7-8 percent, and a questionable transmission mechanism of monetary tightening to the real economy in any case, this is something the CBN can afford to do."
Analysts had been divided on the likely outcome prior to the meeting. Seven of the 13 analysts polled by Reuters expected rates to rise by 25-50 basis points, with the rest predicting rates would be unchanged. Nigeria's inflation remained steady within the central bank's notional single-digit target in August, data showed this week. Headline inflation was 9.3 percent year-on-year in August from 9.4 percent in July, while growth in food prices, the largest contributor to the consumer inflation figure, rose to 8.7 percent in August from 7.9 percent in July.
But core inflation, which excludes some volatile components such as food and energy, remained in double digits in August and the central bank remains concerned about continued high government spending, especially recurrent expenditure. Nigeria's new finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, pledged to cut back government spending when she arrived last month but early benchmarks set out for the 2012 budget last week showed few signs of a promised fiscal prudence.
Okonjo-Iweala's cautious plans did not convince Sanusi.
"The government has announced a target of a 1 percent annual reduction in government recurrent spending and when viewed in the context of the anticipated injections associated with the new national minimum wage this reflects that the fiscal retrenchment is likely to be drawn out," he said.
Sanusi said stalling global economic growth was likely to impact Nigeria through a drop in trade and investment, while the recent poor performance of the Nigerian stock market was a reflection of declining risk appetite internationally