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CBN Considers Ending OMO Sale to Foreign Investors


The CBN is preparing to end an era of debt sales that handed foreign investors one of the best returns in Africa.


Offerings to non-residents of Open Market Operations (OMO) bills are to be phased out once current obligations have been redeemed, Bloomberg quoted CBN’s Director of Monetary Policy, Mr. Hassan Mahmud, to have said in Abuja, in an interview aired during an online conference yesterday.


However, he didn’t give a time frame.


Though the sales helped to shore up the currency, the debt has become too burdensome to sustain as foreigners snapped up securities that offered to carry traders — who borrow in low interest-rate markets to invest elsewhere — returns of as much as 30 per cent in dollar terms in recent years.


The market for OMOs had grown to about $40 billion by the end of last year, according to Cairo-based investment bank EFG Hermes, with foreigners holding about a third.


The cost of liquidity management is getting too high and issuance of OMO bills should be a transaction between the central bank and commercial lenders, Mahmud said.


“It’s not supposed to be for the public, but along the line, the transition broke and investors who were non domestic were investing in OMO,” he said.


The central bank has reduced OMO issuance by 61 per cent in the first two months of 2021 compared with the same period last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.


OMOs, which have maturities of less than a year, were created to mop up excess liquidity in the banking system, but had been opened to foreign investors to attract dollars since 2015 oil-market crash.


In October 2019, the central bank restricted OMO sales to banks and offshore investors, barring the participation of domestic institutional investors and non-banking firms.

That distorted the market for Nigeria’s short-term debt, with yields on treasury bills collapsing.


OMOs maturing in February 2022 yielded around 8.5 per cent yesterday, compared with three per cent for one-year treasury bills in the secondary market.


Repatriation of returns by offshore OMO holders have been putting pressure on the foreign exchange market, Mahmud said.


The central bank has settled more than $2 billion of OMOs to foreign investors, “but the pile-up is still more than that,” he said.


“The goal is to get that off, and if inflows are going to come, they should come in through the normal channels of the capital market,” Mahmud stated.


Moody’s Investors Service had warned as far back as 2019 that the cost of keeping the naira stable using OMOs would be prohibitive and leave the country vulnerable to outflows.


Non-residents held $13.2 billion of the securities as of September, according to a fixed-income analyst at Chapel Hill Denham in Lagos, Omotola Abimbola.


It is unlikely that the central bank will increase lenders’ loan-to-deposit ratio, which is at 65 per cent until there is stability and signs of consolidation and economic growth, Mahmud said.


The CBN is also maintaining the forbearance given to lenders to restructure loans in the sectors affected by the pandemic.


Mahmud said: “We want this recovery to consolidate before we start reversing those things.

“Assessment is going on and the bank-examination report will determine whether some of those will be rolled over or not.”


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