Copying Venezuela’s exchange rate policy and China’s failed equity market strategy might seen the height of foolishness.
But, at least in the opinion of John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics, that is precisely what Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, has just done.
“Low oil prices are battering Nigeria’s export-dependent economy, but it’s the government’s market-distorting response that risks pushing the country into a Venezuela-style crisis,” Mr Ashbourne says.
“Nigeria is sliding towards a Venezuela-style FX regime and adopting a Chinese-style stock market circuit breaker. Neither will reassure foreign investors, many of whom seem to be eyeing the exits.”
Both measures were announced after markets closed on Friday, January 15.
The circuit breaker on the Nigerian stock exchange, one of the worst performing in the world this year with a fall of 17.7 per cent, will pause trading for 30 minutes if stock prices fall 5 per cent. Trading will cease for the day if it is triggered twice in a session, or after 1.45pm.
This month, Beijing abandoned a similar policy after just four days, concluding that in a falling market the existence of the circuit breaker encouraged more selling as traders rushed to exit while they could.
“The effect is akin to calling last orders at a crowded bar,” Mr Ashbourne says. “It is hardly confidence-inspiring that Nigeria is copying a Chinese policy that is widely seen to have failed.”
He accepts that Nigeria’s circuit breaker may not be as badly designed as the Chinese version. Whereas the NSE All Share index rarely falls by 5 per cent a day, the Shanghai Composite did so a dozen times in 2015. The NSE’s version has not yet been called into action.
Nevertheless, Mr Ashbourne says that using a circuit breaker to shore up the market, rather than to avoid volatility, is “deeply flawed”.
Simultaneously, the central bank has said it will stop selling US dollars into the interbank FX market.