Nigeria reserves dip below $30 billion for first time since July

Nigeria’s foreign reserves fell below $30 billion for the first time in more than four months, putting more pressure on the central bank’s bid to defend the naira and avoid a devaluation.

Gross reserves decreased to $29.92 billion on Nov. 30, the first time they have fallen below $30 billion since July 13, according to data from the Central Bank of Nigeria. They have fallen by 20 percent since the end of June 2014, when Brent crude prices began a more than 60 percent plunge, hammering the finances of Africa’s biggest oil producer and economy.

“With the oil price remaining low, the pressure isn’t dissipating,” said Ikechukwu Iheanacho, who manages 40 billion naira ($202 million) of stocks and bonds for Lagos-based Chapel Hill Denham Securities Ltd.“It raises questions about how long the central bank can continue defending the naira.”

The naira has been all but fixed at 197-199 per dollar since early March after Governor Godwin Emefiele restricted banks’ ability to buy foreign-exchange, even as other major oil exporters such as Russia, Colombia and Angola let their currencies weaken. In June, Emefiele stopped importers of about 40 items, including toothpicks and glass, from obtaining dollars.

Emerging market investors including Aberdeen Asset Management Plc, AllianceBernstein and Investec Asset Management have sold Nigerian bonds and stocks this year to avoid what they see as an inevitable devaluation, which would cause losses on their holdings in foreign-currency terms. Deputy Governor Sarah Alade told bankers last month that the Abuja-based regulator would further curb dollar supplies because its reserves were running short.

The naira rose 0.6 percent to 197.90 per dollar at 12:48 p.m. in Lagos. Forwards prices suggest the naira will fall 19 percent to 243 in a year.