According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s headline inflation accelerated to 12.13% YoY (0.87% MoM) in January 2020, largely in line with Bloomberg consensus of 12.12% YoY. The current reading is also 15bps ahead of the December 2019 reading, with pressures stemming from the food inflation sub-index (+18bps to 14.85% YoY). The pressure on the food basket was linked to price pressures from bread & cereals, meat, oil & fats, potatoes, yam & other tubers, and fish. While we retain our view on the impact of stricter border enforcements on food prices (partly due to consumption re-allocations from imports to domestically produced alternatives), increasing communal conflicts, banditry, and kidnapping in central and northwestern Nigeria may have added further pressures on food prices in the review month. Notably, pressures on cereal prices may have also reflected weaker-than-expected yield from the recent main harvest on prolonged rainfalls and flooding in some producing areas. In our view, inflation is likely to come in at 12.29% YoY in February.
Electricity cost may stoke core inflationary pressures from April onwards
We believe the key upside risk to headline inflation is rooted in core inflation, even though food pressures have been in the spotlight since the border restrictions were instituted in August 2019. To this point, we note that the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has advised power distribution companies to gross up electricity tariff by 50.0% from April 2020 (as opposed to the 30.0% increase previously expected by the market). This planned increase is said to be largely in line with efforts to meet tariff shortfall funding targets for 2020 by the Federal Government (FG). If implemented, the average electricity tariff is likely to increase to N40.95/kWh on 01 April 2020 from N27.30/kWh currently.
Figure 1: Historical movement in headline inflation
In order to distill the potential passthrough of the proposed increase in core and headline inflation, we draw insights from similar electricity price adjustments implemented in 2016. Precisely, following the 41.0% to 45.0% hike in electricity prices in February 2016, MoM headline and core inflation surged from 0.87% and 0.84% apiece in January 2016 to 2.30% and 2.72%, respectively, in February 2016. Worthy of note, MoM inflation in NBS’ electricity-heavy core sub-component “Housing Water Electricity and Other Gas (HWEGOF)” came in at 6.7% MoM in February 2016 (compared to an average of 0.4% MoM in the preceding five months). We believe that the hike in tariff contributed significantly to these pressures given that the other key factor that would have had a hand in the pressures (petrol scarcity) only commenced in the last week of February 2016. In our view, therefore, the planned electricity tariff adjustment, which is of a similar scale to that of 2016, is likely to have a similar impact on inflation between April 2020 and the beginning of the main harvest in September/October 2020.
All in, with electricity tariff increase now likely to be higher (at 50.0%) than the 30.0% previously expected, we revise our 2020 headline forecasts to 12.9% YoY compared to 12.2% YoY in previous estimates. Specific revisions made include increases in MoM headline inflation targets to 2.00% and 1.20% apiece for April and May 2020, respectively (vs. an average of 0.97% in the preceding five months). We hold the view that this forecasted surge in inflation, predicted temperance in the pace of OMO maturities, and weaker oil price outlook may contribute to a possible reversal of current yield moderation in Q2’20/Q3’20.
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