Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Stop the press!

Yes ladies and gentlemen - this is not a trick of fancy photo retouching - this really is the headline on a two-day old newspaper that I was perusing whilst awaiting my drinking buddies yesterday evening in the lobby of the Crystal Palace Hotel. I rushed back into the dining room with the great news only to be greeted with a degree of scepticism by the Nigerians in the room. "Is it true?" they asked. Well - my thinking was - of course it's true! It's on the front page of a newspaper and it's from Merrill Lynch... Besides which it's written by someone called Festus Akanbi.

However later I did have time on my return to my room to check out the story.. Interestingly - Google can't find a single international newspaper or agency has picked up the same 'Global Economics report - compiled by a team of experts from Merrill Lynch' that, whilst placing Nigeria as 'the least vulnerable economy', ranks Australia (closely followed by Switzerland) as the most vulnerable economies (watch out Jared!).
Therefore my guess is that this is the journalistic version of a '419'... Probably known more commonly to most of my readers as the "Dear Sir - send me £200 to unlock the £2 million in a Swiss bank account" email.. or, as wikipedia puts it: 'the Nigerian scam: the number "419" refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code (part of Chapter 38: "Obtaining Property by false pretences; Cheating") dealing with fraud.' After all - this could have sent a whole lot of lovely investment our way!

However before ye scoff too much at my hilarious gullibility, please consider that most of the people I have met in the last two weeks have little or no inkling of the total financial meltdown that is consuming the rest of the world today. The reasons for this ranking, as put forward by the august publication This Day are:
"The risk ranking was based on seven indicators and they are current account financing gap, foreign exchange reserves/short-term external debt ratio, private credit-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio, and private credit growth, loans to deposits and banks capital-to-assets ratio."
I have spent the last two days on a workshop in the federal capital Abuja with VSO's current and future partners, looking at financing for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Whilst microfinancing (including both savings and loans) is booming, private indebtedness is nowhere on the scale compared to western economies. The rich people are so rich they don't have to borrow and the poor people have very limited access to formal credit facilities, even if they did want to borrow money. Besides which (as we have been learning) the banks are so risk-averse that most wouldn't lend to an MSME unless it had a cast-iron business plan (tricky if you can't read and write) and at least five cows as collateral.

The SME Financing Workshop group

In addition the country is swimming in foreign exchange thanks to its oil reserves and has probably (I don't have the facts) made a better job of servicing its national debt than, well perhaps Iceland?
Participants on the workshop sharing their experience and knowledge - and extremely useful two days.

People here don't really use credit cards (see above reference to 419...), and the most common form of credit results from the parlous state of small currency bills in circulation (no coins any more) e.g. the local stall staying - "I give you 20 Naira [your change] next time" - which, by the way, is always honoured.

So perhaps, just perhaps, there's a tiny bit of truth in the article (which you can read in full here - unless Merrill Lynch has lynched it) giving me even greater hope in my decision to leave the UK for an oil rich state. However as one commentator quickly responded: 'Oh my God - if Nigeria's the safest economy in the world - what does that say for the rest of the world?'.

Now if only they could get the electricity working..


Anonymous said...

Hi Cecil,
A most enjoyable read as I arrived in the office this morning! Maybe the vulnerability of the Swiss economy will mean that skiing at Mirren and Wengen will be cheaper in future....hmmn!
No plans to leave old blighty any time soon so there is nor need for me to worry about the Australian economy - the Olympics are just around the corner (sorry mum). Having said that there is talk of another interest rate cut from 3% to 2% and some anlysts are indicating a cut to 1% by the middle of 09!! Will this affect the currency and have a follow on impact on Australia, NZ, Canada etc - I think so!
Great photos yeat again - keep them coming.
P.S. 1) And do let me know which one's you want printed.
P.S. 2) Any sign of the last few I sent yet....I am still ever the optimist ...
:o) Jared xx

David J said...

Cicely - I have finally found out (I hope) how to reply to your great blogs. I love this one and as far as I'm concerned it's in the paper so it must be kosher!

Keep 'em coming! David (Jutton).

Alison said...

You look so happy in all the pictures (and so does everyone else)! That's great. Yes, I vote for the horse, or rather the horse picture. Please do tell the Big Man that your friends back home agree this would look good on his wall.