【英语财经】FT社评:尼日利亚经济面临脱轨危险 Leader_Nigeria’s new start is in danger of derailing

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2016-4-14 22:03

小艾摘要: Nigeria’s journey from bankrupt, pariah state to Africa’s largest economy helped to fuel a surge in optimism about the continent over the past 15 years. Now there is a danger that its latest trouble ...
Leader_Nigeria’s new start is in danger of derailing
Nigeria’s journey from bankrupt, pariah state to Africa’s largest economy helped to fuel a surge in optimism about the continent over the past 15 years. Now there is a danger that its latest troubles will trigger a bout of despair. As one seasoned investor puts it: “Nigeria, with help from South Africa, is killing the African story.”

Part of that story was hyperbole — notably the broad-based nature of the continent’s revival. While there was a boom in services, investment flows and an expansion of the middle class, growth in many states was largely jobless, and underpinned by soaring world prices for commodity exports. This was especially true in Nigeria, which still depends on crude oil for more than 90 per cent of hard currency earnings and typically around two-thirds of state revenues.

Since the fall in oil prices, the cracks in Nigeria’s economy have quickly reappeared. Starved of fuel, electricity and foreign exchange the economy is grinding to a halt. Businesses are laying off staff in droves.

In turn, confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari, elected a year ago on a wave of hope, is evaporating. There are no easy answers to the dilemmas his government faces. Many were in the making long before he won elections, promising to crush corruption, invest in infrastructure and create jobs.

The challenge is exemplified by the fuel crisis — the worst in living memory. Because state-owned refineries have been mismanaged for so long, Nigeria relies on imports of fuel. This is one reason Mr Buhari is so reluctant to devalue the naira currency — fixed at an unrealistic level against the dollar, which does not fluctuate with Nigeria’s changing fortunes. The resulting distortions have eroded the commercial case for importing fuel and created a gaping spread between parallel and official exchange rates that encourages the very corruption Mr Buhari has vowed to stop.

Devaluation would be no panacea. It would hasten the depletion of foreign reserves and push up the pump price of petrol, unless government resumes paying subsidies it can ill-afford. The elimination of the subsidy might, on the other hand, trigger riots.

It is a tough choice and an even tougher political environment to make it in. Nigerians are impatient for the gains they voted for and have little appetite for further pain. Mr Buhari squandered an opportunity to act early on when he enjoyed the goodwill of the public. But the painful measures required to set Nigeria’s economy on a sustainable growth path become no more palatable the longer he delays.

Without investment Nigeria will neither continue growing nor diversify from its crippling dependency on oil. Yet no investor will put money into an economy at one exchange rate, knowing that to take it out again might require losing a third of its dollar value.

This week, China has offered help with a currency swap, and the promise of $6bn in infrastructure loans. The terms of these deals are not yet clear. But they could go some way towards plugging an $11bn budget deficit. The danger is that, together with the modest recent rise in oil prices, China’s help will encourage Mr Buhari to defer the tough decisions once again.

The president wants to eliminate the wasteful patronage on which venal elites have thrived and create an economy more dynamic in creating jobs for the masses. These are laudable long-term aims for which his government has yet to articulate a convincing strategy. In the meantime, however, the short term is pressing. No economy can survive without fuel, electricity or foreign exchange.

尼日利亚从一个破产的“贱民国家”转变为非洲最大的经济体,这一转变促使外界在过去15年对非洲大陆的乐观情绪高涨。如今,尼日利亚的最新困境可能将引发一波失望情绪。正如一位经验丰富的投资者所言:“尼日利亚,再加上南非,正在扼杀非洲增长故事。”

那个故事的某些部分原本就有所夸大,尤其是认为非洲会普遍复兴的部分。尽管服务业繁荣、有投资流入、中产阶层扩大,但许多国家的增长基本上没有创造就业岗位,而且受到了大宗商品出口全球价格飙升的支撑。尼日利亚的情况尤其如此,该国逾90%的硬通货收入以及通常约三分之二的政府收入仍依赖原油。

自油价下跌以来,尼日利亚经济很快再次濒临崩溃。由于缺乏燃料、电力和外汇,尼日利亚经济逐渐陷入停滞。企业正在大量裁员。

相应地,对一年前经选举上台、被寄予厚望的尼日利亚总统穆罕默杜?布哈里(Muhammadu Buhari),民众的信心烟消云散。布哈里政府面临的两难问题不会轻易解决。在布哈里凭借打击腐败、投资于基础设施并创造就业的承诺赢得选举之前,许多问题早就在累积之中。

这一挑战因人们记忆中最糟糕的一场燃料危机而加剧。由于国有精炼厂长期以来一直管理不善,尼日利亚依赖燃料进口。这是布哈里极不愿贬值奈拉的一个理由——奈拉兑美元汇率被固定在不切实际的水平,不随尼日利亚的财富变化而波动。由此导致的扭曲让进口燃料从商业上看不划算,导致平行汇率和官方汇率之间的差距越来越大,这种差距让布哈里承诺要打击的腐败活动更为猖獗。

贬值不会是万灵药。它将加快外汇储备的消耗,推升汽油零售价格,除非政府继续支付其负担不起的补贴。另一方面,取消补贴可能会引发骚乱。

这是一个艰难的选择,在一个更为艰难的政治环境中更是如此。尼日利亚人急于获得当初投票选择的收益,不愿承受进一步的痛苦。布哈里在还享有公众善意的时候没有及早采取行动。但继续拖延下去,让尼日利亚经济走上可持续发展之路所需要的痛苦改革措施也不会变得更容易接受。

如果没有投资,尼日利亚不仅不会继续增长,而且还无法通过多元化发展改变极度依赖石油的局面。然而,任何投资者都不会在明知收回资金时按美元价值计算会损失三分之一的情况下,将资金投入一个固定汇率的经济体。

本周,中国施以援手,与尼日利亚签署了货币互换协议,并承诺提供60亿美元的基础设施贷款。这些协议的具体条款尚未公布。但它们可能在某种程度上填补110亿美元的预算赤字。风险在于,中国的援助再加上最近油价小幅回升,将鼓励布哈里再次推迟做出艰难决定。

布哈里想要消除滋生腐败精英、浪费资源的任人唯亲现象,想要创造一个更具活力的、让民众能够就业的经济。这些是值得称赞的长期目标,但布哈里政府迄今没有阐述一个可以实现这些目标的令人信服的战略。然而,与此同时,当前形势紧迫。如果没有燃料、电力或外汇,任何经济都不可能存活下去。

译者/邹策

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