Conclusion - Understanding 2021's Mega Trends
"An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn't happen today. " -Evan Esar
2021 will be a crucial year for a variety of reasons; first, most economies have hopes of shaking off a COVID-19-induced recession that has left global supply chains in tatters and workers in different stages of despair as factories and companies close and consumer demand falls off. Second, uncertainty about the direction of oil prices over the year places the fiscal stability of oil-dependent countries in jeopardy. Countries like Nigeria, Algeria, and Angola in Africa could find themselves in dire budgetary constraints if the price per barrel of crude oil slumps below US$40 per barrel during the year. Nigeria's fiscal breakeven oil price is roughly US$136 per barrel.
The third factor that would shape the course of events in 2021 would be the COVID-19 pandemic and the spread of its new strains. The new strains of COVID-19 appear to be nudging economies into a reversal of their opening and a new series of managed lockdowns across Europe and the United States of America (USA). This consequence could be a reduction in fossil fuel consumption and a downturn in oil prices in Q2 and Q3 depending on the pace of the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and the effectiveness of the vaccines in treating the emerging strains of the virus. Further country-by-country lockdowns in Q1 and Q2 of 2021 could prevent a global economic recovery and stretch recession blues much longer than was earlier expected with the accelerated production of COVID-19 fighting vaccines.
The new digital work culture accelerated by the global health pandemic may lead to permanent changes in the way people work, live, and even love. The prospective trends appear to be around the following:
Global Dynamics-A World on Ice
The world could become quickly unstuck in 2021 depending on how countries respond to the way COVID-19 influences their fiscal revenues and disrupts their ability to keep their factories humming. The expansion in global economies relies on businesses getting back on their feet but this would rest heavily on these economies not being shut down during the year. This outcome could be difficult to guarantee as most economies still live under the shadow of the virus and its many twists.
A rise in the virus spread would assure global lockdowns, manufacturing pullbacks, lower purchasing managers indices (PMIs), and lower global oil prices. For Nigeria, this would mean lower fiscal revenues, higher domestic tax rates, higher unemployment, and a ride in domestic food and headline inflate rates.
If the COVID-19 pandemic spread is contained and the new vaccines curb growth and facilitate recovery, economies will open, and factories will increase their raw material demand as supply chains reengage in pre-pandemic cycles and workers get sent back to their jobs. However, the question needs to be asked, how likely is this outcome?
Nobody can say for now how successful a vaccine would be in containing the spread of the virus. There are different expectations based more on hope than science. If the vaccine works well, then economies will revert to pre-COVID-19 outputs, incomes, and job rates within eighteen months. Nevertheless, this is conjecture rather than fact. A lot will depend on the vaccine's efficacy and the speed with which it is circulated and used. So far, judging from the distribution of the vaccine in the USA and Europe, enthusiasm appears mooted.
If the vaccine distribution fails to work quickly and effectively, then the world would have to skate on thin ice and hope that by some divine intervention or providence, the disease would spend itself out regardless of the lack of global viral protection. This outcome would be the least desirable and the least acceptable.
Assuming the COVID-19 bug is squashed the world would need time to mend as supply chains get back in gear and businesses wrench up their output and try to shake off the previous year's blues.
Fiscal Sustainability- Making Money, Clearing Debt
In 2021 most oil-producing countries would be hoping for a rise in revenues as the COVID-19 pandemic disappears, but for countries like Nigeria that export crude oil but import refined products the outlook is mixed. Even if COVID-19 winds blow past, and global production activities look up, Nigeria may not see much relief from its stronger oil income as a rise in dollar revenues would be accompanied by a rise in the dollar costs of refined oil imports.
The rise in revenue may, nevertheless, improve the countries debt servicing ability and support higher capital expenditure. The two events would revitalize the economy and bring about stronger GDP growth in 2021.
Uncertain FX Environment-Riding A Carousel
Nigeria's multiple exchange rate will subsist in 2021 with the CBN committed to managing the exchange rate within a band of between N470/US$ and N510/US$ at the import and export (I&E) window. The price of crude oil in the international markets and the management of the coronavirus pandemic will have a say in the shape of the foreign exchange market in the year as manufacturers decide on how much to commit to new inventories and recalibrate production volumes. Early distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine would improve the manufacturer's outlook and likely increase the demand for FX, but a slow distribution of the vaccine will slow down domestic and possibly international consumption resulting in lower input demands and lower pressure on the FX market. The likelier outcome for Nigeria would be that vaccine distribution would be slow, dragging into Q3 and Q4 for coverage of between 10% and 20% of the population.
Stringent Fiscal and Monetary Policy Posture- Navigating A Trilemma
The unspoken rule between the governing and the governed in Nigeria is canceled. Since independence Nigerian governments have refused to tax citizens commensurate with the demands of fiscal prudence while the citizens have refused to insist on fiscal accountability from the managers of the nation's fiscal resources, especially oil revenues. This unspoken oath of complicity has been broken. The fall in international oil prices and a sustained rise in fiscal spending has forced the central fiscal authorities to contemplate a widening of the tax band and the raising of local taxes. This has meant that domestic tax revenues will increase but citizen's oversight over fiscal spending will also be more aggressive. A recent example is a legal action taken by the socio-economic rights and accountability project (SERAP) to compel the federal government to explain how it spent N729bn on 24.3m people. The opaqueness of fiscal operations will increasingly come into question in 2021 as citizens who will have to pay more taxes will insist on knowing how those tax naira are used.
As the fiscal authorities increase taxes the monetary authority will be caught in a quandary, to raise interest rates to curb inflation or to allow interest rates fall to stimulate growth? The monetary authority will be damned if it raises rates and it will be damned if it does not. The outlook for the CBN in 2021 is unpleasant. The country's GDP by Proshare estimation will grow to be roughly +1.3% in 2021 but this would be well behind the population growth rate of +2.6%. The implications of mild GDP growth and a speedier population growth rate is a fall in income per person and a decline in individual spending and private consumption.
Rising taxes and falling real incomes will deliver a double whammy on consumers in 2021, leaving them much worse of in the year than they were in 2020. The policy options for the federal authorities are limited as they have maxed out on monetary policy options and are in a bind over the extent to which taxes can be increased in a recessionary or modestly growing economy. Will CBN's heterodoxy help in 2021? Time will tell (see Illustration 49).
Illustration 49: CBN Heterodoxy, A Shift in 2021?
Constrained Productivity- Fighting to Make Work Pay
A key buzzword in 2021 will be productivity. The absence of productivity is partly at the heart of the country's economic woes. Nigeria is a nation that has rested on oil revenue without bothering to develop its industrial and technological base for over six decades of independence. The gains that were made in the early and late 1960s have been dissipated. The output per head of the country at US$ is among the lowest in the world and suggests a country locked in a dependency trap. As citizens suffer from an entitlement bias the fiscal authorities suffer from oil revenue lactation bias, indeed, like babies clinging to their mother's breasts, the federal government grips revenues from the oil sector as if its life depends on it. What has been called the 'feeding bottle economy' has severed the cord between productivity and expected income, hence smashing the time-worn rational assumptions of economists that pay is the reward for productive effort. Given the mind-numbing earnings of politicians and the difficulty to explain the work ethic they exhibit, work and wages do not come into logical alignment. The same disparity is seen in the private sector where executive salaries and the pay-packet of shopfloor workers continue to move in opposite directions with C-suite executive's remuneration soaring and staff incomes either remain flat or grow at a significantly slower pace than their bosses. In Proshare's CEO Remuneration report 2020 it was noted on page 97 that, "There has been an uptick in public concern over the nexus between executive and productivity, analysts have found it increasingly difficult to pair C-suite bonuses with executive value addition. Behavioural economists contend that paying CEOs and other corporate executivesâ€™ large bonuses to increase productivity may not necessarily bring the bacon home, as the link between bonuses and white-collar productivity is at best tenuous".
However, beyond pay and pain analysts note that expansion of money supply should bring down interest rates in 2021 and spur output as intervention spending in 2020 begins to influence manufacturing and commercial sector output. A few problems, nevertheless, exist. Nigeria suffers from high import dependency, low domestic manufacturing, low agricultural efficiency, and high economic rent imposed by non-state actors distorting the workings of the local economy, hence creating inefficiencies and ineffectiveness.
Economies of scale are often impossible to achieve as manufacturers are held back by the high cost of local financing, supply-side disruptions, and the practices of state and non-state actors that tend to increase unofficial taxes and logistic costs.
Accelerated Credit Penetration-Getting Loans to the Lonely
A major factor in the prospective economic rebound in 2021 would be the expansion of credit to the domestic economy. The problem is that most credit is concentrated in a narrow number of companies and individuals, thereby keeping most MSMEs outside the formal credit loop. This is changing with many fintech companies taking up the role of providing credit through digital platforms. The problem here is that identity confirmation although easier with customers now having unique bank verification numbers (BVNs), loan default rates remain high as consumer and retail credit require a long history of credit assessment and a better credit default algorithm. The identification problem may be a strong foot in the door to better consumer and SME lending, but credit appraisal and credit recovery processes are still weak and need to be tightened.
Indeed big corporates and high net worth individuals in Nigeria show a poor attitude towards credit repayment. It is little wonder that only 350 people and institutions are responsible for over N3.6trn of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria's (AMCON's) delinquent loan assets outstanding as of 2020.
Companies such as LAPO and ACCION microfinance banks have had a less terrible time with loans with recovery rates above 95% of their loan assets outstanding. The fintech companies will need to find ways of leveraging MFB-style lending practices to reduce deterioration of their balance sheets and obliteration of their profit and loss accounts.
Technology will serve as a loan asset accelerant, but this can morph into a combustible situation if the framework around digital lending is not strengthened and made more dependent on big data and machine learning.
Cautious Private Sector Investment Activity-Marching in Slow Motion
Investors will return to the Nigerian market in 2021, but how much will flow into the economy will depend on how the federal government handles pertinent issues such as multiple exchange rates, excessive fiscal borrowing from the CBN, local security, taxes FX repatriation, and local money market rates.
From US$1.46bn in Q3 2020, Proshare expects capital importation to rise to US$2.4bn in 2021. The rise in capital importation will depend heavily on how well the government handles the COVID-19 vaccination programme and the combination of domestic fiscal and monetary policies it adopts.
Emerging Digital Economy-Here Come the Algorithms
The digital economy was something of sci-fi fiction but not anymore. Companies that do not ride the digital rodeo will bite the dust. The digital economy redefines social and business relationships and accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. With person-to-person contact becoming an inconvenient necessity rather than a social norm the digital universe has mutated. Businesses now spend more time sending digital messages between themselves, commercial retail activities are run on business-to-customer (B2C) platforms and businesses are getting comfortable with business-to-business (B2B) interfaces. Even government services are being increasingly processed on dedicated websites with government-to-citizen (G2C) interfaces growing.
With tremendous quantities of data on citizens available to governments at different levels it only stands to reason that governments should be the largest patrons of big data, machine learning, and data mining. The reduction in the human interface in conducting government business would reduce revenue leakages, cut down processing delays, remove data error and limit corruption.
With the changing population demography with digital natives dominating the citizenry, the shift to a digital economy is a natural and inevitable progression. Both Gen X and Gen Y operate on a plane different from an earlier generation, they are more causes motivated, irreverent, impatient, and technically adept. This means that the slow human interfaces of the past cannot simply meet the cut, systems must become more bespoke, customer-centric and service quality-driven, and delivery time-sensitive.
The new generation is wired with 'hustle' as a part of its DNA meaning that the transition from activity sets must be seamless and efficient. Producers of goods and services that are unaware of the sea change in their customer base will be caught unawares with their trousers hanging around their ankles as faster, and more prepared competitors surf the wave of a new consumerism, pre-empting demand and exceeding expectations. Banks seem to be getting the message (see Illustration 50)
Illustration 50: Banks and the New Consumerism
Socio-Political Threats- The Search for Balance
As technology works its wonders as changes the way people interact with the world, it hides other less remarkable and comfortable developments. The increasing tension among Nigeria's ethnic nationalities creates a sense of instability that could discourage capital importation (average of US$2.3bn in 2020) and diaspora remittances (average of US$22bn annually in the last five years).
The problem cannot be resolved by the traditional approach of papering over the fault lines and pretending that the concept of 'indivisibility' is a creed written on a stone tablet. The socio-political challenge reflects a sense of insecurity, inequity, and imbalance. The political superstructure creates a tripod in which the so-called ethnic groups contest for political dominance in which the winner takes all. The winner takes all approach to governance serves as an accelerant to forces pulling the country apart. If the country is to achieve a political framework that promotes growth and development, there must be a formula that brings about a smarter balance.
The adopted American system of administration does not align with the details of the Nigerian constitution which is unitary rather than federal. The unitary nature of the constitution is reflected in the long exclusive list and the shortlist of concurrent items involving subnational governments. If Nigeria is to achieve sustainable growth within a stable political framework, this must change. Politicians from both sides of the aisle must be prepared to amend the constitution to devolve power to sub-nationals whether as states or as regions. The devolution must be both political and fiscal.
The assumption of peace as a natural state of man is wrong, peace is forged from force or compromise. Peace forged by force bears the seeds of its destruction as the continued internal suppression will give rise to movements that will give birth to insurrection. For people to want to live together in peace uncompelled by the overbearing authority of a central government is the hallmark of nationhood. It is the recognition of this that has doused the tension of Northern Island and Scotland in the United Kingdom, it is the lack of understanding of this that has sparked the desire for the independence of Catalonia from Spain.
With resources becoming scarcer and a younger generation of Nigerians becoming increasingly aspirational, the politicians in Nigeria will in 2021 need to consider major constitutional reviews. The conflicts between farmers and cattle herders are ones that cannot be resolved outside an equitable political arrangement that balances the interest of both parties. Everybody's rights stop where the other individual's nose begins, arguments about traditional routes for grazing is unacceptable within modern realities. Efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity require that meat tending, and production be done in ways that are consistent with international best practices. Nobody puts a Volkswagen Beetle engine into a Maserati and competes for speed. Nigeria is in a race with time and cannot afford the avoidable distractions of ethnic conflicts and political grandstanding.
Agriculture must equally be upgraded with farmers obtaining a certificate of occupancy (C of O) for their farms with appropriately registered titles, thereby eliminating claims of farmlands not belonging to anyone. Resting on tradition as a basis for ownership of farmland cannot be considered reasonable in a modern economy running to play catchup.
Greater fiscal autonomy of the state entities within Nigeria would douse socioeconomic and political tension amongst the nationalities and promote stability and peace which in turn would facilitate larger investments from domestic and foreign investors. With sub-nationals having more control of resources the competition amongst the governments would ensure higher standards of living, improved resource use, and better political choices by electorates based on competence rather than the hijack of offices by political buccaneers and freeloaders.
The contest for the centre should be a battle for influencing national policy in the interest of every ethnic nationality. At the subnational level citizens press for governance that meets their expectations of a better life and superior livelihoods. At the level of security, it should be localized. This is the best practice for countries with diverse ethnic nationalities. The localization of security largely removes the problem of ethnic bias and allows the security agency to build networks of unofficial intelligence. The alleged use of the army to enforce the will of a particular section of the country on another section cannot bode well for ethnic relationships.
In 2021 politicians must make peace with sensible conduct. They must be prepared to break the mould of past biases and rework the Nigerian constitution in the overall interest of a country struggling for identity, peace, and purpose.
Consumer Pressure Points-Beyond Politics
Outside the murky realms of politics and governance, people continue to live their lives with expectations, wants, and needs, this is captured in the emerging consumer pressure points.
The fact that the demography of the country has a high number of fairly young people means a shift in the consumer pressure points. The kinds of goods and services required, and their quality would be meaningly different from a few decades ago. The new consumer is more demanding, less patient, and prefers to be able to serve him or herself. The new consumer is, therefore, less dependent on third-person support and more confident in carrying out the job personally.
Consumers in 2021 will want to see goods that can be made or delivered on-demand (a boon to online shopping malls and food suppliers as orders become tuned to online demand cycles which can be configured into personalized algorithms that pre-empt consumer needs).
With banking services, books, learning, and entertainment increasingly moving online the new consumer is a digital beast, living from a handheld device or a laptop. The younger Nigerian in 2021 can dissociate from constraining personal contact and run successful businesses with the tap of digital buttons. The Lagos state government is showing the way in feeding into this new social dynamic by laying over 3,000 kilometres of fibre optic cables around the state to ensure a faster and stable internet connection across the state.
More governments and corporations will need to climb the digital loop to provide services and goods more efficiently and effectively by building strong B2C and G2C relationships that enhance consumers' interfaces and experiences (UI/UX). Being comfortable with the past gives warm feelings but will not add to the bottom line.
Illustration 51: Gen Z as the New Consumer
The consumer pressure points of 2021 will be compelling and crushing as young people seek walkarounds economic disruption and political tensions.
The 10 mega moves in 2021 will be a potpourri of the subtly consequential and the brazenly recognisable (see Illustration 52).
Illustration 52: Mega Moves and Mammoth Movements
Downloadable Version of Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021, Understanding the Mega Trends of a Crucial Year for an Economy Report (PDF)
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