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In spite of depression woes, S’Africa’s banking system gets stable outlook

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It may not all be sad for news for South Africa’s economy which has just fallen into depression.

Moody’s has changed its outlook for the country’s banking system from negative to stable, the ratings agency said in a report issued on Tuesday.

In its report, Moody’s said the banks’ creditworthiness would remain resilient over the next 12 to 18 months, although they will face weakening operating conditions.

“Slow economic growth will hold back the banks’ new business and revenues,” the report read.

Economic growth is expected to remain weak given poor consumer spending, volatility in emerging market currencies as well as inflationary pressures. Moody’s recently cut the growth forecast for 2018 from 1.5% to between 0.7%.

Moody’s said SA bank credit risk profiles and problem loans would remain stable until the end of 2019. Capital is also expected to remain strong for the period. Further, funding and liquidity conditions will be stable.

However a challenging operating environment will suppress business opportunities and loan demand, exerting pressure on banks’ loan quality. Loan growth slowed to 2.1% in May 2018, compared to 2.5% in May 2017, according to Moody’s.

“We expect growth to remain subdued in 2018/19 because of weak demand, particularly as growth in mortgage loans has slowed. We also believe that banks have further tightened their lending criteria in response to the weak economy, which will further dampen loan growth by making it harder for borrowers to take on new credit,” Moody’s explained.

Read also: Nigeria may be headed for another recession as economy slows in Q2 2018

The lower loan growth is likely to impact net interest income. Increased costs for staff and digitalisation will also drag down net profitability, the report said.

Overall, earnings will be strained by slower revenue growth and higher operating expenses.

Although profitability has remained resilient, the low economic growth, rising competition from larger banks and fintechs could curb pricing power, and drive down revenue growth.

Moody’s expects return on assets and return on equity to come under pressure in 2018/19.

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Nigeria: Court insists Binance executive can face trial on behalf of firm

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In an ongoing tax evasion case, a Nigerian court decided on Friday that Binance executive, Tigran Gambaryan, may go to trial on the cryptocurrency exchange’s behalf.

Binance and executives Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and head of financial crimes compliance, and British-Kenyan national Nadeem Anjarwalla, a regional manager for Africa, face four counts of tax evasion. They are also accused of participating in specialized financial transactions without a license and laundering more than $35 million in another case.

All of them have entered not-guilty pleas on the allegations of money laundering. Following the court hearing on Friday, Binance’s attorney chose not to comment. The attorney for Gambaryan was similarly silent.

“We are deeply disappointed that Tigran Gambaryan, who has no decision-making power in the company, continues to be detained,” a Binance spokesperson said in a statement on Friday after the court hearing.

“These charges against him are completely meritless. He should be freed while discussions continue between Binance and Nigerian government officials.”

Gambaryan is still being held while Anjarwalla left the nation in March. The office of Nigeria’s security adviser has declared that it is collaborating with Interpol to pursue Anjarwalla’s detention.

After its executives were imprisoned as part of a crackdown on cryptocurrencies in February after being invited to the African nation for talks with officials, the CEO of Binance has warned Nigeria of establishing a dangerous precedent.

Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has announced that Gambaryan may face prosecution on behalf of the exchange; Binance has not been accused in the tax evasion case.

According to prior statements from Gambaryan’s attorney, Gambaryan was “neither a director, partner, nor company secretary” and did not have any formal authorization from Binance to take on the accusations on the firm’s behalf.

Judge Emeka Nwite decided on Friday that Gambaryan, who is Binance’s chief financial compliance officer and was lawfully designated to represent the company in a meeting in Nigeria, should be served with the charges against Binance.

On Wednesday, Gambaryan is scheduled to appear in court and enter a plea on Binance’s behalf. On Friday, Gambaryan’s request for bail in the money laundering case was turned down. As the nation struggled with ongoing dollar shortages, cryptocurrency websites became the go-to venues for trading the Nigerian naira. Nigeria has blamed Binance for its currency problems.

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Nigerian govt denies reports it plans to borrow pension fund for infrastructure

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The Nigerian government has denied reports that it plans to borrow the N20tn pension fund to finance infrastructural projects.

In a statement made in Abuja, Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, stated that the government would abide by the laws and guidelines in place pertaining to the pension fund.

Following a two-day Federal Executive Council meeting at the Presidential Villa on Tuesday, the minister reportedly informed reporters that the government would present a plan to use local funds, including the fund, to finance infrastructure development.

Edunstated that the government does not intend to exceed these legal boundaries, emphasising that the government was committed to protecting workers’ pensions.

“It has come to my notice that stories are making the round that the Federal Government plans to illegally access the hard-earned savings and pension contributions of workers. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

“The pension industry, like most the financial industries, is highly regulated. There are rules. There are limitations about what pension money can be invested in and what it cannot be invested in.

“The Federal Government has no intention whatsoever to go beyond those limitations and go outside those bounds which are there to safeguard the pensions of workers.

“What was announced to the Federal Executive Council was that there was an ongoing initiative drawing in all the major stakeholders in the long-term saving industry, those that handle funds that are available over a long period to see how, within the regulations and the laws; these funds could be used maximally to drive investment in key growth areas,” Edun clarified.

The plan to spend the pension fund was reported and was widely criticised. The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria and the Nigeria Labour Congress had earlier on Thursday urged the government to abstain from making any changes to the pension fund.

They stated, “Nigerian workers have entrusted their hard-earned savings for retirement security, not as a means for government projects. It is imperative to halt any further plans to tap into these funds, especially given the lack of transparency and accountability in past government borrowing practices.”

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