February 24, 2014 / 10:37 AM / in 4 years

UPDATE 1-Nigerian markets stabilise, offshore investors on sidelines

(Adds bonds, details, background)

LAGOS, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The Nigerian naira fell 0.5 percent on Monday while yields on government debt were broadly stable, as offshore investors remained on the sidelines even as dealers said turbulence at the central bank had largely been priced in locally.

The local currency has been under heavy selling pressure since President Goodluck Jonathan suspended internationally respected central bank governor Lamido Sanusi on Thursday, removing an increasingly outspoken critic of the government’s record on tackling corruption.

The naira was trading at 166.20 to the dollar at 1005 GMT.

Dealers said much of the panic of the last two days was starting to subside, especially since the central bank had shown willingness to intervene to prop up the naira.

Markets have been panicked over the suspension of Sanusi, whose policies are credited with stabilising the naira and bringing down inflation in Africa’s second-biggest economy to single digits. The currency fell to a record low on Thursday of 169 to the dollar, until the bank intervened to prop it up.

It was at 164.05 to the dollar before the news, so even after two interventions it is more than 1 percent down.

“People are still cautious,” said one currency dealer. “Offshore investors are on the sidelines, waiting for the storm to calm down before they come back again.”

For some local players, that reticence was a buying opportunity. Local pension funds bought up debt being sold off by foreign investors, with the result that the benchmark 10-year government bond yield was stable at around 13.8 percent, or about 10 basis points below Friday’s close.

Other maturities were also broadly stable.

Acting central bank governor Sarah Alade sought to calm the markets on Friday, pledging to maintain Sanusi’s monetary policies and keep the naira within its target band of 150-160 to the dollar. Zenith Bank managing director Godwin Emefiele has been named to take over in June.

Sanusi, whose term was due to end in June, had been presenting evidence to parliament that he said showed the state oil company Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) failed to remit $20 billion it owed to government coffers.

NNPC has repeatedly denied Sanusi’s allegations.

Longer term, it is doubtful foreign investors will turn off Nigeria, always a turbulent place to invest but still highly alluring because of its oil wealth, potentially massive consumer market and dynamic economy. (Reporting by Tim Cocks and Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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