In the wake of significant economic policy changes, including the removal of fuel subsidies and the harmonization of foreign exchange rates in Nigeria, businesses across the spectrum are grappling with unprecedented challenges. Two months after these policy shifts, the impact is palpable, particularly among Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs), with many teetering on the brink of collapse. This article delves into the multifaceted repercussions of these changes and how businesses are navigating these turbulent waters.
A Challenging Landscape
SMEs in Distress
Small and Medium Scale Enterprises form the backbone of Nigeria’s economy, contributing significantly to its growth and employment opportunities. However, the removal of fuel subsidies and the harmonization of foreign exchange rates have left many SMEs struggling to stay afloat.
The instability triggered by these policies has thrown small businesses into disarray, and even large organizations are not immune to the repercussions. British multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology giant, GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK), recently announced the closure of its Nigerian subsidiary after decades of operation. This decision was underscored by a staggering decline in revenue, plummeting from N14.8 billion in 2022 to a mere N7.8 billion in 2023.
GSK’s plight is not an isolated case. Several prominent companies, including Nigerian Breweries, Airtel Africa plc, and Guinness Nigeria Plc, have borne the brunt of the foreign exchange policy changes. Nigerian Breweries reported a net loss of N70.6 billion in foreign exchange during the second quarter of 2023, pushing the year-to-date exchange rate losses to an alarming N85.2 billion. Airtel Africa plc, not far behind, reported a staggering loss of $151 million due to the foreign exchange rate harmonization in Nigeria. Guinness Nigeria Plc recorded a staggering N49 billion in exchange rate losses, as revealed in its full-year results for the period ending June 2023. Seplat Energy also suffered a substantial 51.7 percent decline in operating profit, falling from $245.3 million in the first six months of 2022 to $118.4 million in the same period of 2023.
Grim Outlook for the Informal Sector
The informal sector, which accounts for more than 55 percent of Nigeria’s economy, is grappling with even more devastating losses. Businesses in this sector are rapidly shutting down, leading to widespread economic repercussions.
Strategies for Survival
Economic analysts and experts are observing various strategies being employed by businesses to weather the storm. One such strategy is cost-cutting measures, including the reduction of working hours. Many enterprises are also shifting towards virtual channels for business transactions, effectively mitigating the impact of rising inflation. Import-dependent companies are reevaluating their activities to minimize currency risk and safeguard their operations.
Weathering the Storm
While the short-term impact of these structural adjustment policies is causing temporary discomfort, they are expected to rectify imbalances in the economy, transitioning it to a more market-driven model. Resources will be allocated through market mechanisms, enhancing overall efficiency.
Inflation, however, remains a concern as it erodes consumers’ purchasing power, leading to decreased turnovers and profitability for SMEs. High production costs further constrict their profits. Nonetheless, many SMEs exhibit flexibility, allowing them to reduce costs to adapt to these disruptions.
High taxes, especially in Lagos, are exacerbating the challenges faced by businesses. Local government tax collection has become aggressive, hindering businesses’ ability to accumulate capital. Survival now hinges on rigorous cost management, often resulting in staff reduction and the redistribution of taxes among remaining employees.
Erosion of Margins
The escalating cost of doing business is taking a toll on companies’ profit margins. As purchasing power weakens, businesses find it increasingly challenging to pass rising costs onto consumers. Many are now grappling with the erosion of their profit margins, with some barely breaking even and others selling at a loss just to maintain liquidity.
Hopes for the Future
Despite the prevailing challenges, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Economists anticipate that exchange rates will stabilize, bolstering confidence in the economy. The revival of domestic refineries and improved oil production are also expected to alleviate some of the existing hurdles.
The Nigerian government is taking steps to ease the burden on micro and small businesses, primarily by injecting funds into the sector. The promised N50,000 financial boost holds the potential to revitalize production and enhance economic stability. Additionally, measures to improve transportation infrastructure are in progress, which should ease the movement of goods and reduce costs for SMEs.
In the face of adversity, many micro and small businesses are adopting a collaborative approach. Joining cooperatives and forming clusters, they are pooling resources and sharing costs to weather the economic storm. Cooperative efforts are also extending to production and distribution, further reducing operational expenses.
In conclusion, the removal of fuel subsidies and the harmonization of foreign exchange rates in Nigeria have significantly impacted businesses, both large and small. While the short-term challenges are undeniable, they are seen as necessary steps to rebalance the economy and promote market-driven growth. As businesses navigate these turbulent waters, they are employing various strategies, including cost-cutting measures and collaborative efforts, to ensure their survival.
The road ahead may be fraught with challenges, but with government support, improved economic stability, and the resilience of Nigerian businesses, there is optimism that they will emerge from this period stronger and more resilient.