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Nigeria to overtake SA as top economy

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Johannesburg - South Africa is about to be seriously upstaged on the African continent. For several years economists have been waiting for a promised revision to Nigeria’s economic data that is expected to lift the economy to an entirely new level. The moment of truth is about to arrive.

Citi’s Africa economist, David Cowan, said last week that new figures due in December could boost the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 50 percent.

Based on the current data, Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy after South Africa, having overtaken Egypt in 2011. The International Monetary Fund puts Nigeria’s GDP this year at $292 billion (R2.8 trillion) and South Africa’s at $354bn.

Nigeria’s economy is growing much faster than South Africa’s: more than 6 percent this year compared with 2 percent. The gap between the two countries has been closing. And economists had forecast earlier that the country would overtake South Africa between 2020 and 2025.

But the new improved version of the data will see Nigeria leap ahead.

Earlier this year, Nigeria’s ThisDay newspaper said the new figure would “catapult Nigeria’s economy to $400bn”, moving it up the ranks of the middle-income countries.

The newspaper noted that, when Ghana’s GDP was updated in 2010, the size of its economy was found to be 60 percent bigger than previously recorded – $31bn, compared with $18bn.

Among other improvements to Nigeria’s new GDP series, it will be rebased, from 1990 possibly to 2008. According to ThisDay this is the first overhaul of the country’s GDP data since 1990.

During that time Nigeria has undergone major structural changes, which have radically affected the contributions of the various sectors to GDP. One of the factors behind the massive revision is the increased weighting of the exploding services sector.

A big jump in GDP means a bigger share for each of Nigeria’s 169 million people. ThisDay said the boost in per capita income would attract interest in consumer names in Nigeria, “from investors who are likely to extrapolate the effect of a seeming increase in purchasing power on such consumer stocks as Nestlé, Nigerian Breweries, Guinness, [Dangote] Flour Mills and PZ among others”.

In 2010, the McKinsey Global Institute forecast that consumer spending in Africa would reach $1.4 trillion in 2020, from about $860bn in 2008. Along with similar projections, this boosted interest in the consumer goods sectors of a number of countries. Cowan noted last week that listed consumer stocks in Lagos and Nairobi were already trading on a price to earnings ratio of 30 and suggested they were in bubble territory.

Another benefit of the data revision is that Nigeria’s public debt to GDP ratio, which stood at 18.7 percent at the end of last year, would drop to 10.5 to 14.5 percent, depending on the extent of the GDP revision, according to ThisDay.

Despite the major revamps, the figures for Nigeria and Ghana may still fall short of reality because of the difficulty of quantifying the activities of the informal sector. This deficit in the data makes cross-country comparisons deceptive.

Nigeria’s new status will improve its attractions to investors. Forbes magazine recently punted it as a rival to the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). It said Nigeria’s economy was more diversified than Russia’s and more closely resembled Brazil’s: “Rich in petroleum but blessed with other resources and a population that is only now starting to live up to their potential as consumers.” - Business Report


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