A trader counts a pile of naira notes in Abuja, Nigeria. File picture: Suzanne Plunkett

INTERNATIONAL – Foreign investors sold off Nigerian stocks valued at 642.65 billion naira (R29bn) last year, stock exchange data showed, 48 percent more than in 2017 as worries over weak growth amidst lower oil prices depressed sentiment.

Risk aversion triggered by interest rate rises in the United States reversed capital flows to frontier markets including Nigeria, coupled with mounting political risk in the run-up to elections next month, accelerated losses for the stock market.

The exchange put the value of transactions by foreign investors at 1.219 trillion naira last year, compared with 1.208 trillion naira at the end of 2017.

Stock exchange chief executive Oscar Onyema has said market sentiment in the first half of 2019 would be driven by oil prices and election risk. But government spending to boost recovery following a 2016 recession could lift stocks by the second half.

The main index, which was flat on Tuesday, has fallen 2 percent so far this year. It shed 17.81 percent in 2018 after a strong rally the previous year.

Foreign investors increased the pace of stock market outflows from May, selling out of the relatively liquid banking, consumer and oil sectors as the capital flight worsened, putting pressure on the local naira currency.

OPEC member Nigeria suffered severe dollar shortages after prices of crude, its top export and main source of foreign exchange, plunged in late 2014, prompting the introduction of capital controls in 2015.

It now has multiple exchange rates against the US currency and has been selling the dollar on the interbank market to boost liquidity after floating the naira for investors.

Reuters