(Adds details, naira close, Jan FX sales)
By Chijioke Ohuocha
LAGOS, March 2 Nigeria's central bank sold a
total of $989.6 million to importers and retail customers in
January with commercial banks allocating them at rates as low as
466.75 naira, a record low by banks for sales to customers,
This was prior to central bank's decision in February to
sell dollars to Nigerians wanting to pay for travel, foreign
medical bills or school fees at around 20 percent above the
official rate of 305.
Nigeria has been running short of dollars as a result of
lower global prices for oil, its major export. The economy
shrank last year for the first time in quarter of a
The shortage has weakened the naira on the black market,
where it trades far lower than the official interbank rate.
The January figures also showed that Nigeria's Access Bank
exchanged $50 million with U.S. lender JP Morgan
at 400 naira per dollar and another $100 million with
South Africa's ABSA at 329 naira.
It showed a range of between 257.50 and 466.75 naira for
dollar allocations in January.
One commercial bank sold the dollar as low as 466.75 naira
for school fees while another sold at 257.5 for spare parts in
January. The central bank settled some futures contract at 274
naira per dollar at the January sale.
Last week the bank sold a total of $780 million in forward
contracts to support the naira after effectively devaluing the
naira for individuals, offering to sell them dollars at about
half the premium the black market charges.
On Thursday it said it will sell forward contracts on the
dollar via a book-building process to clear dollar demand for
importers but not disclose how much was on offer.
Though the central bank has stepped up dollar supply in
recent days the local currency still trades at a more-than 30
percent premium on the black market.
The naira officially closed at 305.25 on Thursday after the
central bank intervened to prop up the naira on the interbank
market, traders said. However, the currency lost some grounds on
the black market, quoted 458 per dollar.
(Additional reporting by Oludare Mayowa; Editing by Jermey