(Rewrites with FX reserves, traders comment, background)
By Chijioke Ohuocha and Oludare Mayowa
LAGOS, March 31 Nigeria's forex reserves fell to
a two-week low and the naira eased on the black market on Friday
after the central bank pledged to step up dollar sales but also
said it would announce a new currency rate for retail exchange
bureaus next week.
The central bank on Tuesday set a rate of 362 naira for
exchange bureaus to sell the U.S. currency to consumers, an 11
percent rise in the local currency from the last setting in
The bank, which opposes a free naira float, has been selling
the U.S. currency on the official market to try to narrow the
spread with the black market rate, which was quoted at a record
low of 520 per dollar a month ago.
On Friday the black market naira, which has
firmed 17 percent since last month due to central bank dollar
sales on the official market aimed at narrowing the spread,
eased 1.8 percent to 390 naira, Thomson Reuters data showed.
The naira held its level at 306.35 to the dollar after the
central bank sold $1.5 million on the spot market.
The central bank said late on Thursday it would increase the
amount it offers to exchange bureaus to $10,000 per member from
$8,000 but would announce a new rate on April 3.
Traders say the new rate announcement had created
uncertainty and caused the naira to trade weaker on the black
But dollar buffers have started to decline. Traders estimate
that the bank has sold more than $1 billion in currency forwards
since last month to boost liquidity.
Nigeria's dollar reserves, which have risen 16.1 percent
since the start of the year, stood at $30.29 billion by March
29, but are still far off their peak of $64 billion, hit in
August 2008, central bank data showed.
The International Monetary Fund on Thursday urged Nigeria to
lift its remaining foreign exchange restrictions and scrap its
system of multiple exchange rates in order to revive its
economy, which is in its first recession in 25
(Editing by Gareth Jones)