Naira Falls Again on Black Market with Dollars Scarce

The Nigerian naira fell to a record low on the black market on Tuesday, with dollars scarce and speculation rife that the central bank would soon stop foreign currency sales to pay for health and education abroad, traders said.

The naira was quoted in a range of 347 to 352 against the dollar on the black market, as demand for dollars surged, weakening from 345 on Monday, traders said.

The central bank left its official rate unchanged at 197 naira to the dollar on its interbank window.

"Most individuals who sell to us are no longer willing, but demand is piling up," said Aminu Gwadabe, head of an association of bureau de change operators.

Last month, the central bank banned dollar sales to retail bureaux de change, sending the naira to record lows on the black market, and later stopped daily sales to the interbank market, in an effort to conserve reserves, now at their lowest in more than 11 years.

Some retail currency operators have few dollars in their vault and depend on other members to fill orders when they have excess demand, fuelling the weakness in the currency, traders say.

Nigeria earns around 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from crude oil exports, but mismanagement of its refineries means it must also import expensive refined fuel, eating deep into its reserves.

Reserves have fallen to $27.83 billion as of Feb. 12.