(Bloomberg) -- Nigeria’s central bank may delay repayments of foreign exchange to domestic lenders as an acute shortage of dollars in Africa’s largest economy forces the regulator to ration hard currency, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

Rated commercial lenders in the West African nation have placed about $10.4 billion with the central bank in the form of derivative transactions including swaps and forwards, Moody’s analysts including Mik Kabeya and Lynn Merhi said in a report on Thursday. Because of the shortage of foreign currency, there’s a risk the central bank may temporarily prolong those contracts beyond their original maturity date, they said.

“A material delay in repayment could well lead to the banks facing their own foreign-currency shortages and could constrain their ability to repay their own foreign-currency liabilities,” the analysts said.

Nigeria’s central bank has had to ration dollars to reduce pressure on its reserves, which declined from a peak of $62 billion 15 years ago to about $36.6 billion in December as crude production in Africa’s biggest oil-producing nation dropped amid rampant theft, vandalism and falling investment. Oil exports account for about 80% of the country’s foreign-exchange income.

Several commercial lenders, conscious of a potential repayment delay, in recent years reduced the duration of the derivative contracts and the size of the amounts placed with the central bank, cutting their tenor to 12 months from 24 months, Moody’s said. 

The central bank’s “strong track record” of repaying its foreign-exchange derivative obligations may moderate any roll-over risk, it said.

“Most Nigerian banks have a successful track record of recalling these foreign-currency assets placed with the central bank,” Moody’s said.

(Updates with latest reserves data in fourth paragraph.)

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