By Chijioke Ohuocha
LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria's trade deficit narrowed in the second quarter boosted by a currency float in June lifting exports, the national bureau of statistics said on Tuesday, but the rise was not enough to help the economy avoid a recession.
Africa's largest economy entered a recession in the second quarter, after persistent low oil prices hammered vital public finances and the naira, prompting foreign investors to flee bond and equities markets, which caused chronic dollar shortages.
The central bank floated the currency in June to ease dollar shortages and preserve its dwindling reserves. It allowed the naira to tumble 30 percent on the day of the float from its 16-month pegged rate of 197 per dollar.
The currency move helped Nigeria's trade balance gain some ground to stand at minus 196.5 billion naira in the second quarter, the NBS said from minus 351.3 billion naira in the first quarter ($1.1 billion - $600.5 million).
"The improvement in export value is largely due to the depreciation in the value of the naira," it said in a statement. "This development arose from a rise of 63.3 percent in the value of exports largely due to exchange rate gains combined with a rise of 38.1 percent in the value of imports against the levels recorded in the preceding quarter."
The naira has since lost 16 percent since June on a lack of hard currency liquidity and as foreign investors stay on the sidelines, leaving the central bank as the main supplier of dollars.
Total trade between April and June stood at 3.94 trillion naira, up 49 percent from the three months to March. The NBS said exports were dominated by crude oil, which contributed 79.7 percent of total exports of 1.87 billion naira.
Imports rose 38.1 percent in the second quarter to 2.07 billion naira.
The bulk of Nigeria's imports were machinery and appliances, vehicles and aircraft parts and petroleum products. They came mostly from China, Netherlands, United States and India. Intra African imports accounted for 4.3 percent of the total.
($1 = 327.25 naira)
(Editing by Ulf Laessing and Ralph Boulton)