Nigerian first-quarter output improved

Abuja - Nigeria’s economy, which contracted in 2016, performed better in the first three months of this year than during the previous three quarters on improved oil production and factory output, according to Statistician-General Yemi Kale.

"From the numbers we are seeing, certainly things are improving, and if the data doesn’t show Nigeria out of recession, it will show Nigeria is on its way out of recession," Kale, who is also chief executive of Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, said in an interview at his Abuja-based office on Thursday.

Gross domestic product for the three months through March "might be close to the first-quarter numbers, whether positive or negative," Kale said, referring to the first quarter of 2016 when the economy contracted 0.4%.

The statistics agency plans to release its first quarter GDP report on May 30.

Nigeria’s economy, which vies with South Africa’s to be the continent’s largest, shrank by 1.3% in the fourth quarter, after contracting 2.2% in the previous three months, partly due to a decline in oil, the country’s biggest export.

That translated into the West African nation’s economy shrinking by 1.5% in 2016, the first full-year contraction in a quarter century.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on April 5 announced a four-year plan to help the economy recover, create 15 million jobs and grow at 7% by 2020.

S&P Global Ratings spared the nation a downgrade last month, and said rising crude output and government spending may help the economy grow by 1.5% this year.

"I can state categorically, the numbers suggest things are improving," Kale said.

Oil production and factory output improved in the first quarter, while farming and telecoms sectors maintained growth, and other non-oil sectors were under less pressure than previously, according to Kale.

"Whether or not the improvement is strong enough to turn into a positive, I can’t speculate," he said.

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