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LAGOS, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Currency market liquidity in Nigeria is set to remain challenging in the second half of 2016 due to low oil prices, which could push up credit risks for lenders as naira weakness makes loans harder to service, a central bank report said.
The central bank said the move to a flexible exchange rate regime had led to a sharp fall in the naira and contributed to the decline in asset quality for the banking sector.
"Although the outlook for the rest of the year appears to be challenging, the current measures put in place ... are expected to minimize the impact of shocks to the domestic economy," the bank said in its half-year financial stability report.
Nigeria floated the naira currency in June to conserve foreign reserves, resolve a chronic dollar shortage, and lure investors who fled as a slump in oil prices pushed the economy into its first recession for 25 years.
Dollar scarcity has persisted after the 16-month-old peg of 197 naira per dollar was lifted, however, frustrating businesses which need dollars to pay for imports.
The naira has weakened to as low as 485 per dollar on the black market in recent weeks while holding firm at around 305 on the official market, supported by central bank interventions.
The government's statistics office on Wednesday said the economy was likely to shrink by 1.3 percent in 2016, a sharp downward revision of its estimates prompted by the naira's fall after dollar peg was dropped.
Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele has told depositors and investors not to panic about the state of the banking system, saying he was on top of any trouble resulting from the worst crisis in Africa's biggest economy for decades.
But Nigeria's 21 banks have been laying off staff, closing branches and slashing earnings forecasts as the economic crisis worsens. The regulator said credit risk could rise into the second half due to higher loan charges and debtors' inability to service dollar borrowing, particularly oil and gas loans.
"The increasing quantum of non-performing loans posed a major concern for regulators in the review period," the central bank said on Wednesday, adding that it has enhanced supervision of loans to the oil and gas sector and the currency market.
Non-performing loans (NPL) are expected to rise in the second half, after they hit 11.7 percent in the first half, above the central bank's 5 percent limit, the monetary authority said. NPLs stood at 5.3 percent at the end of last year.
Loans to the oil and gas sectors accounted for almost a third of total bank lending while consumer credit declined owing to weak demand and increased risk aversion, the regulator said.
Tumbling oil markets since mid-2014 have forced Nigerian lenders, which have long thrived on business loans to the energy sector and government bond investments, to adapt their business models at short notice.
$1 = 304.25 naira Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Catherine Evans