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Saudi GDP seen to grow 2% in ’15 even as Q4 growth shrinks

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JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia's economic growth fell to its lowest level in more than a year in the fourth quarter of 2014, a sign that the plunge in oil prices may be causing growth to slow, data from the state statistics office showed on Wednesday.

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, expanded 2.0 percent from a year earlier last quarter, down from 2.4 percent in the third quarter and 4.9 percent in the final quarter of 2013. For all of 2014, GDP grew 3.6 percent.

The statistics office changed the base year for its calculations to 2010 from 1999 previously, making it impossible to compare growth rates further back in time. The oil price slide has slashed Saudi Arabia's state revenues but will not affect GDP growth directly unless the volume of oil output changes. Saudi crude oil output has edged down only slightly in recent months, to 9.62 million barrels per day in December from 9.85 million bpd last June, according to a Reuters survey.

Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at London-based Capital Economics, said non-oil GDP may have been hit by a moderately negative impact on consumer sentiment from lower oil prices in the world's top oil exporter.

However, the government's 2015 budget projects a slight rise of state spending in nominal terms, and Riyadh has huge fiscal reserves which it can use to stimulate the economy. So analysts do not expect any further, sharp slowdown in GDP growth.

"There are no signs of a collapse in output," Tuvey said, adding that he expected GDP to grow around 2 percent in 2015.

This story was originally posted on the Saudi Gazette on Jan. 22, 2015.