* Budgeted spending to rise 19 pct in 2013
* Actual spending expected to continue climbing -analysts
* Likely to sustain strong economic growth
* Focus on health, education, infrastructure
* Budget surplus to fall but remain large
By Angus McDowall and Andrew Torchia
RIYADH/DUBAI, Dec 29 Saudi Arabia has set a
record state budget for next year as high oil prices allow heavy
spending on welfare and infrastructure projects, helping it
avoid the severe social unrest seen in other parts of the Arab
The government plans to spend 820 billion riyals ($219
billion) in 2013, Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf said as he
presented the budget to King Abdullah on Saturday.
That amount is 19 percent higher than the 690 billion riyals
that the world's largest oil exporter budgeted for 2012. It is
slightly below the estimated 853 billion riyals that the
government actually spent this year, but analysts said actual
spending was on track to continue climbing in 2013.
"The 2013 budget points to a continued strong expansionary
fiscal stance," said Monica Malik, chief economist at investment
bank EFG-Hermes in Dubai, who predicted actual spending would
rise by 10 percent or more next year.
Saudi Arabia traditionally makes conservative projections
for both spending and oil revenue, leaving room for actual
expenditure and budget surpluses to come in much larger than
"Spending is still following an expansionary policy ... If
oil prices go below $70, then there can be a problem, but even
then what is reassuring is that there are very high foreign
reserves that serve as a cushion," Saudi economist Abdulwahab
Abu Dahesh said.
He was referring to the Saudi central bank's net foreign
assets, which expanded to a record 2.35 trillion riyals in
October this year.
RAMPING UP SPENDING
Riyadh has been aggressively ramping up spending for several
years to ease domestic political tensions and because it wants
to diversify the economy away from heavy dependence on oil, in
case of a future plunge in global oil prices.
Capital spending totals 285 billion riyals in the 2013
budget, much of it going to projects such as ports, railroads
and water resources. Expenditure on education and health is also
set to increase sharply.
Fahd Alturki, senior economist for Riyadh-based Jadwa
Investment, said that after several years of big spending rises,
the economy was starting to find it harder to respond to
additional government money.
Nevertheless, he predicted the budget would help Saudi
Arabia grow strongly next year, especially in sectors that
depend on domestic demand such as retail and telecommunications.
The country is already enjoying a private sector boom. Gross
domestic product, adjusted for inflation, expanded 6.8 percent
this year, the finance ministry said. The private sector shot up
7.5 percent, outpacing state sector growth of 6.2 percent.
The government raised its estimate of GDP growth in 2011 to
8.5 percent from 7.1 percent, without explaining why the belated
revision, which was due to the completion of a census, was so
Next year's budget plan envisages revenue of 829 billion
riyals, which implies a small budget surplus of just 9 billion
riyals. But if global oil prices stay above $100 a barrel, the
actual 2013 surplus will be far larger.
While the 2012 budget originally envisaged revenues of 702
billion riyals, they actually amounted to an estimated 1.24
The budget document did not reveal the oil price level that
Riyadh is assuming for next year, but Malik at EFG-Hermes
calculated that the budget implied an oil price of around $64-67
per barrel, with average Saudi oil production of about 9.5
million barrels per day.
Data released by the finance ministry on Saturday indicated
the government posted a budget surplus of 14.2 percent of GDP
this year. Malik predicted the surplus would declined to 7.4
percent next year - still one of the highest in the world.