* Chavez government’s pre-election spending underpins growth
* Eighth consecutive quarterly GDP growth for OPEC member
* Government expects 6 pct growth for 2013, economists unsure
By Eyanir Chinea and Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s economy grew 5.2 percent in the third quarter of this year, officials said on Tuesday, leaving President Hugo Chavez’s government comfortably on track to achieve its annual growth target of 5.0 percent.
Hefty state spending has underpinned growth this year in South America’s largest oil exporter, and helped the socialist Chavez win re-election in October for another six-year term.
Economists say Venezuela could, however, face a post-election “hangover” and lower economic growth in 2013 given the cowed state of a private sector harried for years by Chavez and an inevitable slowing of spending by the government.
Venezuelans are also widely expecting a devaluation around the New Year or in early 2013, given that the bolivar currency is trading on the black market at nearly four times the official rate of 4.3 to the dollar.
Central Bank President Nelson Merentes and Finance Minister Jorge Giordani made no reference to that, but did repeat their rosy forecasts of 6.0 percent growth for 2013 at a news conference.
“Venezuela has entered a new phase of growth - stable and sustainable,” Giordani said.
The July-September figures compared with 5.4 percent growth in the second quarter and gave the OPEC member nation overall expansion of 5.6 percent in the first nine months.
It was the eighth consecutive quarter of gross domestic product growth since a recession linked to the global crisis.
Venezuela’s oil sector grew 1.1 percent in the third quarter, compared to the same period of last year, whereas the non-oil sector expanded 5.4 percent.
Construction grew 12.6 percent overall, benefiting from a boost in public works and a massive house-building program started by Chavez to coincide with the election.
Yet within that, public sector residential construction soared 31.2 percent, whereas total housing construction rose only 0.8 percent -- signaling that private house-building plummeted.
Officials did not give that figure.
The Central Bank also reported a narrower third quarter current account surplus of $3.55 billion compared with $6.96 billion during the same period a year ago.
Non-oil exports dropped 30 percent to a paltry $816 million, whereas imports rose 17 percent to $13.9 billion, underlining Venezuela’s continuing dependence on crude.
Full statistics were available on the Central Bank’s web site at:and