Canadian province Alberta sees economic improvement, trims deficit forecast

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Nov 24 (Reuters) - The Canadian oil-producing province of Alberta said on Tuesday that it was seeing the start of a modest economic recovery and trimmed its deficit estimate for the current fiscal year.

The C$21.3 billion ($16.36 billion) deficit, down from a C$24.2 billion estimate previously, would still be much larger than usual and reflects economic damage from the pandemic, Finance Minister Travis Toews said.

Travel restrictions related to the spread of COVID-19 have hammered global fuel demand, weighing on oil prices that generate much of Alberta’s economic activity and government revenue.

Toews said Alberta’s real gross domestic product looked to contract 8.1% in 2020, rather than the 8.8% contraction he previously forecast, and the economy looked to rebound with 4.4% growth next year.

Revenue for the current 2020-21 year is estimated at C$41.4 billion, up nearly $3 billion from an earlier estimate, topped up by federal transfers and improving oil prices.

Alberta forecast U.S. crude prices to average $36.40 per barrel in 2020-21, up from its previous estimate of $35.60.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government boosted its spending estimate by C$135 million to C$62.7 billion to fund pandemic-related costs and economic recovery plans.

Alberta announced in June it would accelerate a corporate tax cut and spend C$10 billion on infrastructure to jump-start its economy.

The province expects its taxpayer-supported debt to reach C$97.4 billion by March 31, 2021, the end of the current fiscal year, up C$23.3 billion from a year earlier. Alberta will draft a plan to balance the budget once the pandemic ends. ($1 = 1.3023 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg)