IMF lowers Saudi 2023 growth forecast to 2.6%

DUBAI, Jan 31 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has revised its 2023 growth forecast for Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, significantly downwards on the back of lower expected output.

Growth in the Arab world's biggest economy is now forecast at 2.6% in 2023, underperforming the wider region, and 1.1 percentage points below the IMF's October projection, weighing on overall growth among its neighbours.

"The downgrade for 2023 mainly reflects lower oil production in line with an agreement through OPEC+, while non-oil growth is expected to remain robust," the IMF said in a report.

Growth in the Middle East and central Asia region is projected to decline to 3.2% in 2023 from 5.3% in 2022, "mainly attributable to a steeper than expected growth slowdown in Saudi Arabia," it added.

High oil prices helped Saudi Arabia's fiscal balance tilt to its first surplus since 2013 last year, expected to be 2.6% of GDP. A consecutive, albeit narrower, surplus is forecast in 2023, clouded by global economic concerns and an uncertain oil demand outlook.

Saudi Arabia's economy grew by 5.4% in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to initial government estimates on Tuesday, but eased from 8.8% annual growth in the previous quarter, boosted by a 6.2% growth in non-oil activities.

Reporting by Rachna Uppal; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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