Saudi Arabia’s economy expanded 6.8% in the fourth quarter of 2021, maintaining the fastest pace of annual growth in almost a decade as high oil prices boost the kingdom’s income and drive its recovery from the shock of the pandemic.
Non-oil gross domestic product – the engine of job creation – gained 5% while the oil economy grew 10.8%, according to preliminary estimates released by the General Authority for Statistics on Thursday. Growth for the full year of 2021 was 3.3%, the authority said, slightly better than Saudi officials’ predictions of 2.9% growth.
The figures suggest that the omicron Covid-19 variant had a relatively limited economic impact in the world’s largest crude exporter, at least until January. The oil market helped, with Brent crude prices averaging nearly $80 a barrel in the fourth quarter.
Still, growth in the non-oil private sector lost momentum in the first month of this year as virus cases surged, with a Purchasing Managers’ Index compiled by IHS Markit falling from 53.9 in December to 53.2 in January.
Authorities have kept the economy largely open through the latest wave of the pandemic, mandating vaccine booster shots while continuing a series of major events dubbed “Riyadh Season.” Consumer spending in December was 1.8% higher than the same month two years ago, before the pandemic.