Venezuela’s Economy Grew 5.5% in Fourth Quarter From Year Ago

Venezuela’s economy grew more than economists expected in the fourth quarter as a social housing program that formed the cornerstone of President Hugo Chavez’s re-election bid fueled the construction sector.

Gross domestic product expanded 5.5 percent in the October through December period from a year earlier, the central bank said today, after growth of 5.2 percent in the third quarter. Growth exceeded the 4.6 percent median forecast of eight analysts in a Bloomberg survey. The economy expanded 5.6 percent in 2012.

Chavez defeated opposition challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski by 11 percentage points after ramping up real spending 20.5 percent in the first nine months of the year. The economy may contract this year after Chavez’s government devalued the bolivar 32 percent Feb. 13. Inflation-adjusted spending fell 11.2 percent between the election and year-end, according to Bank of America Corp.

“This is still the effect of pre-election spending,” Francisco Rodriguez, an economist at Bank of America Corp., said in a phone interview from New York. “Growth will taper off entering into the first quarter of 2013, because of the strong spending contraction in the previous quarter.”

Banking, construction and commerce fueled growth in the fourth quarter by expanding 33.9 percent, 10 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively.

Venezuela posted a current account gap of $598 million, down from a surplus of $2.26 billion in the third quarter, while the capital account recorded a $4.73 billion surplus.

Venezuela’s oil sector, which provides about 95 percent of export revenue to the government, rose 1.1 percent while the non-oil sector 5.4 percent.

The public sector grew 3.7 percent and private sector 5.6 percent after manufacturing expanded 2.4 percent, the bank said.

Chavez, 58, hasn’t been seen in public since undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba Dec. 11. He returned to a military hospital in Caracas Feb. 18 after spending more than two months in Havana.

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