The UAE's public finances swung into a surplus of 2.9 percent of economic output in 2011 after two years of deficits as robust oil income offset an increase in government spending, a report by the International Monetary Fund showed. The world's No. 3 oil exporter booked a consolidated fiscal surplus of AED38.6bn ($10.5bn) compared with a deficit of AED23bn, or 2.1 percent of gross domestic product, in 2010, according to Reuters calculations based on IMF estimates and government data.
However, the 2011 surplus was only a fraction of fiscal surpluses enjoyed before the global financial crisis. They averaged AED167bn annually in 2006-2008.
The data consolidate the accounts of the federal government with those of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the two largest emirates in the seven-member UAE, as well as Sharjah.
The government has not yet released consolidated figures for 2011. Oil-rich Abu Dhabi, which accounts for around 78 percent of overall spending in the UAE, does not publish its yearly budget plans and outcomes.
Government spending in the UAE, the second largest Arab economy, surged over 19 percent to an estimated all-time high of AED401.5bn in 2011, according to the IMF. That was nearly 56 percent above the 2008 level.
Consolidated revenue is estimated to have soared 41 percent to AED440.1bn, a three-year high, with hydrocarbon income accounting for over 82 percent, showed the report, which the IMF released after consultations with UAE authorities.
Unlike other countries in the Middle East, the UAE has not been hit by the wave of social unrest which started last year, but it has raised public spending to avert tensions. It has a cradle-to-grave welfare system and its per capita income of $48,200 is one of the highest in the world.
The UAE's spending on economic development rose 5 percent to 37.3 billion dirhams in 2011, while spending on subsidies and transfers jumped over 31 percent to an estimated AED53.9bn.
The country's dependence on income from hydrocarbons has risen considerably since 2008. The IMF has estimated the oil price which the UAE needs to balance its budget jumped to $84 per barrel this year from $23 in 2008.
A Reuters poll of analysts in March forecast the UAE would post a consolidated budget surplus of 5.9 percent of GDP in 2012. But a recent fall of the oil price could prevent that estimate from being reached; Brent crude is now around $99, having dropped from above $125 early this year.
In Abu Dhabi alone, the budget is estimated to have remained in deficit for the third year in a row. However, the gap halved from the previous year to AED33.8bn in 2011, the IMF report showed.
Abu Dhabi's expenditures grew 21 percent to an estimated AED314.7bn last year, while income shot up 46 percent to AED280.9bn. Abu Dhabi, which bailed out Dubai during the 2009 Dubai corporate debt crisis, included a AED9.9bn transfer to Dubai in its 2011 budget, the IMF estimated.
Dubai's own budget deficit is estimated to have widened to AED17.3bn in 2011 from AED12.7bn in 2010. The IMF's data for Dubai differ from official figures because the IMF consolidates the central budget with the Dubai Financial Support Fund (DFSF) and includes transfers from Abu Dhabi.
Expenditures of the DFSF, which was set up to help troubled state entities in Dubai, rose to AED19.2bn in 2011, the IMF estimated, from AED14.7bn in 2010. That would bring its overall expenditure to AED82.8bn since 2009.