DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's non-oil private sector shrank for the fourth straight month in June as measures to contain the spread of the new coronavirus continued to hit consumer demand, a survey showed on Sunday.
The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Saudi Arabia Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to 47.7 in June from 48.1 in May, remaining below the 50.0 mark that separates growth from contraction.
"June data highlighted another difficult month for Saudi Arabia's non-oil private sector economy, with cautious business and consumer spending patterns widely reported to have held back new order intakes," said Tim Moore, economics director at survey compiler IHS Markit.
The June figure is a setback for the non-oil private sector, which Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has put at the centre of reforms aimed at diversifying the kingdom's oil-reliant economy.
Saudi Arabia, which had the region's highest coronavirus figures at more than 197,608 infections and 1,752 deaths as of July 1, ended a three-month curfew on June 21, although some restrictions have remained in place.
Employment in the private sector in June fell at the fastest pace since the survey began in August 2009, as firms shed jobs to reduce costs and amid concerns over the business outlook.
"June data signalled that year-ahead business expectations turned negative for the first time since this index began in July 2012," the IHS Markit report said.
Saudi Arabia has extended several government initiatives to support the private sector during the coronavirus outbreak, state news agency SPA reported on Thursday, citing a decision by King Salman.
But a value-added tax hike in July is expected to push up inflation, dampen consumer demand and slow down economic recovery, economists have said.
(Reporting by Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Hugh Lawson)