India quarterly growth accelerates to 6.1%

NEW DELHI: India's economy grew by 6.1 percent in the three months to June, picking up pace from the previous quarter and signalling the country's emergence from the global downturn.

The expansion, spurred by government stimulus packages and aggressive monetary easing that has made loans cheaper, was up from 5.8 percent growth in the March quarter, official data showed Monday.

India's faster growth came as the Asian region as a whole rebounds from the worldwide slump.

Analysts said a robust industrial performance by Asia's third-largest economy should offset the impact of a widespread drought caused by a bad monsoon.

"I don't think the drought will mess up growth prospects too much," Dharmakirti Joshi, economist at credit rating agency Crisil, told AFP.

"While agriculture growth will be hit, other areas will pick up, such as industry," said Joshi.

Agriculture grew by 2.4 percent in the June quarter, down from 2.7 percent in the previous quarter. But breakdown of gross domestic product by sector showed industrial output grew by five percent, up from 1.4 percent.

Excluding agriculture, overall GDP rose 6.8 percent on the year compared with 6.4 percent in the previous quarter -- the first improvement since the January-March quarter of 2008.

The figures were in line with analysts' forecasts. The economy grew by 7.8 percent in the same quarter last year.

The top civil servant in India's finance ministry called the data "very encouraging" and said the government expected growth to pick up further in coming quarters.

"We expect the (GDP) growth rate to be 6.5 percent or above (for the fiscal year to March 2010)," said Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla.

Growth slowed to 6.7 percent last year as the Asian giant felt the brunt of the global downturn following three years of at least nine percent annual expansion.

The economy "has emerged from the disruption created by the global financial crisis," said leading business lobby the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Yet shares ignored the upbeat growth data with the Bombay Stock Exchange's benchmark 30-share Sensex falling 1.61 percent or 255.7 points to 15,666.64 as profit-taking snapped a seven-day rally.

India has weathered the global slowdown downturn better than many of its Asian counterparts that fell into recession, thanks to its domestically focused economy.

However, the weak monsoon had sparked concern about India's growth expectations, with rural demand a key consumption driver. The rains are a lifeline for agriculture which supports over half of India's nearly 1.2 billion population.

Last week Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India faces a "severe drought" with 44 percent of the nation's districts afflicted.

But the strong industrial performance and the ongoing effects of interest rate cuts should compensate for the sluggish farm output, analysts said.

Local carmakers, for instance, have reported a surge in sales.

"The full impact of the various fiscal and monetary stimulus packages have still to come through," said HSBC economist Robert Prior-Wandesforde who stuck by his forecast of 6.2 percent growth or higher for this fiscal year.

"The combination of aggressive fiscal measures and monetary easing will cushion the hit to the economy from the poor rains," agreed Rajeev Malik, economist at Macquarie Securities.

The poor rains are "a near-term hiccup in the evolving rise of the Indian economy," he said.