India's economic growth slumped to a two-year-low of 6.9 percent in the second quarter, data showed Wednesday, hit by a string of interest rate hikes and the stumbling world economy.
The expansion in July-September was the weakest since the three months to June 2009 when the economy grew just 6.0 percent year-on-year as Western economies were emerging from the bruising international financial crisis.
"There's a clear slowdown," Credit Agricole economist Dariusz Kowalczyk told AFP, warning of a potentially "quite significant" downturn longer-term due to lagged effects of aggressive rate hikes and a gloomy global outlook.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee cut India's growth forecast to 7.3 percent for the fiscal year to March 2012 from an original blistering nine percent.
But some private economists said expansion could be as low as 6.5 percent with the country shifting to a new, lower growth trajectory.
"We're having multiple problems," Mukherjee said, citing anaemic growth in Europe and the United States that has slowed investment and export demand as well as "problems within the country."
Political paralysis over contentious economic reforms has diminished investor confidence and the debt-laden government lacks the fiscal firepower to spur the economy.
Mukherjee has been steadily lowering his growth forecast since February as the economy has been hobbled by 13 interest rate hikes in under two years that have failed to tame inflation, still flaring near 10 percent.
"It's been a while since we've seen an Indian growth number with a six at the start of it. The economy is slowing rapidly," said Glenn Levine, economist at Moody's Analytics. "It looks like tough times ahead."
The growth downturn is an additional burden for the Congress party-led government, which is facing strident opposition to its attempt to jump-start its stalled reform agenda by opening up India's vast retail market to global competition.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's popularity has already been sapped by surging food prices, which have hit India's poor masses hardest, and a slew of corruption scandals that sparked huge anti-graft protests.
The second-quarter growth was sharply below 7.7 percent expansion logged from April to June and 8.4 percent growth posted a year ago.
Manufacturing output grew just 2.7 percent year-on-year, down from 7.8 percent a year earlier.
The sluggish growth means an end to India's rate hiking cycle, said economists, who predicted the central bank may start cutting rates in the first six months of 2012 if inflation cools.
On Monday, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned the global slowdown would hit emerging giants India and China, but could also bring a respite from inflation.
China's growth eased to 9.1 percent in the last quarter from 9.5 percent in the previous three months -- its lowest in two years, hit by efforts to tame inflation and global economic headwinds.
Analysts said the slowing economy would pile more pressure on the rupee, trading at record lows against the dollar, as investors flee emerging markets for safer havens, rattled by the eurozone debt crisis.
Source: AFP Asian Edition