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Sun 4 Sep 2011 03:57 PM

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Bahrain economy edges up in Q2, unrest weighs

Annual growth decelerated to slowest pace since 2008 as unrest stifled activity

Bahrain economy edges up in Q2, unrest weighs
Bahrain saw its real GDP fall by 1.4 percent in the first three months of 2011

Bahrain's economy grew by 1 percent quarter-on-quarter in April-June after shrinking in previous three months, but annual growth decelerated to its slowest pace since 2008 as the impact of unrest continued to stifle activity, data showed on Sunday.

The small non-OPEC oil exporter saw its real gross domestic product falling by 1.4 percent in the first three months of 2011 compared with the previous quarter, its first quarterly contraction since the global financial crisis in late 2008.

On an annual basis, GDP growth in the Arab island kingdom - the smallest economy in the Gulf at some $14 billion - decelerated to 0.8 percent in the second quarter from 1.8 percent in January-March 2011, the sixth slowdown in a row, the data from the Central Informatics Organisation showed.

"The quarter-on-quarter rebound seems reasonable. In terms of year-on-year it could have been worse but it still shows that 2011 is going to be a pretty tough year for the economy," said Paul Gamble, head of research at Jadwa Investment in Riyadh.

"The issue is still the legacy of the unresolved political tensions that we had earlier in the year have made the private sector very cautious." he said.

Quarterly annual growth rates for Bahrain's GDP before 2008 are not available.

The island kingdom, a financial hub where nearly $9bn in mutual funds is parked, had been rocked in February and March by its worst public unrest since the 1990s.

Around 30 people died in a month of unrest which brought in Saudi troops, closed banks and shops and triggered capital flight. At the time, NCB Capital estimated economic losses at $1 billion, which made up 17 percent of the first quarter GDP.

"What seems to happen obviously is further slowdown," said Giyas Gokkent, head of research at National Bank of Abu Dhabi. "We will have to see the third quarter for hopefully a bounce because of establishment of some stability."

In July, Central Bank Governor Rasheed al-Maraj expected the economy to expand by 3 percent this year, less than 4.5 percent seen by the finance ministry in March.

Bahrain's financial sector, which accounts for around a quarter of the GDP, has been only slowly picking up from the global financial crisis and a regional property crash.

It grew 1.7 percent year-on-year in real terms in April-June, up from a 1.3 percent rise in the previous quarter.

Hotels, the most heavily hit by the uprising against the Sunni-led government, booked a 29.3 percent drop in the second quarter after a 30.3 percent output slump in January-March.

The real estate sector, which has yet to return to levels seen before the global crisis, was down 5.0 percent in the second quarter, the data showed.

Transport and communication and government services remained the main GDP drivers, analysts said, growing at an 8.6 percent and 4.9 percent annual clip, respectively.

Output of the hydrocarbon sector, which accounts for around one third of the economy, was up 1.9 percent in real terms compared with the same period a year ago. It jumped 43.5 percent in nominal terms as crude prices soared to $115 per barrel in May, due in part to the unrest across the Arab world.

Bahrain, which pegs its dinar to the U.S. dollar, does not release quarterly GDP data by expenditure.

The country's nominal GDP increased by 19.8 percent year-on-year to BD2.4bn ($6.3bn) in the second quarter, the data also showed.

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