By Toni Vorobyova
MOSCOW, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Russia's economy grew at its
weakest pace in three years in the third quarter and analysts
said Tuesday's data could well mark the last period of positive
growth as lower oil prices and global slowdown bite.
Gross domestic product (GDP) grew 6.2 percent year-on-year
in July to September, slowing from the 7.5 percent expansion in
the preceding quarter in April-June.
That was the lowest growth since the third quarter of 2005,
and far below the Economy Ministry's 7.1 percent estimate.
Performance was dragged down by contractions in fishing and
the extraction of raw materials, as well as by the construction
sector, where the annual pace of growth halved to 9.3 percent.
"In our view the construction sector looks very vulnerable
and it will be one of the key sectors behind the ongoing
slowdown in the Russian economy," said Lars Rasmussen, emerging
markets analyst at Danske Bank in Copenhagen.
At the end of November, analysts polled by Reuters had
forecast full-year GDP growth of 6.8 percent.
Since then, oil prices have sunk below $40 a barrel,
while Purchasing Managers' Indexes showed manufacturing and
service sectors contracting at a historically low pace.
The Economy Ministry now expects full year industrial
production growth of just 1.9 percent, according to Interfax,
implying a sharp contraction in November and December.
"If we are talking about such numbers, then I think it
already means a GDP contraction in the fourth quarter, or at
best zero growth," said Natalia Orlova, chief economist at Alfa
Bank in Moscow.
Russian authorities have already pledged over $200 billion
in a package of rescue measures for the economy and the
financial markets, as well as spending tens of billions of
dollars to defend the rouble exchange rate.
This has put pressure on Russia's gold and forex reserves,
the world's third largest, which have shrunk by a quarter in the
last four months to around $450 billion.
The shrinkage was noted by Standard & Poor's Ratings
Services, which on Monday delivered the first cut in Russia's
sovereign rating in a decade and forecast a sharp GDP growth
slowdown in 2009.
Nikolay Kashcheyev, head of economic analysis at MDM Bank,
estimated that zero growth in the current quarter would drag
down 2008 expansion to 5.5 percent -- the slowest since 2002.
"The worst is still ahead of us," he said.
-- For a TABLE on the data see
(Additional reporting by Peter Apps in London; editing by
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