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India banking giant: Economic growth has bottomed

Economic growth in Asia's third largest economy has bottomed out, said the managing director of HDFC Bank, India's second-largest lender in the private sector.

On Monday India kicked off its hotly anticipated Lok Sabha elections, set to be the largest democratic elections in history with 814 million people expected to take to the ballot boxes.

Many industry watchers are hoping the election will invigorate India's beleaguered economy by providing more certainty and boosting sentiment. Growth fell to 4.7 percent on year in the three months to December 2013 and the government is forecasting 5 percent growth for the fiscal year 2014, a far cry from the near 9 percent expansion in the fiscal year 2011.

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"I would think we have probably bottomed out. We will have growth coming in next year which will be better than now," said Aditya Puri, managing director of HDFC Bank, told CNBC on Monday.

According to the HDFC MD, once a backlog of suspended investment projects are able to get moving again, this should help spur higher growth of between 5.3 and 5.5 percent in the fiscal year ending in March 2015.

"The slowdown has been created by a lot of projects getting stuck. So if you see growth, not only will the banking sector grow, and grow faster, as it grows it will also have a positive impact on the non-performing assets (NPAs) issue," said Puri.

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India's banking sector has recently struggled with an increase in NPAs - loans on which the borrower has failed to make interest payments for more than 90 days.

Puri told CNBC he did not think it was necessarily important who won the election as both the incumbent Indian National Congress (INC) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have the potential to push through the necessary policy changes.

"The markets are expecting one outcome and probably betting on it, but as long as we get a stable government, both will deliver," he said.

In Puri's view, the ruling INC party has already identified the economy's crucial issues and has made some good decisions over the last year.

"I think everybody knows that we needed to have the current account deficit under control, we need better fiscal management [and] we need to get the private sector opened up," he said, adding that the implementation of the direct taxes code – a tax on income - and goods and services tax would also be crucial.

Aditya Puri, managing director of HDFC Bank Ltd., speaks at the Annual Bankers' Conference in Mumbai, India.
Dhiraj Singh | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Aditya Puri, managing director of HDFC Bank Ltd., speaks at the Annual Bankers' Conference in Mumbai, India.

Wholesale inflation in India eased to a nine-month low in February as food and fuel prices moderated, and Puri said he was keeping his fingers crossed that this trend would continue.

"We do expect inflation to be around the current level…probably coming down depending on the dollar-rupee and commodity prices…and what happens to China," he added.

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India's domestic currency has been a key talking point following last year's dire performance which saw it fall to a record low of 68.85 to the dollar amid the fallout sparked by expectations the Federal Reserve would start to taper its asset purchase program. It has since recovered to around the 60 per dollar level, helped by central bank measures and better sentiment.

Puri told CNBC the rupee would remain range bound between 60 and 63 per dollar as long as the country's current deficit account was kept under control. India's current account deficit narrowed to a four-year low of $4.2 billion in the final quarter of last year.

"If you look at what was everybody fretting about say… eight months ago, they were fretting about capital outflows, the current account deficit, projects being stuck, and about the lack of decision making. I think we have come a long way along those lines," he added.

He also said he was confident the Reserve Bank of India would remain independent despite talk that a BJP government might try to sway the RBI's policy.

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