Asia Economy

Growth in this emerging giant may slow to 2009 levels

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
Kristian Cabanis | age fotostock | Getty Images

Growth in one-time Asian tiger Indonesia may have slowed to 2009 levels in the third quarter, but economists aren't pushing the panic button just yet.

Economists expect Indonesia's gross domestic product (GDP) grew 5.6 percent in the third quarter, according to a Reuters survey. That would be the slowest since the fourth quarter of 2009, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), when the world was still mired in the global financial crisis. The data are due November 6.

(Read more: Is Indonesia about to regain its Asian tiger stripes?)

"High-frequency indicators suggest production slowed over the third quarter, while import demand and loan growth have also cooled," Moody's Analytics said in a note.

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Over the past few months, Indonesia has been buffeted by market volatility, spurred in part by concerns that the U.S. Federal Reserve's plans to begin tapering its asset purchases would make it difficult for the country to finance its current account deficit – 4.4 percent of GDP as of the second quarter.

In the June to September period, Indonesia's central bank hiked rates by 150 basis points to 7.25 percent as the country's markets and currency were hard-hit by fund outflows. The rupiah weakened sharply, with the U.S. dollar currently buying around 11,360 rupiah, compared with around 9,700 in May.

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"This is choking domestic demand and will likely stifle growth over the coming quarters," Moody's Analytics said; it expects growth of just 5.1 percent for the quarter.

But economists aren't running up the white flag.

"It is the lowest growth rate since 2009. However the economy is still expected to grow well over 5 percent," said Frederic Neumann, an economist at HSBC. "It's fairly positive given the headwinds."

(Read more: Indonesia Finance Minister 'comfortable' with rupiah level)

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Neumann said he is still concerned about Indonesia's widening trade deficit and slowing of commodity exports, "but by and large consumer spending remains robust." He also expects the elections in July to give consumer spending its traditional fillip, especially in the provinces.

"Next year should be a relatively robust year," he said, expecting the fourth quarter will likely mark the bottom for slowing growth.

But he added, without "far-reaching" structural reforms, economic growth isn't likely to accelerate much.

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Edward Lee, an economist at Standard Chartered, expects the third quarter will mark the bottom for the pace of growth; he forecasts 5.7 percent growth for the quarter.

For the full year, Bank Indonesia expects economic growth of 5.5-5.9 percent, while the World Bank expects 5.6 percent growth.

—By's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter