India's industrial output rose by a meagre 0.1 percent in July, data showed on Wednesday, piling pressure on the central bank to cut interest rates to spur the economy when it meets next week.
The once-booming economy has been hit by a combination of high interest rates, Europe's debt crisis that has gouged exports, stalled government reforms and sluggish investment.
"It is difficult to be optimistic" that output will show a "meaningful recovery" until domestic interest rates come down and global trade picks up, said Credit Suisse economist Robert Prior-Wandesforde.
The 0.1 percent growth in July's manufacturing, mining and electricity output from a year ago was better than June's sharp 1.8 percent contraction.
But that was scant comfort for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's beleaguered government as the data missed market forecasts of a 0.5 percent increase and came in far below the 3.7 percent rise in July 2011.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who has pledged to restart India's "engine of growth," said the figures showed the performance of Asia's third-largest economy "continues to be disappointing."
Manufacturing production, accounting for three-quarters of the Index of Industrial Production, shrank 0.2 percent in July while capital goods output such as heavy machinery -- a key economic health barometer -- contracted five percent.
Consumer goods output grew by just 0.7 percent, reflecting weakening demand.
The data stirred alarm from business leaders who called for swift central bank and government action.
Confederation of Indian Industry's director general Chandrajit Banerjee said implementation of long-delayed measures to further open up the economy to foreign investment was "imperative".
Rate cuts are long overdue and "the economy is in need of sentiment boosters", he added, noting "investments have dried up".
For the quarter to June, foreign direct investment tumbled by 67 percent year-on-year.
D.S. Rawat, secretary general of business group ASSOCHAM, warned India risked a "full-blown recession" if the central bank "still follows a restrictive (monetary) policy".
Analysts, though, said the data was unlikely to prompt the hawkish central bank to lower rates at its policy meeting on Monday. Other central banks globally have been easing rates to revive their troubled economies.
But India's bank has kept borrowing costs on hold since April -- when it cut them for the first time in three years -- insisting inflation must recede and the government needs to curb its ballooning deficit.
Analysts expect August data Friday to show inflation nudging seven percent or more after slowing to 6.87 percent in July.
The bank's "preoccupation with high inflation will limit further policy rate cuts in the near term", said IHS Global Insight economist Jyoti Narasimhan.
Stocks ignored the figures with Mumbai's benchmark Sensex index climbing by 0.82 percent to a near seven-month peak of 18,000.03 on global expectations of US and Chinese stimulus.
Analysts doubt Chidambaram can do much to boost growth, with the government mired in graft scandals that have hamstrung its ability to push through politically difficult liberalisation reforms and a string of state polls looming.
The economy grew just 5.5 percent in the March-June quarter -- holding at a three-year low.
The government sees growth of around 6.5 percent for the year to March 2013 but many economists expect expansion of 5.0 to 5.5 percent -- far below the heady near double-digits of the last decade.