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Bahrain economic growth accelerates strongly in first quarter

By Martin Dokoupil

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's economic growth accelerated strongly in the first quarter of 2013, helped by a revival of oil output, official data showed on Sunday.

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, expanded 2.5 percent quarter-on-quarter in January-March, compared to a downwardly revised 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012.

On an annual basis, growth quickened to 4.2 percent in the first three months of 2013, the highest rate in a year, from a downwardly revised 2.5 percent in the previous quarter, the data from the Central Informatics Organization showed.

The country of 1.3 million people has based its economic strategy on becoming a regional financial hub as it lacks much of the petrodollar wealth of its Arab neighbors. But political unrest starting in 2011, in which the government has faced mainly Shi'ite-led pro-democracy protests, has hit the economy hard and raised pressure on the government to boost spending.

Output in the hydrocarbons sector, which accounts for a quarter of Bahrain's $30 billion economy, grew 1.3 percent in January-March from the previous quarter, against a mere 0.4 percent rise in the final three months of 2012.

Hydrocarbon output jumped 8.0 percent on an annual basis in the first quarter after falling by the same amount in October-December. Last year, Bahrain reported a drop in crude oil output from its key Abu Safa field, which it shares with Saudi Arabia and which contributes nearly 67 percent of budget revenue.

Growth in Bahrain's financial industry, which accounts for roughly 16 percent of GDP, slowed to 0.3 percent quarter-on-quarter in January-March from 1.4 percent in the previous three months.

In the hospitality sector, which nosedived during the 2011 turmoil, output edged up by 0.5 percent in January-March, after a 0.1 percent rise in the fourth quarter.

Analysts polled by Reuters in April forecast that Bahrain's GDP growth would ease slightly to 3.3 percent in 2013 from 3.4 percent in 2012.

(Editing by Andrew Torchia)

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