* Q1 net profit at 26.55 bln rupees vs 25.73 bln rupees estimates
* Net non-performing loans were 0.99 pct vs 0.97 pct in Jan-March (Adds details on financials, context, share price)
MUMBAI, July 31 (Reuters) - ICICI Bank Ltd, India's second-biggest lender by assets, on Thursday beat estimates with a 17 percent rise in quarterly net profit, helped by growth in credit demand and higher fee income.
Indian lenders, including ICICI and its private sector rivals HDFC Bank Ltd and Axis Bank Ltd, are betting on an economic recovery to spur demand for loans after a new government was formed in May.
The economy grew less than 5 percent in each of the last two fiscal years, squeezing credit growth and leading to higher defaults.
Net income for the Indian banking sector is expected to grow 22.4 percent in the next 12 months, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine SmartEstimates, which would be the fastest earnings growth in the sector in the Asia-Pacific region.
ICICI's net profit for its fiscal first quarter ended June rose to 26.55 billion rupees ($440 million) from 22.74 billion rupees a year earlier, the bank said on Thursday. Analysts on average had expected a net profit of 25.73 billion rupees.
Net non-performing loans as a percentage of loans were 0.99 percent compared with 0.97 percent in the March quarter. Net interest income, the difference between interest earned and paid, grew 18 percent to 44.92 billion rupees in the quarter.
Net interest margin rose to 3.40 percent from 3.27 percent a year earlier. Retail loans grew 26 percent annually, faster than a 15 percent growth in total credit demand for the bank.
ICICI, which is the largest private sector lender in India, where nearly two dozen state banks account for two-thirds of the assets, said fee income rose 8 percent in the June quarter to 19.36 billion rupees.
Of the 49 analysts tracking ICICI, 42 have a "buy" or equivalent rating, six have a "hold" and one recommends selling the stock, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters.
Shares in ICICI, valued at more than $28 billion, were up 0.2 percent at 1,491.45 rupees at 0842 GMT in a Mumbai market that was down 0.3 percent.
($1 = 60.40 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy; Additional reporting by Shilpa Murthy in BANGALORE; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Matt Driskill)