Retail inflation spikes to 3.99% on costlier food
New Delhi: Retail inflation inched closer to the Reserve Bank of India’s medium-term target of 4% in September for the first time in 14 months on higher food prices, although economists maintain that the economic slowdown will prompt a sixth consecutive interest rate cut in December.
Wholesale inflation eased to its lowest level in more than three years. Retail inflation accelerated to 3.99% last month, data released by the statistics office showed on Monday, compared with 3.28% in August. Inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index was 3.7% in September 2018.
Retail food prices, which make up almost half of the inflation basket, increased 5.11% in September from a year earlier, compared with a 2.99% rise in August. Vegetable prices shot up 15.4% during the month.
“This is a blip and should correct, going ahead. Overall, food inflation could remain high this year even as core inflation declines. That should improve terms of trade for the farmers. Core inflation softened 8 basis points to 4.19%, underlining the ongoing slowdown.
We continue to expect another rate cut in December,” said DK Joshi, chief economist at CRISIL.
Core inflation, excluding food and energy, came in at 4.2% against 4.25% in August, a 26-month low.
“Given the ongoing slowdown in the economy and retail inflation remaining well within the target range of the RBI, India Ratings and Research believes RBI will continue with an accommodative policy and we expect a further rate cut in the policy review of December,” said Sunil Kumar Sinha, principal economist at India Ratings.
Sinha said food prices would continue to rise till at least March 2020, mainly due to the base effect. Other items that exerted pressure on retail inflation in September are expenditure on health, education and personal care.
“Items such household goods and services remained low, signalling that overall demand conditions have not improved yet. This festive season will be the litmus test for consumer spending and a lack of meaningful pickup could mean that growth could see a sharper decline than expected,” said Sakshi Gupta, senior economist at HDFC Bank.
The RBI has retained its consumer price inflation forecast for the second half of 2019-20 at 3.5-3.7%.
Economists expect the central bank to cut rates by at least 25 basis points in December. The RBI lowered interest rates by a cumulative 135 basis points this year and will review rates again in December. One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.
Shubhada Rao, chief economist at YES Bank, said there could be 25-40 bps rate cut for the remaining period of FY20 due to growth numbers remaining “fairly weak.”
Wholesale inflation eased to 0.33% in September, the lowest in more than three years, led by lower prices of fuel and manufactured goods.
The previous low for the Wholesale Price Index was 0.1% in June 2016. It was 1.03% in August and 5.22% in September 2018.
“The sequential slide in WPI inflation to a lower-than-forecast 0.3% in September 2019, while broad-based, was driven primarily by deeper disinflation in fuel and power, and core WPI,” said Aditi Nayar, principal economist at ICRA.
Data released by the commerce and industry ministry on Monday showed inflation for manufactured items at -0.42% in September, against 0% a month ago.
In Video: Retail inflation rises 14-month high to 3.99% in September due to costlier food items