Going forward, food inflation could stay under check if monsoons are normal and global food prices stay benign. However, the Budget announcement on minimum support prices (MSPs), setting it at 1.5 times the cost of production, extension of MSP to all kharif crops, and assuring at least MSP is paid to all farmers, together with the rise in import duties, can feed food inflation. Also, if global energy prices continue to spiral up and the rupee stays weak, imported inflation can rise. Already, as the pent-up consumption demand in the economy returns and manufacturers’ pricing power improves, some upside to inflation is inevitable.
Overall food inflation (food articles plus manufactured food) declined to 1.6 per cent in January from 3 per cent in the previous month. The inflation in food articles fell Rs 170 bps. Inflation in cereals (at -2 per cent), pulses (-30.4 per cent), eggs, meat and fish (0.4 per cent) continued to decline. But the highlight of the month was the continued sharp fall in vegetables inflation (40.8 per cent, down from 56.5 per cent in December and from its peak of 59.9 per cent in November). Inflation in manufactured food articles dipped further into the negative zone for the second consecutive month.
Fuel and power inflation more than halved to 4.1 per cent from 9.2 per cent in December. Inflation in coal fell nearly 380 bps, while mineral oils inflation dipped Rs 590 bps, led by a fall in inflation in diesel, petrol and naphtha, among others.
Manufactured products’ inflation rose 20 bps on months to 2.8 per cent after staying fairly stable for the previous three months. Splitting this category into two parts gives us the core inflation (measured by CCII) and the base metal inflation. In January, core inflation eased 20 bps on-month to settle at 1.3 per cent, led by lower inflation in food, textiles, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, electronics, and manufacturing of furniture. Base metals inflation (which includes basic metals and fabricated metal products) rose to 10.7 per cent from 8.7 per cent in December. Global metal prices saw a steep increase of 22.7 per cent on-year and 5.3 per cent on-month, causing the base metal index in WPI to rise.