Editorial: Its in the veggies

Mar 18 2014, 01:55 IST
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SummaryVegetables responsible for most of fall in inflation

With wholesale price inflation falling to a 9-month low in February and consumer price inflation at a 2-year low, its tempting to think the recent spate of rate hikes have begun to do the trick. For one, rate hikes take 9 to 12 months to have an impact. Two, most of the recent fall in inflation is driven by one thing: vegetables. It was the rise in vegetable prices that led to the surge in inflation, especially at the level of consumer prices, and it is the collapse of that vegetable inflation that has resulted in overall CPI/WPI falling to more manageable levels.

In the case of CPI, headline inflation has fallen a whopping 300 bps, from 11.2% in November 2013 to 8.1% in February 2014. But what is interesting is that vegetable inflation fell from 61.1% to 14% in the same period. Given the 5.4% weight of vegetables in the CPI, this decline alone means a fall in overall CPI by 2.54 percentage pointsthat is, around 83% of the overall decline in the headline CPI during this period was on account of vegetable prices that no one can argue are influenced by monetary policy. In the case of WPI, where headline inflation also collapsed as dramatically, from 7.52% in November 2013 to 4.68% in February 2014, inflation for vegetables fell from 97.7% to 4% in the same period. Given the 1.7% weight of vegetables in WPI, this alone resulted in a fall of 1.59 percentage points, or 55% of the total reduction in headline WPI. Core CPI, by contrast, remained at 7.9-8% during this period, as did core WPI at 3-3.1%.

Given the havoc created by the recent unseasonal rains, and the possibility of an El Nino impact on the monsoons, it is likely that fruits and vegetable inflation will once again rise. In such a situation, it is important that RBI keep in mind the difference between inflation that can be influenced by monetary policy and that part which cannot. Not keeping this in mind and, instead, adopting the Urjit Patel inflation-targeting recommendationwith a CPI target of 6% over two yearswill lead to a situation in which RBI will have to jack up rates so much, the rest of the economy will suffer. As credit-rating agency Crisils chief economist, DK Joshi, points out, if food inflation is to stay at its 10% average for the last 8 years, a 6%

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