Return of the prodigal?

Aug 16 2013, 02:01 IST
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SummaryThe spurt in inflation is a cause for concern and this trend needs to be reversed soon

The July inflation numbers at 5.8% have rattled the markets. Many fear that the battle for inflation is now far from over. With the rupee still struggling to find its feet, its impact on inflation may get pronounced in the coming days. Interestingly, I had not shared this view till date, but may be now constrained to do so. This is because the inflation numbers in July have a structural break that is distinct and revealing.

Consider the following statistics. Even as the rupee depreciated from 44 to a dollar in July 2011 to 57 by the end of May 2013, imported inflation actually declined from 10% to 2.3% in the concomitant period. This was a reflection of complete lack of pricing power on the part of corporates and soft global commodity prices with the economy demand constrained. However, with the rupee depreciating by close to 6% between May and July, imported inflation actually climbed by 1.7% and it rubbed on WPI by 1.2% increase. More precisely, in the last one month, with imported inflation climbing by 1%, WPI has also climbed up by nearly 1% (4.9% in June 2013 to 5.8% in July 2013). This means, the increase in inflation in the current month has to completely (if not fully) do with rupee depreciation that has impacted fuel non-administered component of fuel inflation (contribution of fuel part jumped to 32% in July 2013 from 23% in March 2013).

Next, the question of food inflation. If we dig dipper, we get some revealing statistics. As expected, the spurt is being driven by increase in vegetable prices. For example, vegetables now contribute close to 20% increase in overall inflation. Some of the items that are causing this spurt are obviously onion but not so obvious items like brinjal and even ginger! Thankfully, it seems that protein and milk inflation is now not a problem, as the contribution have plateaued in recent months. Ditto with fruit inflation, that is now showing a de-growth. On the other hand, cereal inflation is showing signs of minor uptick. Thus, in a major departure, conventional items like vegetables and cereals are now coming back to haunt us, instead of protein and milk!

The other disturbing sign is that core CPI numbers have significantly edged upwards in the July print. For example, core rural CPI has jumped to 6.9% (vis--vis 6.6% a month ago), combined core CPI has jumped

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