Dr Debesh Roy, Chairman, InsPIRE
India’s Wholesale Price Index (WPI) inflation surged to a 4-month high of 14.55 per cent in March 2022, which was a sharp rise from 13.11 per cent in the previous month. This was the result of an unfavourable base effect (1.3 per cent in March 2021) and broad-based rally in global commodity prices, especially crude oil, due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. With this, WPI remained in double digits throughout FY22. The average inflation at 12.94 per cent in FY22 is the highest in three decades.
While wholesale food inflation rate eased sequentially from 8.19 per cent to 8.06 per cent in March 2022, vegetable inflation dropped sharply from 26.93 per cent in the previous month, but remained elevated at 19.88 per cent. Among non-food items, crude oil inflation increased by a whopping 83.56 per cent, leading to a fuel inflation of 34.52 per cent during March 2022. Manufactured price inflation rate rose to 10.71 per cent during the month, from 9.84 per cent in the previous month, as edible oil and basic metals inflation rose to 16.06 per cent and 25.97 per cent, respectively. Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and fuel items, increased from 10 per cent in February 2022 to 10.9 per cent in March 2022.
Although WPI is not the primary index which guides the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) monetary policy decisions, it cannot be ignored by the central bank, as rising input costs can feed CPI inflation. This is likely to happen with businesses passing on the rising input costs to retail prices. The gap between WPI and CPI has narrowed from 9.96 percentage points in November 2021 to 7.60 percentage points in March 2022. CPI inflation is on a rising trend since November 2021 and has shot up to a 17-month high of 6.95 per cent in March 2022. What is worrisome is that retail inflation has remained above RBI’s tolerance level of 6 per cent for the third consecutive month.
RBI’s latest industrial outlook survey indicates that manufacturing sector firms expect higher input and output price pressures going forward. Further, on the assumption of a normal monsoon in 2022 and average crude oil price (Indian basket) of US$ 100 per barrel, RBI, in its latest monetary policy (8 April 2022) has projected 5.7 per cent inflation in 2022-23. While the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has unanimously decided to maintain the accommodative policy stance, it will focus on withdrawal of accommodation to ensure that inflation remains within the target going forward, while supporting growth. Globally inflation is on the rise, and will continue to remain elevated even after the Russia-Ukraine conflict comes to an end. The uncertainty surrounding the conflict makes it difficult to estimate inflation during the next one-year period. This is true for most countries, including India. Going forward, RBI could raise the policy repo rate by 50 basis points (bps) during FY23.