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Inflation at record low of 2.18%; factory output slows to 3.1%

Inflation at record low of 2.18%; factory output slows to 3.1%

New Delhi: Retail inflation slumped to record low of 2.18 percent in May driven by a sharp drop in kitchen staples like vegetables and pulses, strengthening government’s case for lowering the interest rate by RBI. For the first time since January 2012, food prices saw deflation in May (-1.05 per cent) and the prospect of good monsoon rains is likely to keep food inflation in check.

Inflation apart, industrial output too slipped to 3.1 percent in April from 6.5 percent a year ago, possibly because of lagged impact of demonetization, government data showed today. The worst performing sectors in April were manufacturing, capital goods and consumer durables.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) based inflation strengthened the finance ministry’s stand that Reserve Bank of India’s forecast of price rise had large errors and there was a case for cutting interest rate to help private investments to pick and boost economic growth.

Retail inflation was the lowest since the government started publishing a wider CPI data in 2012. Consumer prices rose 2.99 percent on year in April and 3.81 percent in March. Clothing, housing, fuel and light also saw lower inflation rate in May while prices of vegetables declined by 13.44 per cent and that of pulses and products by 19.45 per cent.

Earlier this month, RBI left key interest rate unchanged as it wanted to be surer that inflation will stay subdued. This left finance ministry fuming as it felt that inflation was consistently low warranting a rate cut. CPI inflation in May is at the lower end of the RBI’s projected headline inflation band of 2-3.5 per cent in the first half the current fiscal.

Sunil Kumar Sinha, Principal Economist, India Ratings & Research, said though inflation is going to remain low and well within the comfort zone of RBI, the probability of large policy rate cut is low. “At best, we can have 25 basis point rate cut in the remaining FY18. However, its timing will be data dependent,” he said.

On CPI inflation numbers, he said while pulses deflation is more structural in nature, the vegetable deflation could be cyclical and can change its course in near future due to monsoon-related aspects. “While the decline in food inflation is good news for policymakers and consumers, it is not very good news for farmers and especially vegetable and pulses farmers.

“Prices of pulses in some harvesting areas are already lower than the MSP and thus farmers are not getting the full benefit of increased production leading to farmer unrest and increasing clamour for farm loan waiver,” he said.

As for the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), growth in April was lower than 6.5 percent in the same month last year. The reason was the poor showing by manufacturing, mining and power sectors coupled with a contraction in capital goods (-1.3 per cent) and consumer durables (-6 per cent).

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) revised upwards the IIP growth figure for March to 3.75 percent from the provisional estimate of 2.7 per cent released last month.

According to the CSO data, the manufacturing sector, which constitutes 77.63 per cent to the IIP, grew at 2.6 percent in April compared to 5.5 per cent in same month last year.

Similarly, mining sector output grew at 4.2 percent during the month under review compared to 6.7 year ago. Power generation rose by 5.4 percent in April, down from 14.4 percent expansion in April last year.

Sinha said 3.1 per cent IIP growth could be due to the lagged effect of demonetization which may play out even in the first quarter of FY18.

Under the final revision of January data, IIP growth has been revised to 3.01 per cent from 3.8 per cent estimated earlier.

PTI