From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Core inflation
Mains level : Paper 3- Inflation challenge
Expectations that commodity and oil prices would cool down in 2022 as the pandemic ebbed were belied by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which exacerbated existing pressures. Fresh lockdowns in China are also extending the pandemic-induced supply-chain bottlenecks.
Challenges for central banks
- Systemically important central banks that viewed the consistent uptick in inflation as transitory — caused by post-pandemic supply shocks — are now finding it hard to bottle the genie.
- Inflation in the time of weak growth: What central banks like even less is having to deal with rising inflation in times of weak growth.
- Because the primary tool they have to fight it — the interest rate hike — can be recessionary.
Inflation in India
- CPI inflation averaged 6.3 per cent in the January-March 2022, above the RBI’s target range of 2-6 per cent.
- The RBI forecasts inflation for April-June at 6.3 per cent.
- One more quarter over the 6 per cent mark, and the central bank would owe the government an explanation.
- Factors driving inflation: Fiscal 2021-In fiscal 2021, inflationary pressures came largely from food and, to some extent, core which excludes fuel and food.
- Fiscal 2022- In fiscal 2022, crude prices hardened to emerge as the new driver. Core inflation firmed up further.
- But the drop in food inflation offset this, so overall inflation was lower at 5.5 per cent compared with 6.2 per cent the previous year.
Understanding inflation in fiscal 2023
- What makes this fiscal worrying is, all three-fule, food and core are firmly pointing in the same direction — up.
- Fuel inflation, in double digits for a year now, shows no signs of easing.
- Energy prices have risen sharply across the board — from crude oil to coal and natural gas.
- The cut in excise duties on petrol and diesel in November 2021 is insufficient to bring down fuel inflation, in the event crude prices stay above $90 per barrel this fiscal.
- Food inflation: Food is the most volatile component and biggest mover of CPI inflation, given that it occupies 39 per cent weight in the average consumption basket.
- On the positive side, India looks set to enjoy a fourth successive year of normal monsoon and still has good buffer stocks of rice and wheat.
- What is certain, though, is the rising cost of food production.
- Prices of fertilisers, pesticides, diesel and animal feed are all surging.
- Already pricey edible oils are set to get even costlier, with Indonesia’s recent ban on refined palm oil exports adding pressure.
- No wonder then, food inflation is expected to rise.
- Core inflation: Core inflation, a barometer of demand pressures, will continue to climb despite an environment of weak demand due to the persistence of supply shocks.
- For producers, the bump-up in international prices across energy and metal commodities since the war has brought more pain.
- But a weak and uneven demand recovery means producers had limited ability to pass on cost pressures to consumers.
- Such pass-through has been partial, at best.
- For most goods, CPI inflation has been much lower than the corresponding WPI last fiscal.
- The pattern of recovery is also uneven across different segments, with contact-intensive services lagging formal manufacturing.
- But contact-based services will catch up sooner or later, as restrictions become a thing of the past.
- The last time we saw such broad-basing of inflationary pressures was after the Global Financial Crisis.
- The difference this time around is consumer demand, which remains weak and will limit the extent of pass-through.
Forecasting inflation in such uncertain times is fraught with risk. The RBI has predicted ~5.7 per cent consumer inflation this fiscal, while professional forecasters see it at 5.6 per cent. The odds currently favour a higher inflation print, and a rate hike in June.