A sudden rise in cost of fuel, including petrol, LPG and high speed diesel percolated down into the economy in March as wholesale inflation in the country reached a massive 7.3 percent.
Measured by the Wholesale Price Index (WPI), wholesale inflation had been 4.17 per cent in the previous month of February. While it has been on a continuous uptick from December onwards when it was just 1.9 percent, the latest rise shows broad based price rise shot up in March.
Economists blame a sudden 10.2 percent jump in fuel inflation as the main reason for this. According to the WPI, after reducing for 11 straight months, overall fuel prices had risen by just 0.6 percent in February. Case in point, petrol prices rose by 18.4 percent in March, compared to just 0.8 percent in February. LPG prices soared to 10.5 percent in the latest month, up from just 0.5 percent in February.
"Given the low base of March 2020, the inflation for crude petroleum and natural gas soared to 32.1 percent in March 2021. While crude oil prices have retreated from the peaks seen in March 2021, a falling base is expected to push up the inflation for this segment as well as mineral oils further in April 2021. Moreover, the depreciation in the INR will push up the landed cost of imports, adding to the inflationary pressures for the WPI going forward," Aditi Nayar, Chief Economist at ICRA, said.
Across the board rise
A continuing uptick in food inflation also contributed to the pace of inflation accelerating for the third-month in a row. Also, prices of manufactured products, which have a combined weight of 65 per cent in the index, rose by a sharp 7.3 percent.
"Led by pulses, fruits and mutton prices, food inflation jumped to five months high of 5.3 percent. Sharp increase in manufactured product prices, core inflation increased to its highest level in 2011-12 base series at 7.0 percent in March 2021," Devendra Pant, chief economist at India Research and Ratings, said.
The Indian economy was slowly recovering in the fourth quarter of FY21 before the onset of second wave of COVID-19 infections. While the economic recovery in the fourth quarter is unlikely to be much different from that in the third quarter of FY21, wholesale inflation in the fourth quarter has increased to 4.7 percent from 1.9 percent in the previous quarter, Pant added. This implies a higher nominal GVA/GDP growth in the fourth quarter, he said.
Even as wage growth has remined subdued, India Ratings feels that it is likely that listed companies will have another quarter of good EBIDTA growth.
Retail inflation figures for March, released earlier this week showed the Consumer Price Index-based inflation (CPI) at 5.52 percent, rising from February's 5.03 percent. Retail inflation has now stayed within the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) medium term inflation target of 4(+/-2 per cent) for the fourth consecutive month.
WPI had less than 1/3rd weightage in the inflation target given to RBI, with the rest being CPI. As a result, the latest wholesale inflation figures are not expected to impact interest rates to a major extent.
ICRA expects WPI inflation to rise further over the next two months, peaking at around 11-11.5 percent and 8-8.5 percent, respectively in May 2021.