January retail inflation jumps to five-and-half-year high of 7.59% on high food prices

The retail inflation jumped to 7.59% in January 2020 as food prices continued to rise in the new year, government data showed on Wednesday.

The earlier high was in May 2014 when the CPI-based inflation was 8.33%. 

The Consumer Price Index (CPI)-based inflation was 7.35% in December 2019 while it was 5.54% in November 2019. 

CPI in rural areas was 7.73% while it was 7.39% in urban areas. 

The data released by the National Statistical Office under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation showed that food inflation, measured by the Consumer Food Price Index (CFPI), was 13.63% in January 2020 against -2.24% in January 2019.

The food inflation in December 2019 was 14.12%.

Prices of vegetables, pulses and protein-rich meat and fish, government data showed. 

Inflation in vegetables spurt to 50.19% while that for pulses and products, it rose to 16.71%. Among protein-rich items, prices of meat and fish went up by 10.50% during the month, while egg prices were higher by 10.41% against the year-ago period.

The food and beverages category showed an inflation print of 11.79%, according to the data.

Housing turned costlier by 4.20% in January 2020, while for fuel and light, the inflation print was 3.66%.

Experts react

"The internals of the food inflation are worrying, given a broad-based uptick across categories that tend to be sticky, such as proteins, and a narrower-than-expected reduction in inflation for vegetables.

"Moreover, the fairly broad-based rise in the core inflation to 4.1% in January 2020, driven by various services, is a cause for concern," said Aditi Nayar, principal economist, ICRA.

Nayar added that regardless of the level of retail inflation, the stance of the RBI for the monetary policy is likely to be retained as accommodative, for as long as the MPC considers the output gap to be negative. "The timing and magnitude of the next rate cut will depend on how quickly inflation appears to be reverting back towards 4%."

Rahul Gupta, head of research (currency), Emkay Global Financial Services, said, "It is the consecutive second month that the CPI has breached upper band of the RBI's inflation target... If inflation continues to hover above 6%, we don't expect the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) to cut interest rate or change its accommodative policy stance," said.

Rajani Sinha, Chief Economist & Head Research at Knight Frank India, said, “CPI inflation has surged further mainly due to spike in food prices and telecom tariff hike. This is the second consecutive month of inflation above RBI’s upper target of 6%. Sustained high food inflation could result in inflationary expectations rebounding and RBI would be wary of that.”