Rising concern as wholesale inflation as much as 14.55%, strain on retail costs

WITH PRICES of crude oil and different commodities rising because of disruptions in world provide chains within the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Wholesale Price Index or WPI-based inflation surged to 14.55 per cent in March 2022, after a 13.11 per cent studying in February 2022.

This is the second highest WPI print within the 2011-12 collection. The annual WPI inflation — inflation on the producer stage — has remained within the double—digits in each month of 2021-22 and has virtually constantly edged upwards.

For policymakers, a extra worrying prospect is that of the Consumer Price Index or CPI-based annual inflation – inflation on the retail stage – converging in the direction of the WPI-based inflation, in deviation from the standard pattern of the wholesale value inflation collapsing within the path of the retail value rise.

It presents a peculiar problem for policymakers: the hole between the 2 metrics persevering with for an prolonged interval factors to lingering market inefficiencies, triggered, partially, by the Covid-induced influence on the producer stage. Secondly, the rise in CPI inflation, with no cooling off in sight, signifies a shift from the historic pattern the place the wholesale inflation usually collapses in the direction of client inflation.

Ahead of the wholesale price-based inflation spiking to a four-month excessive of 14.55 per cent in March, a excessive base of seven.89 per cent in March 2021 however, knowledge launched final week confirmed retail inflation in March had surged to a 17-month excessive of 6.95 per cent, pushed primarily by excessive costs of fuels and meals gadgets comparable to cereals, greens, milk, oils, meat, and fish.

Economists are fearful. “You are in a situation where the pricing power has increased in the hands of the producers. So, what will happen is that cost push increases showing up in the WPI will influence the financial crisis. In the past, because we had this very large MSME sector, it was the other way around,” Pronab Sen, former Chief Statistician of India, mentioned. “Given that the MSMEs have been decimated, the pricing power today has shifted. The kind of patterns one talks about the WPI convergence to the CPI may not work; it may in fact be the CPI convergence to the WPI,” Sen mentioned.

The gross non-performing belongings (NPAs) of MSMEs, or loans defaulted by these enterprises, rose by Rs 20,000 crore to Rs 1,65,732 crore as of September 2021 from Rs 1,45,673 crore in September 2020. The Covid-19 influence on MSMEs has performed out in two methods: One, within the FMCG area, the wiping out of many small companies handed elevated pricing energy to bigger producers, and this resulted in value will increase regardless of falling product volumes. The December quarter earnings of FMCG firms pointed to this pattern in rural markets first: marginal or better-than-urban gross sales progress was seen in worth phrases, however amid falling demand as was evident in thinning volumes.


Why the spike, fear

THE small and medium sector bore the brunt of the pandemic. The pricing energy has shifted considerably to bigger enterprises. The value push will increase exhibiting up within the WPI will seemingly affect the monetary disaster, a fear going ahead.

Two, in industrial sectors comparable to cars that had been already going through elevated commodity costs, discount within the variety of MSME suppliers handed the flexibility of commanding larger costs to the remaining element makers, translating into rising enter prices for authentic tools producers. India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd raised the costs of its merchandise 4 instances in 2021-22 – in comparison with only one or two value hikes yearly. Monday, it introduced one other value hike, the primary in 2022-23, throughout fashions. Other carmakers too have hiked costs a number of instances.

Sen additionally alluded to the truth that the rising GST collections had been an indicator of progress within the section of the economic system that collects the tax. “It’s part of the same story. Basically, what the GST collections are telling you is that the component of the economy that we’re paying GST to has grown,” he mentioned.

The minutes of the RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee assembly held throughout December 2-4, 2020, had famous the anecdotal proof of rising earnings and revenue margins, bettering capability utilisation and lack of latest capability additions creating ripe situations for the oligopolistic core to start out exercising pricing energy. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that in several sectors which are characterised by an oligopolistic core and a competitive periphery, the oligopolistic core has weathered the pandemic well and it is the competitive periphery that has been debilitated… These are also the enterprises that are benefiting from borrowing at rates below the policy corridor through commercial paper issuance,” Jayanth R. Varma, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad had mentioned then within the MPC assembly.

Between the wholesale value and the retail value, the distinction basically is that the previous tracks solely primary costs devoid of transportation value, taxes and the retail margin, and so on. And that WPI pertains to solely items, not companies. So, the WPI principally captures the typical motion of wholesale costs of products and is primarily used as a GDP deflator (the ratio of the worth of products an economic system produces in a specific 12 months at present costs to that of costs that prevailed throughout the base 12 months). Despite this, the WPI-inflation far exceeding the CPI-inflation serves as a sign for retail costs to rise additional going ahead. Officials on the Reserve Bank of India had pointed to proof that prompt WPI-inflation collapsing in the direction of the CPI-inflation slightly than the opposite manner round. Relying on this, that they had indicated that wholesale inflation would are likely to ease and converge into CPI inflation with passage of time.

“Till some time, the producers will absorb it but when it starts hitting their bottom line, then they will start passing on. If prices continue to rise at retail level, it may start hitting demand going ahead,” Devendra Pant, Chief Economist, India Ratings mentioned. It just isn’t needed that WPI will improve first after which CPI or vice versa; it could occur concurrently. “WPI is rising due to higher prices of inputs and raw materials. Higher final prices in some way may influence prices at the first producer level,” he mentioned.

Going forward, retail inflation could not quiet down, prompting the RBI to introduce extra liquidity curbing measures. “The month-on-month decline in the food and beverages index in March 2022, was predominantly led by vegetables, eggs and tea, whereas many other items saw moderate increases. We remain concerned that even a normal monsoon may not be enough to douse the retail prices of those items that are pushing up food inflation, such as edible oils,” Aditi Nayar, Chief Economist at scores company ICRA mentioned.

ICRA expects WPI inflation to stay within the vary of 13.5-15 per cent in April, partly relying on the place crude oil costs settle within the the rest of the month and the way a lot petrol and diesel costs are revised additional. “The broad-based nature of the rise in the WPI inflation is likely to be of particular concern to the MPC. We see a growing probability of the first repo hike being preponed to June 2022,” Nayar mentioned.

Inflation on the inputs aspect is being handed on by producers to the output costs. “As the margins of the manufacturers have been under pressure due to rising input costs, transportation, and logistics, they are passing on these into their output prices leading to higher inflation in manufactured products. The higher input costs, especially of raw materials, have aggravated due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. As the conflict does not seem to be coming to an end soon, the headwinds arising out of the disruption in the global supply chain coupled with uncertainty will continue to put pressure on domestic wholesale inflation,” Sunil Kumar Sinha, Principal Economist, India Ratings and Research, mentioned.

In its ‘State of the Economy’ report launched Monday, the RBI cautioned on the ‘grim’ near-term world outlook, and mentioned that the surge in commodity costs is already posing inflation dangers, particularly by way of the conduit of surging imports. “Emerging market economies are bracing up to contend with swift shifts in risk sentiments and tightening of global financial conditions that could produce real economic consequences which may thwart incipient recoveries or even precipitate rocketing inflation and economic downturns,” the RBI famous. “The Indian economy is not immune to these negative externalities,” it mentioned.

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