Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 14, 2008

14 Nov 2008, 0000 hrs IST, REUTERS

NEW DELHI: Inflation dropped sharply to its lowest in nearly six months in early November as prices of metals and fuels fell, and analysts said the unexpectedly low figure gave the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) room to cut rates.

The substantial easing in inflation comes at a time when Indian policy makers are struggling to protect growth and shield the economy from the impact of the global economic slowdown.

India’s wholesale price index, the most widely watched inflation measure, rose 8.98 per cent in the 12 months to Nov. 1, well below forecasts for a rise of 10.37 per cent, data showed on Thursday.

It was the lowest reading since May 24, when the rate was 8.90 per cent and well below early August’s peak of 12.91 per cent.

Analysts said a decline in global commodity prices, robust domestic agricultural output and a fall in demand in a slowing economy helped bring the rate to single-digits well ahead of earlier expectations.

“Taking comfort from the decline in inflation and responding to the worsening demand outlook, we expect the Reserve Bank of India to cut the reverse repo rate by 100 basis points and the repo rate by 150 points by March 2009,” said A. Prasanna, an economist at ICICI Securities.

He said inflation was likely to ease to 4.5 per cent by March 2009. The repo is the central bank’s main lending rate while the reverse repo is the rate at which it absorbs excess cash from the banking system.

Strong evidence that India’s $1 trillion economy, Asia’s third largest, is slowing has emerged in recent weeks. Factory output has been sharply lower, manufacturers have trimmed output and put expansion plans on hold. Government excise receipts — factory gate taxes — contracted in October.

Economists and policy makers expect growth to slow to 7 per cent in the current fiscal year to March, from the close to 9 per cent seen in the previous three years.


Despite rebounding in September to a just respectable 4.8 per cent, analysts have warned annual growth in industrial output, a key indicator, was set for a severe slowdown after the credit crisis paralysed India’s money markets in October.

That pushed up firms’ interest costs as they battled tough business conditions and shrinking export markets.

Authorities have taken a slew of measures in recent weeks including cutting the repo by 150 basis points to 7.5 per cent and lowering banks’ reserve requirements to improve liquidity and boost growth.

India’s financial markets, which have borne the brunt of the financial crisis in recent months, were closed on Thursday for a national holiday.

The receding threat of inflation will cheer India’s Congress Party-led ruling coalition as it gears up for a string of state elections in coming weeks and federal polls by early 2009.

Suresh Tendulkar, a top economic adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, told Reuters the latest inflation data provided room for the RBI to act on rates.

“My hunch is the Reserve Bank of India will wait for one or two weeks and then take a call,” he said.




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