New Delhi: Indian inflation headed towards zero in early March and analysts tipped it would soon turn negative, opening the way for the Reserve Bank of India to cut interest rates further to prop up demand and growth.
The wholesale price index, India’s most widely watched inflation measure, rose 0.44% in the 12 months to 7 March, sharply lower than the previous week’s 2.43% and below a forecast of 0.89% in a Reuters poll.
It was the lowest reading since annual numbers in the current series began in April 1995, well below the previous low of 1.13% on 2 February 2002, and a peak of 12.91% last August.
“We are looking at deflation by the last week of March. It will have a stabilising impact on bond yields in the days to come,” said Abheek Barua, the chief economist at HDFC Bank.
“It also gives the central bank that much more headroom to keep cutting rates.”
The new benchmark 10-year bond fell to 6.39% from 6.44% before the data, but later unwound the fall.
Since October, the central bank has cut its key lending rate by 400 basis points, most recently in early March, as the policy focus has shifted to boosting demand and arrest slowing growth.
Trade secretary GK Pillai said inflation would not be a concern for the next 2-3 months, but some analysts say policy makers would be in a dilemma over further rate cuts as the consumer price index is still over 9% in annual terms.
HDFC’s Barua said a sharp decline in food prices would help close the gap between the wholesale and consumer price indexes.
Cuts in state-set fuel prices, falling global commodity prices, and policy measures such as cuts in duties and interest rates have contributed to the sharp fall in wholesale price inflation over the past seven months.
Asia’s third largest economy is expected to expand 7.1% or less in the fiscal year to end March, slowing sharply from 9% or more recorded in previous three years.