CPI a better indicator of inflation than WPI: Subbarao

CPI a better indicator of inflation than WPI: Subbarao
Press Trust of India, July 5, 2011, (Mumbai)

           Reserve Bank of India Governor D Subbarao today said consumer price index (CPI) works better than  wholesale price index (WPI) in capturing market dynamics and arriving at a more realistic inflation forecast.

"Conceptually, the CPI is a better indicator of demand side pressures than the WPI and there is no denying that  consumer prices better reflect demand side pressures than wholesale prices," Subbarao said at the RBI's 5th Statistical  day celebrations at the Mint Road office.     

Elaborating it, the Governor said a sustained rise in wholesale prices either results in an eventual increase in  prices by retailers or a squeeze in their margins.

But if the demand is strong, retailers may exercise  pricing power and pass on the increase in wholesale prices to consumers. In case demand is weak, retailers will be forced to  partly absorb the increase in wholesale prices in their margins, he said.

However, defending the WPI usage in the apex bank's  inflation forecast, Subbarao said, "Given the limited efficacy of monetary policy to deal with food and fuel inflation, and the limits on using core CPI inflation measures, we have  focussed our attention on non-food manufactured products  inflation as an indicator of demand-side pressures in the economy."

He admitted that there was some merit in the criticism of RBI's inflation forecasts, which has been going off the  mark, but pointed out that the bank has "opted for WPI over CPI as a second best choice for a number of reasons, first and  most importantly, we do not have a single CPI that is  representative of the whole country.     

"Until recently we had four, and currently we have three CPIs representing different segments of the population," he  said, pointing out that while WPI is computed on an all-India  basis, while CPIs are constructed for specific centres and then aggregated to an all-India index.      

"Secondly, WPI is available with a shorter lag than the CPIs. Third, WPI has a broader coverage than the CPIs in terms of the number of commodities, quotations, inclusion of non-agricultural products and tradeable items," he said.

Noting that Wholesale Price inflation has been revised  upwards, sometimes sharply, in last many months, he said the RBI accordingly revised upwards many a times its inflation  forecasts during the fiscal ended March 31, 2011.     

While it is true that commodity prices influence the  non-food manufactured products component of WPI, it is also  true that the pass-through effect from higher commodity prices  to WPI depends critically upon underlying demand conditions in  the economy, he argued.      

"For inflation assessment, RBI looks at all the measures of inflation, both overall and disaggregated components, in  conjunction with other economic and financial indicators. In  the context of monetary policy formulation, it is important to have a robust primary measure of inflation at the national  level," he said.

In this direction, the compilation and dissemination of  CPI (urban), CPI (rural) and CPI for the country by CSO is an  important step forward, but the long time series data, especially for the back period are not available for these new  indices making them unsuitable for policy analysis, he said.      

Stating the RBI has been left to double-guess inflation  numbers, he said sharp variance in the data supply had led to a systematic under-prediction of inflation numbers by the apex bank last year. He called for a need to make efforts to  ensure the quantum and frequency of revisions reduced.

Blaming the sharp rise in oil and commodity prices,  lower-than-expected decline in food prices despite a normal  monsoon, erroneous signals from IIP data, and the more than  expected upward revisions to the past inflation data, as the factors that led to the inflation miscalculation, Subbarao admitted that generally, private inflation forecasts came much  closer to what was ultimately reported for last fiscal year.

Noting that the revision of the basket for CPI series lags that of the WPI series, he said though last year when the WPI series was revised to the base of 2004-05, the existing  CPIs continue with the old base-- for CPI-RL (rural labourers)   (1986-87), CPI-AL (agri labourers )(1986-87) and CPI-IW  (industrial workers) (2001), making them ill-equipped to  capture the price behaviour caused by the rapid structural changes in the economy. 

Pointing out that the changes in the weights for manufactured products are not substantial even in the revised  WPI base year, he said there is a tilt in the weights towards non-food manufactured products reflecting changes in the   production pattern over the decade.

Some key economic data widely used elsewhere, such as  regular retail sales data, as well as those on employment and  housing sales, are not regularly compiled in the country, leading the inflation numbers half baked or non-representative  of the actual demand and price movements in the economy.

Pointing out that the more critical data on WPI inflation  also have been subject to large revisions, he said, "the initial estimates of WPI inflation were 8.2 percent for  January '11 and 8.3 percent for February'11. (But) both these  numbers were substantially revised upwards by 120 bps each.

"Often, it is not clear if the revisions are occasioned  by one-off factors or systemic factors. Nevertheless, each  time we have to make an assessment of the inflation situation,  we are left to double-guessing how the provisional number might be revised," Subbarao said.

"But if the provisional data that we feed into the  econometric model is off-track and does not exhibit any systematic pattern, our projections of inflation too gets off-track," he concluded.


Read more at: http://profit.ndtv.com/news/show/cpi-a-better-indicator-of-inflation-than-wpi-subbarao-163001?cp


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