RBI likely to raise repo rate by 0.25% to tame inflation

With food prices showing no signs of abatement, the Reserve Bank is likely to

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hike its key policy rate by 0.25 % tomorrow, the third straight increase under Governor Raghuram Rajan as part of the war against inflation.

Wholesale Price Index inflation in November climbed to a 14-month high of 7.52 % as prices of food items such as onions and potatoes surged. Consumer price inflation touched a nine-month high of 11.24 % last month.

Factory output shrank 1.8 % in October, the first contraction in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) in four months."Crucially, core inflation as well as non-food manufacturing inflation rose marginally in November. As a result of rising price pressures, RBI is likely to raise the repo rate by 0.25 % to 8 % on December 18 in its monetary policy review, despite a still-shrinking industrial sector," Crisil said.

Given the price rises at both the retail and wholesale levels, the RBI, with inflation control as its prime objective, is set to hike the repo rate once again later this week, it said.

Axis Bank chief economist Saugata Bhattacharya believes the probability of a 25 basis point rate hike is more, but "a 50 basis point rate hike is not off the table."

However, Indian Overseas Bank Chairman and Managing Director M Narendra said the RBI could maintain status quo in its mid-quarter review if it perceives food inflation moderating in the coming days with improved foodgrain production.

RBI Governor Rajan, who delivered two repo rate hikes of 0.25 % each in as many policy reviews since he took over on September 4, had mentioned that he considered fighting inflation as the central bank's "key responsibility."

According to HSBC chief economist for India and Asean, Leif Lybecker Eskesen, while improved food supplies may help reduce food inflation in coming months, the sticky and high CPI headline and core inflation is testament to the strong underlying inflation pressures in the economy.

The RBI will likely deliver another 25 basis point rate hike in the upcoming policy review, he said.

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch concurred, saying a 0.25 % hike on December 18 is a "done deal" and adding that along with the hike, the RBI could also seal the shift of the money market to the repo mode from the marginal standing facility.

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