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Charting the steep climb of India’s urban consumer price index

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Consumer price index trendlines of 78 cities in India, upward, ever upward

Consumer price index trendlines of 78 cities in India, upward, ever upward

Let’s get the definitions out of the way first. The Consumer Price Index for industrial workers in India is compiled by the Labour Bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Employment. These Consumer Price Indices measure the changes in the level of retail prices of a fixed set of goods and services consumed by an average working class family. The retail prices are collected from 78 cities distributed through practically all states and regions.

These indices are used for fixing the wages and the dearness allowance (a vintage term, used to calibrate a flexible allowance so as to allow salaries to adjust to goods having become more ‘dear’, or expensive) of millions of workers and employees in India. These indices also serve us as important indicators of retail price movement in India.

The trend is clear. These representative worms show the 20th, 40th, 60th and 80th percentiles of the indices for the 78 cities. The acceleration from around July-September 2009 is visible.

The trend is clear. These representative worms show the 20th, 40th, 60th and 80th percentiles of the indices for the 78 cities. The acceleration from around July-September 2009 is visible.

How are these prices collected and from where? As the Labour Bureau has explained, popularity, amongst customers, is the main criterion for selecting shops. The selection process includes “observation of the shops during peak business hours by a team of field officers of the Labour Bureau and interviews of the local workers”. (It sounds very systematic and thorough but, given the miserly budgets available, I doubt whether the Ministry of Labour is able to afford the people required to do this carefully and regularly; still, it’s the best we have.)

For each item or service, two selected shops and two reserve shops are listed. This is because, if the price of an item (such as wheat flour or jaggery) cannot be collected from the ‘selected shops’, then the prices are collected from the ‘reserve shops’. And if prices cannot be collected even from the ‘reserve shops’ then any other shop in the market will do!

The difference, or the 80-20 variation, between the indices of cities in the fifth fractile and the first. The question is: why has the variation increased in the last three years and who has gained from this increase?

The difference, or the 80-20 variation, between the indices of cities in the fifth fractile and the first. The question is: why has the variation increased in the last three years and who has gained from this increase?

What the detail of the chart above shows is the worm-like crawling, ever upward and steeply, of the 78 individual trendlines of the Consumer Price Indices (for industrial workers). What we see is that from 2009 July, the variation within the band increases, and increases at a rate greater than the period 2006 Jan to 2009 July.

Which are the cities in which the CPI-IW has increased more sharply in the latter period, that is, 2009 September to 2013 March, than in the earlier period, 2006 January to 2009 September? Mumbai and Nashik (Maharashtra), Ahmedabad, Bhilai (Chhattisgarh), Vishakhapatanam (Andhra Pradesh), Vadodara (Gujarat), Salem (Tamil Nadu), Pondicherry, Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), Jalandhar (Punjab), Chandigarh, Surat and Bhavnagar (Gujarat), and Hubli-Dharwad (Karnataka) have all seen steeper increases in the CPI-IW – between 5% and 10% more – in the last three years than in the first three years.

In Rajkot (Gujarat), Durgapur (West Bengal), Ernakulam (Kerala), Madurai (Tamil Nadu), Jamshedpur and Jharia (Jharkhand), Chennai and Tiruchirapally (Tamil Nadu), Ajmer (Rajasthan), Coonoor (Tamil Nadu) and Mysore (Karnataka) the rate of increase in the CPI-IW has been 10% to 20%. And in Quilon and Mundakayam (Kerala) and Haldia (West Bengal) the rate of increase has been more than 20%! Hence we see very clearly that the effects of the 2007-08 global food price spike was experienced by labour and consumers in India’s cities, but that in many of these cities, the food and general inflation over the last three years has been even more severe.

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Written by makanaka

July 3, 2013 at 15:14

A tale of five food indices

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Food and agricultural commodities indices behaviour from 2009 January to 2012 November. There are five series - FAO's food index, FAO's cereals index, Unctad's food sub-index, the IMF's food price index, the IGC's grains and oilseeds index.

Food and agricultural commodities indices behaviour from 2009 January to 2012 November. There are five series – FAO’s food index, FAO’s cereals index, Unctad’s food sub-index, the IMF’s food price index, the IGC’s grains and oilseeds index.

Agricultural commodity and food price indices have ended 2012, as a group, at their highest levels in the last four years.

This chart uses index data from five series – two are from FAO (its food index and its cereals index), there is the Unctad food sub-index (of its long-running commodities index), there is the IMF food price index (which includes cereals, vegetable oils and sugar), and there is the IGC grains and oilseeds index.

I have set them all to ‘1’ in 2009 January and observed their behaviour over 46 months (until 2012 November).
For about a year between 2009 July and 2010 August, there was fairly wide divergence between this group of indices, the FAO cereals index and the IGC index maintaining a lower track, the IMF cereals index not rising above 10% of its starting value, the Unctad food index being volatile and the FAO food index at the top.

From 2010 July to 2011 March all the indices rose steeply and in concert. Thereafter till around 2012 July there was a slow general decline (from about 40% above starting point to about 25% above starting point) for all the indices (with the FAO food index about 15% above the rest).

From 2012 July there has been another steep, albeit shorter, jump for all, and at 2012 November the series at the top is the IGC index, with all five at about 35% to 45% above their starting values.

Written by makanaka

January 4, 2013 at 09:55