Consumers awoke this morning to a sharp rise in the price of gasoline. By next month, they may also be facing higher prices for two other everyday items – imported cooking oil and pulses – because of the weakness of the rupee.
India, the world’s largest importer of edible oil, has so far not felt the pinch as a fall in international prices for oil has largely offset the impact of the weakening currency. (A weak rupee means it takes more rupees to buy the oil, which is sold in dollars.)
However, with the rupee expected to slide further, analysts say it is just a matter of time before importers either hold off increasing imports even though the coming months are a time of peak consumption. They could even slow their imports, a move that would further tighten domestic supply. Either way, prices are likely to rise.
The rupee’s weakness “is definitely hitting us as it has increased our cost,” said B.V Mehta, executive director of the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India, a trade body for the edible oil industry. “Everybody will wait for the dust to settle on the rupee before increasing their imports.”
The total cost of cooking oil imports is expected to rise to about 500 billion rupees ($8.9 billion) in the year that began April 1, from 400 billion rupees in the previous 12 months, largely because of the fall in rupee value. Those higher costs are likely to be passed on to consumers.
A flattening or reduction of edible oil imports would be a sharp reversal. In the first six months of the marketing year that began Nov. 1, edible oil imports rose 31% from the same period a year earlier to 4.6 million tons.
Consumers also may be paying more for pulses, the main source of protein for a majority of the population, because of a similar dynamic.
“We have absorbed most the rising import costs so far, but if the rupee’s free fall continues we may have to stop imports or raise the prices,” said Bimal Kothari, vice president of the India Pulses and Grains Association.
The country imports around 3 million tons of the protein staple annually.
Prices of milk and poultry are also expected to rise because of a 50% jump in the cost of feed material.
One possible plus for consumers is that the monsoon rains are expected to be normal and that has brightened the crop prospects for other staples such as rice, oilseeds, sugar and domestically-grown pulses.
“The overall scenario doesn’t look too good in the coming months especially for the imported food items like edible oil and pulses,” said Naveen Mathur, associate director for commodities and currencies at Angel Broking. “The food prices may escalate further. It may go through the roof. [Compiled from DJ Reprints]
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