Companies and consumers can expect another round of monetary tightening and administrative measures as headline inflation based on the wholesale price index crossed double digits to touch 11.05 per cent for the week ended June 7, the highest since May 6, 1995.
The inflation numbers spooked the stock markets, with the benchmark Sensitive Index dropping to its lowest in almost 10 months. The Sensex fell 516.70 points, or 3.4 per cent, to 14,571.29, its lowest since August 24. All but one stock in the index fell.
The 13-year high beat all analysts' and the government's expectations by almost 100 basis points and reflected the impact of the June 4 increase in auto and cooking fuels.
Petrol prices were raised by Rs 5 per litre, diesel by Rs 3 per litre and LPG by Rs 50 per cylinder after the basket of crude oil that Indian refineries buy touched $125 per barrel.
The inflation rate stood at 8.75 per cent in the previous week and 4.28 per cent in the corresponding week the previous year.
"Ninety-four per cent of the weekly jump is on account of fuel," Finance Minister P Chidambaram said in a brief statement outside his North Block office this afternoon.
"Inflation for the current week also captured rupee depreciation making imports dearer," said Dharmakirti Joshi, principal economist, Crisil.
"This is indeed a very difficult time," Chidambaram said, adding: "We will have to look at stronger measures on the demand side and the monetary side."
The government has already taken several fiscal and administrative measures like banning the export of some food items and cement, cutting import duties, banning futures trading in some items, and reducing customs and excise on petroleum products to curb the price rise.
Analysts and companies expect the inflation rate to stay above 10 per cent in the weeks ahead as the fuel price rise works its way through the system.
"The inflation rate will be around 11.45 per cent next week," said Saugata Bhattacharya, vice-president, economic research, Axis Bank, attributing the rise to an increase in private transport prices that will push up fruit and vegetable rates.
"Even by December the inflation rate will remain close to 10 per cent. It will decline only by January or February, but not below 9 per cent," he added.
"The wholesale price index does not look like coming down unless there is a very sharp correction in crude oil and commodity prices," Joshi added.
Meanwhile, with the inflation rate consistently above the Reserve Bank of India's comfort level of 5 to 5.5 per cent since February (see chart), bankers and economists expect the central bank to raise the cash reserve ratio (CRR), the proportion of deposits the central banks require banks to keep with it, 25 to 50 basis points.