The Hindu Editorial Vocabulary– Jan 19, 2022; Day 217
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Difficult Word/ PhraseContextual Sense
Conundrum A difficult problem
Mandarin a person who has a very important job in the government, and who is sometimes considered to be too powerful
Conjure up bring into existence
Fragmented Having been divided
Stutter Function or progress in an irregular way
Meagre Deficient in amount, quality or extent
Clock To register
Threshold a point at which something starts
Cool Lose intensity
Deferral a postponement of an action or event
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Inflation conundrum (A difficult problem)

High price rise trends could continue in 2022, compounding the challenge for policy makers

While North Block mandarins (a person who has a very important job in the government, and who is sometimes considered to be too powerful) seek to conjure up (bring into existence) policy levers in the upcoming Budget to spur India’s fragmented (Having been divided) economic recovery along, the latest official data suggest industrial output is stuttering (Function or progress in an irregular way) with a meagre (Deficient in amount, quality or extent) 1.4% growth in November. More worryingly, inflation is re-emerging as a threat — retail prices surged to a five-month high of 5.6% in December from 4.9% in November. While urban India continued to record a higher incidence of price rise at over 5.8%, inflation faced by rural consumers was at 5.36% — the steepest pace since July 2021. A dozen States clocked (to register) higher inflation than the headline 5.6% level, with half of them recording well over India’s stated inflation tolerance threshold (a point at which something starts) of 6%, led by Haryana and Tamil Nadu with an over 6.6% print. While the CPI cooled (Lose intensity) month on month by about 0.35%, this was offset by low base effects that pushed up inflation in food and beverages, and higher clothing and footwear prices. The deferral (a postponement of an action or event) of a higher GST on textiles, and softening food and vegetable prices this month, may help rein in some of these pressures, but there are other headwinds. Fuel prices moderated after excise duty cuts in November, but this may not sustain for long as average prices for India’s crude oil basket are now at around $84. For now, retail fuel prices have remained static, but this may have more to do with the unstated tendency of not effecting such hikes in the poll season. By Monday, yields on government bonds had hit a two-year high which could upset the fiscal math over time.

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Inflation in wholesale prices offered little comfort in December even as it came off a record high of 14.2% in November to touch 13.6%, staying above double digits for the ninth successive month. Economists believe that the persistent gap between wholesale and retail inflation, now at eight percentage points, does not augur well for price stability ahead. Producers coping with high commodity prices and input costs will have to find ways to pass them on to consumers, feeding into retail inflation and squeezing household budgets further. For industry, inflation is as critical an obstacle to higher consumption and growth impulses as the new virus mutations and the third wave — which by itself is expected to further stoke retail prices. Consistently high inflation, as witnessed since the pandemic onset, constitutes not just a tax on the poor and the middle classes, but is also a potentially permanent wrecking ball for future spending capacity (and growth) amid a damaged job market. The Government, through its statement of intent in the Budget, and the RBI, which has noted that the waning of inflation spiralling across geographies may ‘take longer’ than expected and will review its monetary policy stance next month, need to communicate their inflation game plan to soothe expectations.

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