Indian central bank sees inflation risks, limited room to ease policy

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - India's central bank chief struck a hawkish note on Saturday, saying there are upside risks to inflation from food and commodity prices, while room for monetary easing is limited.

Headline inflation slowed to its lowest level in more than three years last month, but some analysts say the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will watch the fiscal and current account gap and inflation risks before easing again.

"There are upside risks for inflation. In particular, food prices are going up as result of cyclical factors... Then, there is pressure on inflation from global commodity prices," Mr Duvvuri Subbarao told reporters in Moscow.

The RBI cut its key policy rate for the first time in nine months last month, but struck a cautious note on further easing as it waits to see how the government's budget aims to bring a bloated fiscal deficit under control.

"At this moment, there is room for monetary easing, but that room is limited, and we have to make a careful judgement on how to use that limited room," Mr Subbarao said on the fringes of a meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers.

India's high fiscal and current account deficits, in addition to inflation risks, are deterrents for further monetary easing, which is seen necessary to support sagging growth.

The current account deficit widened to a record high of 5.4 per cent of gross domestic product in the September quarter, and Mr Subbarao recently said it is likely to be at an all-time high in the fiscal year that ends in March.

In October, strained finances forced the Indian government to revise its fiscal deficit target for the fiscal year ending in March to 5.3 per cent from 5.1 per cent.

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