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India's March consumer inflation likely edged up for fourth month: poll

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India's consumer inflation probably edged up in March for the fourth straight month from a record low in November, as heavy rains drove up food prices, giving the central bank pause for thought as it waits for the next chance to cut interest rates.

[NEW DELHI] April 13 (Reuters) - India's consumer inflation probably edged up in March for the fourth straight month from a record low in November, as heavy rains drove up food prices, giving the central bank pause for thought as it waits for the next chance to cut interest rates.

Consumer prices likely rose to 5.5 per cent in March from a year earlier compared with February's 5.37 per cent, according to a Reuters' poll of economists. The data was due to be released at 1200 GMT.

The Reserve Bank of India has cut interest rates twice this year at unscheduled meetings, but kept its key repo rate on hold at 7.50 per cent last week, waiting to assess inflationary pressures and give commercial banks more time to cut their lending rates.

While inflation has steadily accelerated from a record low of 4.38 per cent struck in November it remains below the 6.0 per cent upper end of the central bank's target range.

Many economists expect the RBI to keep rates unchanged for now, but cut once more by the end of June. The next policy review in on June 2. "(Consumer) inflation is expected to average 5.5 percent in 2015, limiting future repo rate cuts to 50 basis points over the remainder of 2015," said Aditi Nayar, an economist at ICRA, the Indian arm of Rating Agency Moody's.

During the last few weeks, unseasonably heavy rain in north and central India have damaged crops, leading to a rise in vegetable and foodgrain prices.

India has ordered imports of up to 80,000 tonnes of wheat, the most in five years, because it fears a dip in foodgrain production, sources told Reuters.

The RBI said last week that it expects consumer inflation to stay at current levels in the April-June quarter helped by weak oil and food prices, but rise to 5.8 per cent by the end of the year.

The central bank has targeted bringing inflation down to 4 per cent by the end of 2017/18.

Globally, central banks are fighting to contain concerns over deflation, as prices continue to fall in most eurozone countries, Japan and China.

India, however, is one of the brighter spots, with the economy picking up after two years of sub-par growth, reflecting in part a recovery in business confidence since Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept to power with a landslide election victory last May.

According to data released on Friday, India's industrial output accelerated to show 5.0 per cent growth in February, the fastest in three months and well above a Reuters poll forecast.

On Thursday, Moody's revised India's sovereign rating outlook to "positive" from "stable", saying an upgrade of the credit rating was possible in the next 12-18 months, if things continue to improve.

REUTERS