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We believe that the inflation outlook is not as benign as the CBT depicted in the January Inflation Report. Service inflation remains sticky and there is no meaningful improvement in inflation dynamics. This, coupled with the possibility of a reversal in food prices, leads us to believe that inflation will come in at around 7.5% by the end of 2013. With this backdrop in mind, we expect January's inflation to come in at around 1.35%MoM, or 7%YoY, compared with 6.2%YoY in December.
Our estimates suggest that the tobacco tax hike, which is expected to contribute about 0.8pp to the monthly inflation figure, was the key factor in shaping January's inflation. Leading indicators also suggest that food prices rose by 2.5%MoM in January - notably higher than seasonal average of 1.7%MoM - suggesting that a reversal in unprocessed food prices might be already underway.
Recent high-frequency indicators on real sector activity have been providing mixed signals on the growth outlook. Manufacturing PMI rose to 53.1 in December - highest in 14 months - from 51.6 in November, signaling a supportive environment for the widely expected rebound in 2013. However, the January capacity utilization rate (CU), which also contains sizable revisions of historical seasonal adjusted data, offered a rather different view about the outlook. The CU fell to 73.1% (sa) in January - the lowest reading since September 2010 - from 73.6% in December. In addition, production levels in several sectors showed notable setbacks in December, with automotive and steel production falling by 12.5%YoY (compared with an increase of 1.5%YoY in November) and 8.6%YoY (compared with an increase of 5%YoY in November), respectively. Against this backdrop, we look for a 0.2%YoY increase in industrial production in December, which represents a rise of about 1.5%MoM (SWDA). Looking ahead, we maintain our 2013 GDP growth forecast of 4%, which envisions a gradual pick up in domestic demand.
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