Inflation Rate Up to 13.4% Annually

MTRetail chains are predicting that food prices could rise from 25 percent to 45 percent by the end of the year.
Russia's inflation rate rose in January for the first time in five months as the weakening ruble pushed up the cost of imports and planned tariff increases raised utility costs, the State Statistics Service said Thursday.

The annual rate rose to 13.4 percent from 13.3 percent. Consumer prices rose 2.4 percent from December, when they advanced a monthly 0.7 percent.

Food prices gained 15.9 percent in the year through January, while the cost of services such as electricity and heat rose 16.9 percent.

A number of retail chains said at a news conference Thursday that food prices would rise 25 percent to 45 percent by the end of the year.

"Prices will go up -- and sharply," Ilya Yakobson, vice president of retailer Dixy Group, said at an international food conference, Interfax reported.

Other representatives of the retail foods sector agreed, predicting a minimum of a 20 percent rise in prices. They cited the ruble devaluation, a glut of intermediaries and measures limiting sales of products from other regions.

Russia was forced to abandon its defense of the ruble after the price of oil, the government's biggest export earner, tumbled more than two-thirds in less than six months. The ruble lost 35 percent against the dollar, the second-worst performing emerging-market currency behind the Polish zloty. Russia also allowed utilities to raise rates last month.

Lev Khasis, chief executive of X5 Retail Group, which operates Pyatorochka, Perekryostok and Karusel, also warned that the country is seeing an increase in shoplifting. He said X5 stores detained a total of 250,000 people attempting to shoplift in 2008.

(Bloomberg, MT)