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By Manjul Paul
BENGALURU- Indian inflation reversed course and nudged up slightly in January but remained below the central bank's target for a sixth straight month, a Reuters poll predicted, supporting this week's unexpected move by policymakers to cut rates.
On Thursday, the Reserve Bank of India caught financial markets off-guard by reducing its key policy rate by 25 basis points to boost growth and as inflation has remained benign.
While a change in monetary policy stance to "neutral" was the consensus in a separate poll taken ahead of the Feb 7 meeting, only around a third of respondents expected any easing.
The latest Reuters poll of 30 economists surveyed before Thursday's RBI meeting suggested consumer price inflation accelerated to 2.48 percent from a year ago, after slowing in December to its lowest rate since June 2017 at 2.19 percent.
"The disinflation from food and fuel are probably going to start fading, we don't anticipate inflation to drag from these factors," said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy for Asia at Mizuho Bank. "We might see inflation normalizing back to their 3-4 percent range by the middle of this year."
Food and beverage inflation accounts for nearly half of the overall basket and prices for these items were down in the previous four months.
Forecasts in the poll ranged from 2.00 percent to 2.80 percent. If the consensus is realised it would mark the sixth month in a row where inflation was below the RBI's medium-term target of 4 percent.
"Even though inflation is expected to inch up, the evolution is likely to remain benign amid muted demand side pressures. This should provide the central bank room for another cut," said Shashank Mendiratta, economist at IBM.
But the disparity between core inflation, which is running closer to 6 percent, and the headline figure remains wide and could weigh on the RBI's monetary policy path, said Prakash Sakpal, Asia economist at ING, citing similar concerns expressed by the new RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das.
(Polling by Khushboo Mittal and Anisha Sheth; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)