Prices of food rose 1.6 percent year-on-year in March, faster than a 1.4 percent gain in the preceding five months and reaching the highest food inflation since September 2018. Among food excluding food servicing services, cost picked up for vegetables (0.3 percent vs flat reading in February), while rebounded for both meat (1.1 percent vs -0.2 percent); and fish & seafood (1.9 percent vs -1.3 percent). Meanwhile, prices slowed for bread & cereals (1.5 percent vs 2.5 percent); milk, cheese & eggs (0.8 percent vs 1.3 percent); oils & fats (1.1 percent vs 3.2 percent); fruits (3.5 percent vs 3.7 percent); sugar, preserves & confectionery (0.6 percent vs 0.7 percent); and non-alcoholic beverages (0.7 percent vs 2.3 percent). Among food servicing services, prices rose slightly faster for fast food (1.3 percent vs 1.2 percent), while eased for both hawker food including food courts (1.3 percent vs 1.7 percent); restaurant food (1.5 percent vs 1.8 percent). Additionally, inflation was steady for catered food (at 4.1 percent). Also, cost of recreation & culture went up 1.3 percent, accelerating from a 0.7 percent gain in February, led by holiday expenses (2.8 percent vs 1.7 percent) and newspapers, books & stationery (0.3 percent vs 0.1 percent).
In addition, cost of housing & utilities declined 0.3 percent in March, less than a 0.4 percent fall in February, mainly due to accommodation (-1 percent vs -1.6 percent). Also, prices fell less for transport (-0.3 percent vs 1.2 percent), namely private road transport (-1 percent vs -2.3 percent); communications (-1 percent vs -2.4 percent). On the other hand, inflation was steady for education (at 2.7 percent, the same as in February); while slowed for healthcare (1.5 percent vs 1.7 percent); household durables & services (0.4 percent vs 0.8 percent); and clothing & footwear (0.1 percent vs 1.2 percent). Additinally, cost of miscellaneous goods & services dropped 0.3 percent in March, reversing from a 1.3 percent rise in February, primarily driven by alcohol drinks & tobacco (-0.7 percent vs 5.1 percent); and personal effects (-1.9 percent, the same as in February).
Annual core inflation, which exclude costs of accommodation and private road transport, edged down to 1.4 percent in March from 1.5 percent in February, and below market consensus of 1.7 percent. It was the lowest reading since April last year.
For 2019, the country's central bank and trade ministry expect inflation to be in a range of 0.5-1.5 percent.