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SPI data: Don’t destroy it! Protect it.

10 Nov, 2021
The weekly SPI data is critical, even if the government is fed up. BR
The weekly SPI data is critical, even if the government is fed up. BR

Wasim Akram, the former Pakistan cricket captain narrated a story on a popular sports show the other day. Pakistan team back in the late 80s suffered a hammering against one of Australia’s side eleven in a warmup game. The then skipper and the current Prime Minister, Imran Khan, took his team for a run the next day and stopped by the scoreboard, which still had the rather embarrassing bowling figures, including those of the skipper. The Skipper ordered one of the players to climb up the scorecard and remove the figures. Only then did they move on.

Those who know Imran Khan, the cricket captain, would testify he had his own ways of pumping confidence in his players. This may well have been one of those. Fast forward 35 years, and the Skipper seems to be continuing his merry ways. Only that, this time he is not merely leading a cricket team. At first glance, one could have mistaken it for a piece of satire, but sadly enough, it was not. Apparently, the government has decided enough is enough, and there will be no more weekly Sensitive Price Index (SPI) data.

Why? Because apparently the government is “fed up” of the growing criticism on rising prices. Makes sense too. It must be hard facing all the criticism, especially when inflation truly is a global phenomenon, as all the spokespersons keep hammering it day after day. And there should not be such data delight every week for thankless consumers, who are getting the cheapest petrol in the world, and don’t bow down in gratitude for being recipients of heavily subsidized natural gas. More importantly, since weekly data is not a global practice, there is absolutely no need to continue with it (of course, Pakistan adopts all the global best practices in every other area, right?).

Here is why weekly SPI data is critical, even if the government is fed up. The breakdown comes with inflation numbers with respect to income quintiles. It also better captures the price trends, especially food prices, as compared to monthly CPI. That is because monthly CPI food prices are collected on 11th-14th of every month, with a higher possibility of missing volatility during the month. Of course, SPI running consistently in the double digits has a role to play. It would not have been the case had SPI been around the CPI range.

The weekly SPI also provides data on daily wages of labor, a piece of information very critical to few who are interested in research. Weekly fertilizer and cement prices are also good indicators of the input cost in the respective sectors, which now will be a casualty. When the government top brass clearly believes that inflation is largely a global phenomenon, what is the need to hide it? This is by no means the embarrassment of that scorecard 35 years ago. Here is hoping the Prime Minister takes the right U-turn on this one.

This article first appeared in Business Recorder on Nov. 10, 2021