Urban Inflation Index: March 2009

Changes in the three months ago since my last review in December 2008 and also compared to February 2008, which was just over a year ago.

In 2009, oil prices and maize prices have become the national talk as scandals, shortages, and price hikes have plague these industries causing grave concern that the country could be destabilized.

With maize, a shortage of maize flour on supermarkets coupled with shady deals were highlighted in the media all leading to a motion of no confidence in Parliament against the Agriculture Minister in February 2009. it was shot down

In oil/petrol, the collapse of Triton petrol, a small politically-connected oil marketer had ripples across the industry. The firm appears to have made a big gamble and purchased and stored excessive stocks in the expectation that oil prices would remain high, but when they dropped, the firm imploded and the chief executive fled to India. It has become a monster scandal with staff losing their jobs, banks suing the government (through the oil storage and pipeline companies) and calls for another no confidence vote in Parliament, this time against the Energy Minister.

changes in the last three months

Gotten cheaper

Fuel: A Litre of petrol fuel (at local petrol station) is now Kshs. 75 (~$4.2 per gallon) which is about 20% cheaper than it was 92.7 in December 2008. Shell Petroleum led the price drop, forcing other oil marketers to follow suit and probably did in Triton with their price cut in December 2008. Petrol was Kshs. 88 a year ago


Staple Food: Maize flour which is used to make Ugali that is eaten by a majority of Kenyans daily. A 2 kg. Unga pack at Uchumi today costs Kshs. 96, compared to Kshs. 97 in December 2008. However it cost just Kshs. 52 a year ago

Communications: Despite the presence of two additional phone companies, the mobile price war has cooled and calls cost about Kshs. 8 (~$0.10) per minute. With Zain, the price applies across all networks, but for Safaricom it’s within their network only. New companies are offering gimmicks like Yu’s Kshs. 0.50 per minute (after making calls for two minuets at Kshs.7.50). However other prices, notably in data and equipment (handset prices) have dropped. Safaricom modem’s cost less than ½ their introduction price, and features like Picture messaging (SMS) now costs Kshs 3.50 ($0.04) (it was introduced at 20) a year ago Safaricom calls were also about 8 shillings per minute

More Expensive

Electricity: my bill last month is Kshs 1,800 – slightly less than the bill a year ago. However by looking at the components that make up the bill – fixed charge is Kshs. 240 (was 175 a year ago), fuel cost adjustment is 427c per kwh (was 199c a year ago), forex adjustment was 63c per kwh (was 31c per kwh) – all causing my bill to cost about 70% higher than my approximate consumption a year ago. This is also a sore point with Kenyan manufacturers and industries who have complained (PDF) about the high tariffs even as Kenya power & lighting company announced improved profits for 2008.

Foreign Exchange: 1 US$ equals Kshs. 80.07, it was 79.08 in December 2008. Remittances to Kenya which have dropped every month since October 2008, are partly to blame. US$1 was 70.7 shillings a year ago

Entertainment: A bottle of Tusker beer (at local pub) is Kshs. 130 ($1.60) up from Kshs. 120 in December 2008. East African Breweries, Kenya’s leading brewer, has complained about high input costs and new taxation, and for once their share price is almost as cheap as the recommended retail price of their main seller – a bottle of Tusker beer was 120 a year ago

Other food item: Sugar (2 kg. Mumias pack) is at 165, it was Kshs. 160 last December. 150 a year ago

EDIT: Also, more expensive is Housing – the rent was hiked 40% in January 2009; however that’s still about ½ what I’d be comfortable paying for a mortgage in the neighborhood.

7 thoughts on “Urban Inflation Index: March 2009

  1. Steve

    Thanks for the update, as always, an excellent high-informative and well researched post.

    Link for CBK remittances report is slightly off, should be


    Where do they get those numbers ( they are obviously way low). Are the estimates or transfers by formal channels (inter-bank) only?

    Another question on rents, if rents are half of what mortgages are (all my conversations with colleagues and friends suggest that this is typical), where are the people who own property finding capital to buy it. After all, commercial property under mortgage that that cannot be carried completely by rental income implies a net negative cash flow.

    I always thought that this one fact alone was a true indicator of a huge bubble in the pricing of housing in Nairobi.

    Do you have any thoughts on this?

  2. MainaT

    Tx Banks. When you lay out like that, one fails to understand why they want to CPI so as to reduce the impact of food prices. Its huge and affects all other consumption.

    V interesting pt about the differential between rent and mortgage repayments. The difference means the income/ltv ratios are not sane. But I imagine this is only for certain parts of the city. Correct?

  3. Anonymous

    @ Banks
    Was rent under market rate before? 40% increase sounds too harsh.

    @ Maina T.
    What is a proper/sane loan-to-value ratio? I have a mortgage though I had never calculated it before (just did that after reading this post :))


  4. MainaT

    Banks-pole but my comment above is a bit incoherent. On CPI, after seeing above, it seems strange that they want to rewieght the index to remove foods.
    KR-when reviewing a mortgage, you look at 3 things among others.
    Income to mortgage multiple: if i’m earning ksh1m pa and I’ve a ksh8m mortgage, I’ll come unstuck somewhere especially if interest rates go up. So the recommended ratio is 4.
    Loan to value: a bank that lends 100% of the value of a house will come unstuck soon or later. But if house prices go insane, you end up with a situation where this is the only way banks can lend.
    Rent vs mortgage. should be similar at worst and rent higher at best

  5. bankelele

    Sahito: Thanks, it’s my own tracker for budget and household costs too

    3N: landlord said he had been undercharging us for years (it’s the first increase in almost four years)

    Steve: thanks will check on the link. I also doubt the CBK numbers as they probably are measured using only forex bureau ‘official’ returns

    MainaT: I don’t know why the inflation tracker is been adjusted, but CBK has been noted for shifting goalposts of late
    – You are obviously better versed in mortgage than me. I have been looking for house to buy for some years now and the numbers don’t add up
    1. properties are too expensive
    2. mortgages are too expensive
    3. I’ll have to pull a Devani and build/buy house with hot cash

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