* Inflation jumps to 4.3 pct in June, from 3.6 pct in May
* Rise underscores case for tight central bank policy
* Weekly inflation jumps to 0.8 pct after utility price hike (Adds context, analyst comments)
By Jason Bush
MOSCOW, July 4 (Reuters) - Food prices helped drive Russian inflation sharply higher in June, data showed on Wednesday, marking an end to months of record low price increases and buttressing the central bank’s case for keeping interest rates on hold.
Despite tumbling inflation during the first five months of 2012, the central bank has resisted cuts in interest rates, arguing that record low inflation was largely the result of temporary factors - an argument underscored by the faster-than-expected acceleration last month.
Annual inflation rose to 4.3 percent in June from 3.6 percent in May, when inflation was at its lowest level since the end of the Soviet Union two decades ago, having fallen from 6.1 percent in 2011.
The consumer price index rose by 0.9 percent month-on-month in June after rising 0.5 percent in May, the Federal Statistics Service said. The increase came above analysts’ average forecast of a 0.6 percent rise.
“What it basically shows is that inflation will easily get back into the central bank’s target range by the third quarter. And the central bank has basically been right in warning (about higher inflation),” said Clemens Grafe, chief Russia economist at Goldman Sachs.
“We still think they have a chance of getting inflation within the upper end of the target range, but it’s going to be tight. There’s no way that they can loosen policy.”
The central bank’s official target is to keep inflation within a range of 5-6 percent by the end of this year. Analysts polled by Reuters predict that by year-end inflation will reach 6.5 percent.
The latest monthly inflation figures do not include the impact of delayed price rises for gas, water and electricity at the beginning of July, expected to lead to higher inflation this month and for the remainder of the year.
The main reason for the June inflation rise was a surge in food prices, which had held relatively steady in the preceding months.
The Statistics Service data showed that month-on-month, food prices jumped to 1.6 percent in June compared with 0.6 percent in May and 0.2 percent in April.
Economists had been expecting food price inflation to pick up once the effect of the previous summer’s bumper harvest stopped favouring the figures.
Inflation will also start to reflect the regulated tariff rises that were postponed from January, two months before the election that returned Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin.
Weekly inflation figures, also released by the Statistics Service on Wednesday, underscored the inflationary impact of these delayed utility price hikes.
In the week ending July 2, the consumer price index rose by 0.8 percent, and by 0.5 percent compared with the beginning of July. That compares with a rise of just 0.1 percent during the previous week. (Reporting by Jason Bush; Editing by Douglas Busvine/Ruth Pitchford)