02 July, 2009

Being Thrifty and still tempting to Consume - a paradox!

While I was browsing some other article today, I stumbled upon this one on Thrift – a new way of life for Americans who were once-upon-a-time avid shoppers but not any more. The author of this Book and Blog advocates Americans to spend less – rather ask themselves “Should I spend on this or that and why?”. And the subsequent tab on my IE was about the latest Fuel Price Hike in India. I was among the millions of (grumbling) Indians who filled fuel last evening as the price of Petrol was being hiked from last midnight, although I wasn’t fortunate to get my regular supply and had to feel good with the premium fuel that I was offerred. “No more right or left, Sir, it’s only one way now” – proclaimed the proud owner/franchisee of the Fuel Station where I filled full-tank last night. He was referring to the stable Central Government that we have been blessed (or rather we have chosen, sould I say). All major newspapers and news websites today have this topic on their Headlines – on how Fuel price has been hiked and its after effects.

For sometime, may I urge your to think for a few seconds (an electronic calculator would help) the cash flows that the OMCs – the Oil Marketing Companies would have made within six hours last evening. The numbers are mind boggling. Suppose if One million vehicles filled on an average 30 liters of fuel – and were paying approx. Rs. 2 more (since the lower variant was unavailable) and were filling their tanks (Salary Day, so more cash on hand coupled with the fear of the impending price increase), we are talking of 30 million litres filled and INR 60 million raked in additionally, in just a few hours. This, is just an example, if not exaggerated. At one, the Government lost a lot of public sympathy with this rude price hike (of 10%) on petrol. Another, was that it was on Salary Day, a day that most Indian families await for 29 days (no matter how many digits their salaries are) in the month. While the general belief was disbelief – that the hike was real, people were finding it difficult to cope with this hike. Just three days ago, India’s largest bank SBI decreased Home Loan lending rate of Interest by a substantial percentage – indicating that owning homes got a bit easier for middle class people. Everyone who is anyone who understands Economics has a opinion these days on what to expect from the Budget to be presented shortly.

Given this scenario, the increase in the price of Petrol & Diesel was a paradox, if not a shock. On one side, Retailers are trying to woo consumers to consume more – not as much as their American counterparts overconsumed sometime ago, but certainly to consume more than what they are already doing. And on the other hand, the Government does its bit by increasing the most basic ingredient that decides the prices of most other products sold in this country. It is really noteworthy to decode the background – fuel hike would first affect the price of vegetables, something we consume everyday. And then, fruits and other food products including Grocery. While Unorganized Retailers and hawkers would be the most affected, Organized Retailers would face similar challenges sooner than later. Cost of Operations would go up which would shrink the outflow planned by Retailers, including special offers and promotions.

The Festival seasons starts from mid July onwards and the general tendency to shop would increase around this time. But with a 10% hike in self- and public transportation costs, the monthly household income (that didn't grow much this year due to the economic slowdown and the recession effect) would shrink to that extent and this will surely decrease consumption. The GDP of every country is largely based on the outcome of a few key industries such as Agriculture, Manufacturing, Services including Aviation and Telecom, and importantly, Retail. It would be sad to see how people would wish to consume less due to this sudden and steep Fuel price hike, which could play spoil sport over the festive period. The Automobile Industry has been on a roll for the past five months and the growth story is back, albeit in single digits. This would also be affected a bit now.

It’s confusing to see the government’s stance on this issue – of increasing consumption. Experts believe that the GDP would grow only when people consume more, which would be directly impacted by Retail. However, it remains a BIG question of how we would achieve this. One one side, it’s being thrifty about spending and on the other, trying to woo consumers – it’s a paradox, awaiting to be unravelled.

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