Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - Page 9 News List

Asia can’t compensate for lost US spending

It’s not that Indian and Chinese shoppers aren’t eager, but how many Buicks, Barbie dolls and kiwi lip balms can they buy?

By Elaine Kurtenbach and Monika Mathur  /  AP , MUMBAI, INDIA

Gibson Vedamani, chief executive of the Retailers Association of India, says overall retail sales in India will likely grow 8 percent to 10 percent this year, down from about 30 percent last year.

Sales of basic items such as food and clothes, which account for most Indian spending, have held up far better than credit-driven purchases, such as homes and cars.

“We are not seeing a slowdown on basic products,” said Kishore Biyani, chief executive of the Future Group, India’s largest retailer, whose holdings include discounter Big Bazaar.

He’s still hiring and plans to expand total floor space from 3.3 million square meters to 4.8 million square meters by next June.

Most Indians won’t set foot in Biyani’s sweeping 4.8 million square meters for years, however. The masses still struggle, parceling out their rupees at the hot, hectic mom-and-pop shops that dominate the landscape.

“We won’t buy from the mall,” said Suraj Buralkar, 21, who dropped out of school and started driving a taxi to help support his parents and three siblings. “The mall is too expensive for us.”

Still, Buralkar, like many in this hopeful country, is on his way. Earning just 3,200 rupees (US$67) a month and working overtime to satisfy his gnawing desire for stuff, he saved enough to pluck a pair of jeans, at 1,300-rupees, or one-third of his monthly income, from one of India’s teeming roadside bazaars.

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