So, how do you spot an economic slowdown without poring over reams of statistics put out by official number-crunchers? It's simple. Look around you: when did your neighbours last dine out? Is your boss getting into a car pool? Is the class prima donna sporting last season's fashion? Does your
friend extol the virtues of 'unsmart' phones?
Households putting off spending are early warning signs of the onset of an economy-wide squeeze. And the clearest indications are available in any market or mall.
"My wife and I had planned to buy a new car around Diwali this year, but neither of us has got a bonus this time. The raise too was below what we had expected. So, we postponed the decision," said Anuj Anand, a Mumbai-based mid-level executive who works in a multi-national company.
Anand's situation fits smack into the latest gross domestic product (GDP) data put out by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) - that the economy grew by a moderate 5.3%, the lowest pace in the last three years.
"Shopping and eating out are the two biggest casualties of the inflation. Also, I have started spending less on cosmetics and parlours as my pocket money is not adequate," said Neesha Aggarwal, a Delhi college student.
People did not really splurge this Diwali, as high prices and slower income growth make even getting by that much harder for millions of Indians.
"I usually splurge during Diwali on gifts, shopping and household items and the bonus comes in handy. But with such a tepid bonus this year and the price rise, we have decided to cut own, especially on expensive gifts," says Anirudh Bhaskar, a marketing executive based in Delhi.
Companies are cutting corners to stay afloat, as rising input costs and costlier borrowing have forced them to defer investment plans, offering fewer jobs and lower salary hikes.
This, along with persistently high prices, has hurt spending.
"Undoubtedly, new job creation will continue to languish. Don't rule out a season of terminations and pink slips if the situation continues or deteriorates further," said Hitesh Oberoi, CEO of InfoEdge India, which owns placement Website Naukri.com
According to the Reserve Bank of India's latest macroeconomic and monetary development report, growth in corporate sales fell to a 10-quarter low of 13% in the first quarter this year, and continues to remain weak even in the second quarter that ended on September 30.
Almost all everyday products and services - from food to footwear, movie tickets to medicines, from restaurant meals to deodorants and lipsticks - have turned dearer in the last year, hitting family budgets hard.
"We have seen for the past 6-8 months that consumers are postponing their discretionary purchases owing to tight cash situation. It was anticipated that the festival season will give some growth but it has not happened so far," said the chief marketing officer of a consumer electronics company.
Latest price data showed retail inflation measured by the consumer price index (CPI) - a more realistic cost of living index as it captures shop-end prices - stood at 9.7% in October, similar to what it was in September. Experts on Friday maintained the rebound in the Indian economy wasn't far away. "The silver lining is that while India's growth: inflation performance has clearly deteriorated in recent years, potential GDP growth has probably not, so far at least, slipped much below 7%," said Richard Illey, chief Asia economist, BNP Paribas.
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