The goddess of wealth hasn't lost her touch, after all. For almost a year following the global economic slowdown, her devotees scrimped on luxuries, but on Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali on Thursday, they crammed jewellery stores, white goods outlets and car showrooms.
Dhanteras is considered auspicious, particularly by the business community, to invoke Laxmi, the deity who endows people with abundance. The purchase of gold, silver or metals on this day is a sign of luck. With the exception of the South, where most states are still recovering from the impact of the recent floods, showrooms across the country were packed on Thursday. Most customers timed vehicle purchases with the auspicious day. An estimated 20,000 cars were set to be delivered on Thursday, the highest in a single day ever.
Maruti Suzuki, which sells every second car in India, cleared all its inventories with dealers in a day. "We are expecting sales to reach the highest ever for Maruti's 26-year run in India," Maruti's executive office (marketing & sales) Mayank Pareek said. The company aims to sell over 7,000 cars on Dhanteras this year against around 4,000 last year.
Customers also rushed to buy gold, even if prices are currently ruling at 25-30% more than last year, at Rs 16,000 per 10 gram. It closed down more than a per cent down on Thursday at Rs 15,820, tracking international gold. Fearing that prices may go up further, buyers returned to the market to make most of the Dhanteras offers being extended by retailers.
Industry experts expect prices to reach Rs 18,000 per 10 gram in the next few months. At Zaveri Bazar, Mumbai's gold market, stores like the 145-year-old Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ), Dwarkadas Chandumal and UTZ saw a huge rush through the day, expecting demand to peak during 'shubh laabh', the most auspicious time of the day.
"There was a huge rush for gold-linked investment, particularly gold coins, on Dhanteras and despite the surge in prices, the overall buying mood was bullish," said Gitanjali group chairman Mehul Choksi. The group witnessed up to 25% growth in sales of diamond jewellery and around 10% growth in sales of gold jewellery on Thursday, with the northern region constituting the bulk of sales.
Kumar Jain, who owns the showroom UTZ, said people are buying gold due to a weakening dollar and inflation fears, adding the price correction from Wednesday's record high has also pushed people to loosen their purse strings.
RK Nagarkar, general manager, TBZ pointed out that people see inherent value in the yellow metal, following last year's stock market debacle and fall in property prices.
Jewellery brand Tanishq, part of Tata Group's lifestyle retail company Titan has witnessed sales growth of over 30% since Durga Puja this year over the same period last year.
However, not everyone sees this as a cracking year for sales. Said Suresh Hundia, president, Bombay Bullion Association, "We estimate all-India sales during Dhanteras this year to be 50% lower from the year-ago period as gold is ruling higher from last year's levels. Also, this year we have been observing that coin sales are on the rise, showing increased investment interest in the metal, and people are spending the same amounts as last year on gold buys."
As far as consumer durables go, sales clocked up to a 30% rise. "The overall mood in the market is positive with strong consumer buying sentiment. Our sales this festive period are poised to grow by a healthy 40% over the same period last year," Samsung deputy managing director R Zutshi said.
For LG, the growth was spread across product categories. LG Electronics business group marketing head (home appliances) Rajiv Jain said, "Sales in the northern region were very high. In the South, we expect atleast 10% of the sales in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to get impacted because of the floods."
(Inputs from Chanchal Pal Chauhan & Pramugdha Mamgain in New Delhi and Ram Narsinghdev Sahgal & Maulik Vyas in Mumbai)