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Bittersweet year in economy

Guwahati, Dec. 26: The rupee volatility affected trade in the Northeast, much like it did in other parts of the country, even as business grew by leaps and bounds in sectors such as retail, manufacturing and construction in the year that was.

Consumer sentiments were hit further as food inflation soared in October-November during which the price of onions pushed an unprecedented century and that of potato fifty. But by mid-December, the two most wanted edibles settled at Rs 30 (onion) and Rs 25 (potato) in the retail market, with fresh supplies making way to the region from Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Retail foreign exchange business felt the heat in August as the rupee weakened. Full-fledged money changers particularly were hit hard, albeit for a brief period, with profit margins of some going down by almost 50 per cent.

“It has been a difficult year for the industry and economy throughout and companies with innovative strategies have somehow been able to make some headway. There has been a liquidity crunch, cost of financing has gone up and government spending has shown a declining trend,” R.S. Joshi, the chairman of Federation of Industry and Commerce of North Eastern Region, said.

Later in the year, the tea industry had something to cheer about, with the country’s third largest tea packeteer, Wagh Bakri, announcing its plan to buy gardens in Assam.

The idea, as Piyush Desai, the managing director of Wagh Bakri, says is to have “control over kitchen”. The company wants to acquire three to five gardens having a production of 1 to 1.5 million kg. At the same time, the company is looking for proposals from owners of medium/small tea gardens. “It will be a win-win situation and there will be equity partnership between the producers and our company,” Desai told The Telegraph.

The biggest news came from the cement sector when Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Ltd became the largest company in the Northeast after it acquired two units — a 76 per cent stake in Calcom Cement Limited and full ownership of Adhunik Cement, including a 25MW captive power plant for Rs 1,085 crore. Local cement companies, for their part, went innovative on brand promotion and market penetration, braving the recessionary trend and overcoming high input costs.

The retail real estate market size of the Northeast grew by over Rs 11,000 crore, with Guwahati leading the way with a share of over Rs 4,000 crore, followed by Agartala at Rs 2,000 crore. Shristi Housing Development Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of the Calcutta-based Srei group, invested about Rs 60 crore on a shopping-cum-office complex at Agartala. In Guwahati, Shristi set the ball rolling for the Northeast’s first private sector integrated township at Ramsa Hills.

The Rs 3,000-crore project will have residential villas, multi-storied buildings, educational institutions, hotels and theme parks.

In May, Sakshi Agro Beverage, a beverage company in Amingaon on the outskirts of Guwahati, forayed into the aerated drinks market for the first time in the Northeast. Despite the slowdown in the automobile industry, companies recorded a decent growth. Car-makers came up with improved grades while two-wheeler companies tapped untapped areas.

Apparel majors Turtle, Allen Solly and Van Heusen went bullish with the brand-conscious consumer not giving in to inflation. The year also saw a booming bakery business — particularly in Guwahati — Prime Bakes opened six outlets, Loyan’s added two more and Delice opened shop at Hengrabari and Bamunimaidam.