Profile: Kumar of India struggles to get ahead

NEW DELHI (AP) — To understand why people are so cautious with their money five years after the financial crisis, The Associated Press interviewed consumers around the world. Here is what one person said:

Name: Pradeep Kumar

Home: Varanasi, in northern India

Age: 41

Job: Owner of a factory that makes water pumps and parts for electric fans

Business is booming for Pradeep Kumar, but he still feels he’s struggling.

The problem: inflation.

“Prices of basic necessities such as food and clothing have gone up by 50 to 70 percent in the past five years,” he says. “Although my business has taken off and there’s more money coming in, my savings have remained roughly the same.”

Kumar has benefited from a growing middle class eager to buy new homes and fix up old ones in his hometown of Varanasi. Homeowners frustrated with the city’s low water pressure have been buying his pumps to help move water to overhead storage tanks.

Inflation notwithstanding, Kumar’s lifestyle has improved. His wife stays home now to take care of their two sons, 10 and 4. And he can afford a family vacation once a year to some favored spots, like nearby hill resorts. In 2011, the family even splurged on a vacation to the beach state of Goa, 1,085 miles to the southwest.

Like many other middle-class Indians, Kumar has shunned stocks and put his money into gold, real estate and bank accounts instead.

India is the biggest consumer and importer of gold. In 2010, Kumar bought gold cheaply and sold it two years later. With the profit, he bought a second home to rent out for additional income.

He also has bought insurance policies for himself and his wife and has put money into a fixed-deposit account at a bank in the names of his two sons. He plans to use the money in the account to pay for their education. The fixed-deposit accounts earn higher interest than ordinary savings accounts if you don’t withdraw the money for a set number of months or years.

Kumar’s fixed deposit is yielding about 9 percent a year, he says, which means he is roughly keeping up with inflation. Consumer prices rose 9.5 percent in August from a year earlier.

As for stocks, he says he’s not interested.

“I don’t understand how (stocks) work,” Kumar says. “I will not venture into something I don’t understand.”

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