CORRECTED-Kimberly-Clark moves to ease Venezuelan toilet paper shortage

Tue Jun 18, 2013 10:48am EDT

(Corrects currency to bolivars not dollars, and name of manager to Cahen not Cohen)

CARACAS, June 18 (Reuters) - Kimberly-Clark Corp is planning a 234 million bolivar ($37.1 mln) investment to expand operations in Venezuela, the state news agency said, in a move that should help ease an embarrassing national shortage of toilet paper.

Scarcity of some food items, medicines and basic bathroom products has marred the start of President Nicolas Maduro's government, which began in April.

The shortages have become symbolic of the South American OPEC nation's increasingly tangled economic problems, particularly a shortage of dollars for importers.

The government blames private businesses for hoarding and price-gouging. Critics say the shortages, high inflation, and slowing growth are the result of nationalizations and other socialist economics under Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Officials say the problems are easing, though Venezuelans still complain they cannot find many items, and queues at supermarkets are a common scene across the nation.

"When the shortages occurred, the productive sector, together with the government, designed a strategy to combat it. Now things are fine," Trade Minister Alejandro Fleming said after a meeting with representatives of the U.S. company, according to state news agency AVN.

Kimberly-Clark has a 15 percent market share for toilet paper, AVN said, and also makes other products such as sanitary towels and diapers.

The general manager of its local subsidiary, David Cahen, said the 234 million bolivar investment would be made over 6 to 24 months, according to AVN. That would increase the company's local capacity by 30 to 40 percent, it said. (Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)