Tag Archives: Vietnam investing

The Opportunity in Vietnam’s Spat with China

Last week’s anti-China riots in Vietnam spooked investors, rattled the stock exchanges, threatened foreign business deals, and ignited conversation about whether that the political and economic risks in that region outweigh the potential rewards.  But where some see the unraveling of peaceful co-existence in Southeast Asia, others see a golden opportunity.

Are businesses and investors over-reacting?  Consider some of the more encouraging news coming out of Vietnam this month:

  • Samsung is going ahead with expansion of manufacturing in the northern provinces of Thai Nguyen and Bac Ninh.  As a result, about 50% of its smart phones made globally will be made in Vietnam.  Already, Samsung’s factory in Bac Ninh was one of its largest worldwide, and the company accounted for $24 billion in exports from Vietnam.  The Thai Nguyen factory opened in March will employ 16,000 workers and produce eight million units per month.
  • The Saigon port welcomed the largest ship ever docked there,  a 54,000 ton vessel able to navigate the river safely thanks to a mammoth dredging project that will allow ships of this size to save $500,000 a year in transit costs.  The port projects moving 120-150 million tons by 2025.

  • The investment ministry unveiled a proposed law that will cut red tape and streamline foreign investment by eliminating certificates for many projects, simplifying procedures, ending favorable treatment of domestic investors, and improving transparency.

  • Foreign investors have been snapping up stocks that domestic investors are rushing to sell in an over-reaction to last week’s riots.  Foreigners are taking advantage of sharp drop in the VN Index, which peaked at 610 points earlier this year and fell below 530 before climbing back to 544 today.

  • McKinsey released a study concluding that ASEAN, composed of Vietnam and nine other countries, will be the world’s 4th largest economy in 2050.

Business is getting done in Vietnam.  Opportunities abound.  The ugly events of last week are not likely to lead to war in the South China Sea.   More likely, they will turn out to have been an exchange of moves in a chess game of diplomacy that will help clarify the figurative boundaries between two of the world’s fastest growing economies.

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Conquering Health-Conscious Vietnam

Vietnam is quietly emerging as a center of health-conscious consumption — with surging marketing and manufacture of so-called functional foods: products intended to provide both nutritional and health benefits.

Local media report 1,800 functional food makers and distributors — including American companies Amway, NuSkin, Unicity and Herbalife — are selling 10,000 products in Vietnam, and business is booming.

Herbalife says the Vietnamese market contributed significantly to its $4.8 billion in global sales last year.  Unicity reports its success in Vietnam is above expectations.  NuSkin reported 30% growth last year in Vietnam and projects 33% this year by conquering the central Danang market.

Amway’s second factory in Vietnam is expected to produce 24,000 products valued at $200 million starting early next year.  The company began cultivating the Vietnam market in 2008 and last year generated $90 million in revenue, a one-year increase of 14%.

Vietnam is a lucrative and growing market for functional food because its consumers tend to be educated, health conscious, and concerned about obesity, cardiovascular health and physical beauty.  The Vietnam Supplement Food Association reports 56% of Hanoi residents and 48% in Ho Chi Minh City use functional food.

Even more important to American companies, the ASEAN free trade agreement that takes effect next year will facilitate the export of products they make in Vietnam to Southeast Asia’s 600 million consumers.

Another $100 Billion Pipe Dream for Vietnam

Vietnam’s newspapers are reporting that the Hong Kong-based Dragon Best International has agreed to a partnership with a Vietnamese company, Ho Tram Tourism JSC, that envisions investing in: a $32 billion real estate development in Ho Chi Minh City, an $18 billion eco-tourism project nearby Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province, and a $50 billion economic zone.

On a global scale, these are huge projects.  In Vietnam, they are head-scratching, utopian dreams that make experienced developers and economists skeptical about Vietnam investors’ capacity for realism.

Many international investors believe Vietnam is a promising frontier market, but none of them are going to pour an amount of capital into Vietnam that approaches the country’s annual GDP.  Vietnam’s economy cannot absorb $100 billion in capital; moreover, it could not generate a return on the investment any time soon.

For Vietnam, the problem is that this is not the first pie-in-the-sky project that didn’t materialize.  Last year Dubai investor Global Sphere announced its plans to spent $30 billion on the Hanoi Wall Street — 70 apartment blocks at heights ranging from 40 to 70 stories and housing up to 400,000 people with a 102 story central tower.  Hanoi’s planners hadn’t heard about the project, and it has yet to be registered with the government.

In 2007, the US Eminence Group announced its plan to develop a $30 billion economic zone in Thanh Hoa Province.  However, soon after the group made an enthusiastic presentation on the project, the investor vanished.

Ultimately, the investors who will be successful in Vietnam are those patient and disciplined enough to develop realistic, credible plans — not pipe dreams.

 

Is Vietnam’s Economy Doomed?

Japanese economist Kenishi Ohno says Vietnam has fallen into the feared middle income trap — perpetual stagnation after stalling on the past to prosperity.
He says the country faces a social crisis because it failed to heed warnings six years ago.  Vietnam now faces:

  • Slowing economic growth
  • Low investment efficiency
  • Rising production costs
  • Little improvement in competitiveness

Ohno says productivity has grown 3% annually while wages rose 26%.  Competitiveness has dropped at an annual rate of 23%.

Vietnamese economist Nguyen Minh Phong says it’s too soon to conclude his country has fallen into the middle income trap.  He contends the government deliberately slowed Vietnam’s growth to enable economic restructuring to take place.

To stay out of the middle income trap, Phong says Vietnam needs to:

  • Prioritize development of information technology
  • Reduce exports of natural-resources
  • Support enterprises with market research
  • Explore niche markets
  • Help small enterprises get loans
  • Expand bilateral trade agreements
  • Reform education and training

Vietnam also needs to follow the examples of Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea — all of which cultivated the private sector on their way to full economic development.

For several years, it has become increasingly obvious that Vietnam’s escape from economic mediocrity depends on the capacity of its own government to surrender control and permit the private sector to flourish.

 

 

 

Vietnam’s Capitalism Learning Curve

Vietnamese authorities are disappointed by the results of this year’s initial public offerings of state-owned enterprises.  The companies were able to sell only 27% (84 million) of the more than 300 million shares offered –and foreigners bought only 10 million.  Proceeds totaled $49 million.

The lack of enthusiasm among investors is being attributed to the offerings being mostly companies doing public works business in the property sector that has experienced falling prices.  Also, Vietnam’s economic recovery has been relatively weak so far, and the government is not expected to boost public works spending.

But that doesn’t explain why investors are repelled by Vietnam’s state-owned companies at the same time they have driven up Vietnam’s stock prices by nearly 20%.

The explanation may be simpler:  The companies are pricing their shares higher than the market wants to pay for them.

Vietnam’s government will have more success privatizing their businesses once it fully accepts the way capitalism works.  In capital markets, the government doesn’t get to decide how much a company is worth; the market does.

When Vietnam lowers its expectations in pricing its IPOs, the country will successfully sell shares in the 432 state-owned enterprises scheduled to be privatized by 2015.

Will Vietnam Achieve 14% Annual Growth?

Vietnam’s economy has grown 5% this quarter, slightly faster than the first quarter in 2012 and 2013, with a $1 billion trade surplus and growth especially robust in the Saigon region.  But the striking economic news in a country that was experiencing runaway inflation in recent years:  Vietnam’s consumer price index declined in 0.4% in March and now is below an annual rate of 5%.

The data suggest Vietnam is on an economic path toward reaching its long-term potential.  But what is its potential?  Some economists think Vietnam is headed toward the middle-income trap that stalls many developing countries, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand.  Others see Vietnam as the Japan (or South Korea) of the 21st Century.

The latter viewpoint got a boost in a forum in Hanoi this week that featured Harvard’s Robert Lawrence, who forecast 13.5% economic growth for Vietnam in 2025.  That’s assuming implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that is expected to dramatically increase Vietnam’s global trade.

Lawrence projected many other TPP partners (the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Japan) would experience significantly slower growth.  His numbers suggested Vietnam’s exports would increase 37%, compared to 14% for Japan and 12% for Malaysia, and 4% for the US.

The TPP has yet to be completed, so Vietnamese officials were quick to point out their country would not necessarily benefit the most from it — because its economy is starting far behind the other partners.

 

 

The Americanization of Vietnam’s Food

McDonald’s has been in business for one month in Vietnam, and it’s already clear the culinary culture of this leading producer of rice and seafood has changed forever.  Just one restaurant served 400,000 customers in the month after the grand opening on Feb. 8.

So far, the Saigon McDonald’s served 61,980 Big Macs for $2.84 apiece, well above the daily income of a typical Vietnamese rice farming family.

This is just the beginning.  McDonald’s is the latest chain to join the fast-food reformation of Vietnam’s diet, but it should have no problem surpassing Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen,  KFC, Subway, and others.

In part, that’s because the owner of the McDonald’s franchise has the political clout to get things done; he’s the prime minister’s son-in-law who, like McDonald’s itself, is a Chicago native.

McDonald’s Vietnam owner Henry Nguyen spent two summers as a teenager working at McDonald’s in Chicago before moving to Ho Chi Minh City a decade ago and ultimately impressing McDonald’s as “the ideal mix of business acumen, proven record, passion, and ability.”

Similarly, Vietnam’s hunger for American products and culture makes it an ideal market for McDonald’s — as it is for American soft drink, alcohol, tobacco, and other brands that are contending with legions of skeptical consumers at home.