Proptech firms catch the eye of foreign investors
Vietnamese property technology (proptech) firms are attracting the attention of both foreign and domestic investors keen to grab a larger share of the country's 500-million-USD market.
It is estimated that Vietnam has about 100 proptech companies, 80 percent of which are foreign-owned or receive foreign funding.
Among recent investments, Hotel booking platform Go2Joy Vietnam raised an additional 1.3 million USD from Republic of Korea (RoK) venture capital firm SV Investment just last week.
The travel tech startup has raised a total of 6.1 million USD in investment over the last year. It closed a Series A funding round of 2.5 million USD, led by STIC Ventures, KB Investment, Wonik Investment Partners and Wadiz Platform, in February 2020, and received 2.3 million USD in a Series A funding round led by HB Investment and Platform Partners Asset Management just a few months ago.
Another Vietnamese proptech startup, Citics, bagged 1 million USD in a pre-Series A round from international and domestic investors in March. Investors included Singapore's Vulpes Investment Management and the RoK's Nextrans and The Ventures. It had earlier raised 700,000 USD from angel investors.
In March, Vietnam's Homebase said it had mobilised 125,000 USD from the US-based accelerator Y Combinator (YC). Last December, it secured an undisclosed sum in a pre-Series A funding round led by VinaCapital, US venture capital company Pegasus, and Singapore's 1982 Ventures.
A.Plus Home, meanwhile, has raised 8 million USD from Japan's Daiwa PI Partners.
A property market worth around 21 billion USD coupled with a young tech-savvy population are setting the scene for proptech businesses to boom in Vietnam.
The country's real estate market remains in the early stages of development, with many problems to solve, according to Neil MacGregor, Managing Director of Savills Vietnam. Proptech is able to provide solutions to tackle these problems.
Many Vietnamese are tech-savvy and capable of picking up new technologies quickly, and proptech firms are targeting these people, particularly condo owners and users of real estate apps, he added.
Vice Chairman of Cen Land Pham Thanh Hung said proptech is an emerging market in Vietnam, grabbing major attention from investors and start-ups. Many platforms recording initial success, however, have been acquired by foreign investors, he noted, adding that it is important to develop a "Make in Vietnam" platform in real estate./.
India launches anti-dumping probe on solar panels from Vietnam
The Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry has announced the initiation of an anti-dumping probe into solar cells originating from China, Thailand, and Vietnam, according to the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT).
The application was filed by the Mundra Solar PV, Jupiter Solar Power, and Jupiter International, through the Indian Solar Manufacturers Association (ISMA). They claimed that the panels from the three countries are sold at unfairly low prices, causing damage to domestic manufacturers.
The period under investigation is from July 2019 to December 2020, on solar panels coded 8541.40.11 and 8541.10.12.
The Indian ministry held that the prices of solar panels from China, Thailand, and Vietnam exceed net export prices significantly, indicating the dumping of these products in India.
Businesses can ask the Indian ministry to extend the time to hand in the questionnaire.
The MoIT has recommended that Vietnamese producers and exporters complete the questionnaire in a timely manner, stay up-to-date on all relevant information, and consider engaging legal counsel or consultants with considerable experience in anti-dumping cases in India.
Producers were also directed to cooperate with their Indian partners, and should work closely with the MoIT to receive timely support.
Any lack of cooperation may lead to the Indian side deciding to levy the anti-dumping duties requested by the petitioners, the MoIT said.
Vietnamese products will have less of a competitive edge and may lose part or all of their market share in India if high anti-dumping duties are imposed./.
Women's Empowerment Principles Award launched
UN Women in Vietnam and the Vietnam Women Entrepreneurs' Council held an online ceremony on May 19 to launch the 2021 Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Award.
This the second edition of the award, following the first last year.
It aims to recognise companies that are taking action on gender equality aligned to the WEPs and to encourage more companies to take action by joining the WEPs.
Elisa Fernandez Saenz, Country Representative of UN Women in Vietnam, said the award is within the framework of the WeEmpowerAsia programme, a joint effort between UN Women and the EU in a common strategic plan for the 2017-2021 period between the Vietnamese Government and the UN in Vietnam.
The overall aim of the WeEmpowerAsia programme is to enable more women to access job and business opportunities for sustainable development. It is being conducted in middle-income countries in Asia-Pacific, including China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, and is a set of tools comprising seven principles to support firms in gender equality in the workplace, markets, and communities.
VWEC Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Tuyet Minh said that by joining the award, Vietnamese enterprises will have the chance to connect with well-known partners in the world and improve their prestige.
The award has six categories: Leadership Commitment, Youth Leadership, Gender-inclusive Workplace, Gender-responsive Marketplace, Community and Industry Engagement, and COVID-19 Action.
There will be first, second and third prizes in each category.
The organising board will receive entries from May 31 to July 31 at the website www.asiapacificwepsawards.org.
The award ceremony is scheduled for October in Hanoi./.
Vietnam, Thailand look to raise trade to 25 bln USD
Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Thailand Don Pramudwinai agreed to implement measures to raise bilateral trade to 25 billion USD soon during their phone talks on May 19.
Don Pramudwinai spoke highly of Vietnam's fight against COVID-19, socio-economic development, significant external achievements, success in its role as ASEAN Chair 2020, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and UNSC Chair in April.
He affirmed that Thailand attaches importance to the enhanced strategic partnership with Vietnam.
Son, for his part, lauded the efficiency of bilateral collaboration in various areas, adding that Thailand remains Vietnam's largest trade partner in ASEAN and the ninth largest investor despite the pandemic.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Thailand Don Pramudwinai (Photo: VNA)
Both sides consented to closely work to celebrate the 45th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic ties (August 6), continue facilitating the exchange of delegations at all levels, effectively carry out bilateral cooperation mechanisms, including the fourth Joint Cabinet meeting co-chaired by the two PMs, the fourth Inter-Committee on Bilateral Cooperation at ministerial level, and the eighth political consultation at deputy ministerial level.
They agreed to soon sign an action programme to realise enhanced strategic partnership for the 2021-2025 period, work closely together to cope with the pandemic and access safe and effective vaccines.
Minister Son suggested Thailand mitigate trade barriers and share information related to export-import procedures and regulations.
On regional and global issues of shared concern, they affirmed ASEAN's central role in helping Myanmar overcome existing challenges.
The two sides pledged to partner with ASEAN to push forward Myanmar's implementation of "Five-point consensus" adopted at the ASEAN Leaders' Summit in April./.
Further scrutiny required before introducing property tax overhaul
To curb land speculation, some proposals regarding land-value taxation and progressive taxes based on the number of owned properties have been suggested, which experts believe could make it more costly for speculators to hold onto vacant sites in Vietnam.
The association suggested imposing higher income tax on the sale or transfer of houses and land rights after establishment to combat land speculation. Furthermore, setting a high tax rate for selling or transferring houses and land in the first year and keeping a high tax rate in the second and third years onwards was also consideration.
Moreover, the association noted that owners of property used for living are subject to the lowest tax rate, while people who own more underutilised houses and land that are not used for living or for businesses will be subject to progressive tax rates.
HoREA also suggested that the State Bank of Vietnam and other commercial banks implement stricter tightening of real estate-related credit.
However, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) believed that tax policies for the real estate sector must be more carefully studied and only introduced at an appropriate time to ensure feasibility.
"In order to contribute to improving the efficiency of state management on real estate, the study and completion of related tax policies is necessary. However, the sector makes up for the majority part of the whole economy, and its massive impact requires a wide range and collaboration of various relevant parties, ministries, and localities," the MoF noted in a response to the proposals.
"The MoF is continuing to study and synthesise international experiences, as well as identify problems and shortcomings in the implementation of tax laws related to real estate for better implementation of the National Tax system reform for the period of 2021-2030," the ministry added.
Tax policy can be an appropriate tool to monitor and control efficient transactions in the economy, for instance, high tax collection on transactions can lead to higher market sales or rent price, but limit transactions of real estate. The impact of such policies would therefore be significant to the real estate market, and affect buyers and sellers.
Nguyen Tan Tai, tax and corporate services manager at Grant Thornton Vietnam said, "Vietnam has regulations on personal income tax (PIT) on investment gain, specifically for real estate. The local authorities can consider appropriate tax rates periodically."
Tai noted that some countries have specific rules on tax on real estate, such as fixed rate on second homes in China and Canada; and progressive rate on house value and additional tax on second homes in the United Kingdom.
Last month, the New Zealand government also announced they would remove tax incentives for investors to make speculation less attractive. The moves come as surging house prices keep first-time buyers and people on lower incomes out of the market, raising concerns about growing societal inequality.
Tai explained, "Fixed tax rates on purchase of the second or the third house has been applied by many countries. This is an easy solution to apply and has been proposed in Vietnam the past. The increase in tax rate on property would be a major source of income and would come mainly from the rich, with little impact on those who do not own a house."
On the other hand, Tai added, instead of a progressive tax based on the number of owned houses starting with the second home, a progressive tax rate can be applied based on the value of following ones. This would not depend too much on the time of real estate ownership, Tai said, but would depend on the value of those following houses.
In the UK, anyone buying a second property would pay an additional 3 per cent on top of the relevant standard rate band.
"Regarding PIT from the transfer of the second property, the current PIT from real estate transfer is 2 per cent. We are of the view that the current Vietnamese tax policy is correctly and appropriately applied," Tai said.
New terminal proposed for Dong Hoi Airport
The Airports Corporation of Vietnam (ACV) has proposed a new passenger terminal be built for Dong Hoi Airport in the central province of Quang Binh, as the existing facility is already overloaded.
In a proposal sent recently to relevant agencies, ACV suggested that the new Terminal T2 cover a total area of about 20.92 ha and be designed to cater to 3 million passengers a year.
It will receive investment of more than 1.22 trillion VND (53 million USD), funded by ACV.
An official from the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) said the existing terminal has a designed capacity of 500,000 passengers annually but catered to 534,856 passengers in 2018 and 539,908 in 2019.
The figure stood at 487,746 passengers last year despite impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since overloading has affected service quality and safety, it is necessary to build a new terminal to meet current and future demand, the CAAV official noted.
As Dong Hoi is a domestic airport, the construction for Terminal T2 should be decided on by the Quang Binh provincial People's Committee, according to ACV./.
US importers interested in made-in-Vietnam furniture
The US-based Furniture Today website on May 17 ran an article on Vietnam's overtaking China in furniture shipments to the United States for the first time ever in 2020.
The author of the article, Thomas Russell, wrote that when Furniture Today posted the information earlier this month, it came as no surprise to many in the industry.
However, many visitors to the website were fascinated by this development, as they thought that Vietnam wasn't even on the top 10 list of countries shipping to the US some 18 years ago.
Last year, the Southeast Asian country's furniture export turnover to the US hit 7.4 billion USD, up 31 percent year-on-year.
The article also said that US companies are shifting the import of not only bedroom, but also other categories such as dining, occasional and home entertainment to Vietnam./.
HCM City targets annual growth of 7 percent in collective economy
Ho Chi Minh City has set a target of developing an additional 150 cooperatives and two cooperative alliances during the 2021-2025 period while posting annual average growth of 7 percent in the collective economy.
The sector will contribute 0.5 percent to the city’s gross regional domestic product (GRDP) during the period and attract 15,000 more workers to cooperatives.
The targets are set out in a collective economy development plan for 2021-2025 approved recently by the municipal People's Committee.
Under the plan, the city will develop new-style cooperative models in the fields of agriculture, trade, and services.
To that end, the municipal People's Committee has stressed the importance of encouraging the development of the collective economy and cooperatives in all fields and industries in both quality and quantity as well as attracting the engagement of all of society, especially young people and women.
The city will carry out a wide range of measures, such as increasing public awareness of the collective economy and cooperatives; perfecting the legal framework, mechanisms and policies; and improving the efficiency of State management over cooperatives.
Attention will be paid to increasing the operation effectiveness of the collective economic sector and cooperatives in particular, and enhancing the role and responsibility and improving the capacity of the city's Cooperative Alliance.
The city will also focus on raising the quality of human resources for the sector and cooperatives./.
Stock market capitalization hits more than VND6 trillion
As of late April, the stock market capitalisation reached more than VND6,000 trillion, marking a rise of 13.9% compared to the end of 2020 and equivalent to 95.8% of GDP, according to figures released by the Ministry of Finance.
Throughout the reviewed period, the VN-Index reached 1239.39 points, representing an increase of 4.0% in comparison to the end of last month and a rise of 12.28% from the end of last year.
With regard to the insurance market, as of late April this market comprised of 72 insurance businesses, including 31 non-life insurers, 18 life insurers, two reinsurance enterprises, 20 insurance brokerage enterprises, in addition to a branch of a foreign non-life insurers.
The total assets of the insurance market are estimated to stand at over VND608,320 billion, a climb of 22.72% from the same period last year. Of the figure, non-life insurance firms made up VND101,471 billion whilst life insurers were at VND506,853 billion.
Elsewhere, investment back into the national economy reached approximately VND501,292 billion, up by 22.06% over the corresponding period from 2020. This includes VND52,485 billion from non-life insurance businesses and VND448,807 from life insurance enterprises.
Overall, the insurance premium revenue is estimated to be VND61,208 billion, representing a boost of 19.12% over the same period from last year.
Seafood exports to go up by 10% in Q2
Seafood exports are expected to fetch US$2.1 billion in the second quarter, a year-on-year increase of 10 per cent, according to the Viet Nam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP).
With their agility in exploring and diversifying markets, enterprises would continue to expand exports, it said.
It forecast shrimp export to top $980 million in Q2, a year-on-year increase of 10 per cent, and pangasius and marine product exports to increase by 7 per cent and 9.6 per cent to $712 million and $816 million.
Seafood exports fell significantly in the first two months of the year due to a disruption in the supply chain, especially logistics, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But they recovered in March to rise to $2.39 billion in the first four months, an increase of 6 per cent from a year ago, as enterprises made efforts to adapt to the changes caused by the pandemic and capitalised on free trade agreements to push exports, the association said.
Truong Dinh Hoe, VASEP’s general secretary, said the EU-Viet Nam FTA had greatly boosted exports of seafood products to the EU.
The UK-Viet Nam FTA, which would take over when the EU-Viet Nam Free Trade Agreement expires for the UK, opened up opportunities for Vietnamese seafood firms to promote exports to a market that used to account for a third of its total shipments to the erstwhile bloc of 28 countries, he added.
Nguyen Hoai Nam, VASEP deputy general secretary, said demand from major import markets such as the US, Japan and China would continue to increase.
The US market would continue to be a bright spot for many Vietnamese seafood products such as shrimp, pangasius and others, he said. Vietnamese exporters would have more opportunities to export to the US since India, the largest shrimp supplier to the market, was facing production difficulties due to the pandemic, he added.
Ho Quoc Luc, chairman of Sao Ta Food JSC, said global demand for shrimp usually increased by 5 per cent a year whereas output in major producing countries would not increase this year.
“Shrimp prices might increase slightly this year. Viet Nam’s shrimp exports might go up by 5-7 per cent.”
Hoe said: “Covid-19 has changed consumption habits globally, with people eating at home more frequently and tending to eat more seafood products, especially shrimp. The trend is expected to continue for the next few years.”
To further increase exports, the seafood sector must find ways to reduce costs to become competitive, he added.
Though there are good signs in the market, exports will still be affected by high transport and input costs, according to the association.
Besides, businesses must realise that the fight against Covid will continue to be an important task in 2021, and have plans to store raw materials.
In the context of high input costs in aquaculture, Tran Dinh Luan, director of the General Department of Fisheries, said the seafood sector would continue to promote linkages in production to enable firms to get good quality of inputs at reasonable prices and enhance the use of technology to increase productivity, reduce costs and protect the environment.
Securities companies mobilise trillions of dong to serve investors
With securities firms now allowed to increase their total liabilities to serve the increasing number of customers, the Vietnamese market has never been more active.
According to Circular 121/TT-BTC effective from February 15, 2021, securities companies could have debts of up to five times their equity instead of three times as before.
Experts said the circular was a turning point to help securities companies have more sources for business activities to serve the increased interest in the market.
In the context of lower deposit interest rates, while other business activities have struggled due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the securities sector has become attractive to many new investors.
According to the Vietnam Securities Depository, domestic investors opened 366,816 new securities accounts in the first four months of this year, equal to 93 per cent of the number of new accounts opened in the whole of 2020. The number of new accounts opened last year was a record and double the figure from 2019.
Insiders say the strong influx of domestic investors has helped market liquidity explode and a session with VND20 trillion traded is no longer rare. The sharp increase in liquidity has even led to order congestion.
Statistics in the first quarter show the average matching value on HoSE topped VND14 trillion, an increase of 62 per cent compared to the previous quarter and nearly five times higher than the same period last year.
Insiders also mentioned margin cash flow as an important contribution to the increase in liquidity, estimating that outstanding loans in the whole market by the end of the first quarter of 2021 were worth VND110 trillion (US$4.8 billion), a record high for the local stock market.
Compared to the last quarter of 2020, outstanding loans of securities companies in the market increased by about VND20 trillion.
To meet the lending demand of the market, securities companies have raised capital through the issuance of shares to existing shareholders, private placement as well as increased mobilisation of resources through bonds and loans from foreign organisations.
From the beginning of the year, securities companies are estimated to have mobilised more than VND6.5 trillion from bond issuance including VND1.2 trillion from Asia Commercial Bank Securities (ACBS), VND1.5 trillion from Saigon – Hanoi Securities JSC (SHS) and VND1.1 trillion from Viet Capital Securities JSC (VCSC).
As another channel, securities companies have taken loans out with foreign organisations. Recently, HSC signed an unsecured loan contract worth $44 million or more than VND1 trillion with a group of seven Taiwanese financial institutions, led by First Commercial Bank (FCB).
Earlier in March and April, VietinBank Securities (CTS) signed loan packages with a total value of $90 million (more than VND2 trillion) from a group of Korean and Taiwanese banks.
The total value of loans that securities companies have taken since the beginning of the year through bonds and unsecured loans is thought to be nearly VND10 trillion.
Along with bonds, securities companies have issued shares to meet capital needs for business activities and increase equity, enabling them to offer more in loans to their customers.
According to current regulations, securities companies were only allowed to lend out a maximum value of two times their equity, but by the end of the first quarter of 2021, many securities companies had almost reached the maximum lending threshold. Therefore, the issuance of shares is considered vital for the competitiveness of securities companies.
A series of large securities companies such as VNDirect, MBS, HSB, VCSC have all increased their capital by trillions of dong from share issuance while some small securities companies have plans to raise capital such as Pinetree, Dai Nam (DNSE), Da Nang (DNSC) and Everest (EVS) to strengthen their financial capacity.
With margin lending interest rates between 12 and 14 per cent annually, securities companies that often borrow at a rate of about 8 per cent could earn a large profit from lending activities.
On the stock market, shares of securities firms have gained, with winners including Vietinbank Securities Co (CTS), Bank for Investment & Development of Vietnam Securities Company (BSI), MB Securities JSC (MBS), Ho Chi Minh City Securities Corporation (HCM), SSI Securities Corporation (SSI) and Sacombank Securities Company (SBS).
Masan raises foreign ownership limit to 100 per cent
Vietnamese conglomerate Masan Group has just been approved by the State Securities Commission (SSC) to increase its foreign ownership limit to 100 per cent.
The current foreign ownership rate of Masan Group has been 48.4 per cent since the beginning of 2017. As of the end of 2020, Masan Group has 8,822 shareholders. Among them, there are 7,787 local shareholders owning 780 million shares or 66.41 per cent. There are also 1,035 foreign shareholders owning 395 million shares or equaling 33.59 per cent.
The largest foreign institutional shareholder is SK Investment Vina I Pte. Ltd. which holds 109.9 million shares. Another foreign shareholder is Ardolis Investment under the Singapore Government Fund (GIC), holding 8.93 per cent, according to the group’s 2020 annual report.
In the first quarter, Masan Group posted VND20 trillion ($869.57 million) in revenue and VND343 billion ($14.9 million) in net profit.
With the removal of the foreign ownership limit, Masan can attract more foreign investors to its businesses. Today, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and partners have invested $400 million in the retail and consumer unit of Masan Group.
In April, SK Group paid $410 million for a 16.3 per cent stake in VinCommerce to Masan Group. SK Group has held a 9.5 per cent stake in Masan since 2018. Last year, Ardolis Investment also raised its ownership in consumer staple firm Masan Group Corporation (HSX: MSN) from 5.67 to 8.93 per cent.
Bloomberg on May 13 reported that Masan is mulling selling shares to its strategic partners to call for a $1 billion investment in the animal feed company Masan MEATLife. The newswire stated that Masan has been working with its investment consultants to discover plans to introduce the animal feed segment, which will be under the management of its subsidiary.
Despite the impact of the global health crisis, Masan Group's 2020 revenue more than doubled over the previous year. In 2021, Masan Group expects revenues to rise 20-40 per cent driven by the growth of The CrownX, which consolidates Masan's interest in Vincommerce and Masan Consumer Holdings.
At the same time, it plans for its meat business to reach 20-40 per cent of Masan MEATLife's net revenue, as well as Masan High-Tech Materials to turn around as a result of the H.C. Starck and Mitsubishi partnership, supported by an upswing in commodity prices.
Export of iron and steel soaring sharply
As the scarcity of iron ore supply pushed prices up and Beijing is passing heavy restrictions to reduce emissions, the recovery in global steel demand have sparked a “steel fever” recently and increased Vietnam’s iron and steel export value in the first four months.
According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the iron and steel export value surpassed the $1 billion mark in the first four months of 2021. Exports of iron and steel soared by nearly 88 per cent to $2.7 billion and rose 47 per cent in volume to 3.8 million tonnes. The export of products made from steel also increased by 20.9 per cent to $1.2 billion.
The latest report by the General Department of Vietnam Customs highlighted that in the second half of April 2021, steel exports rose by $173 million, equivalent to 58.1 per cent compared to the first half of the month.
Thereby, manufacturing industrial products in the first four months of 2021 rose significantly on-year, while rolled steel products increased 61.8 per cent, and crude iron and steel rose 17.4 per cent.
The Vietnam Steel Association (VSA) reported that steel production reached more than 10.4 million tonnes in the first four months, up 38.3 per cent on-year. Sales reached 9.4 million tonnes, up 40.3 per cent on-year, and exports were 2.1 million, a rise of 67.8 per cent on-year.
Over the past months, local steel prices have increased sharply by 40-45 per cent over the last quarter of 2020. The steel sector heated up due to the consecutive rises in input material prices, while Vietnam’s steel production mainly depends on import materials like iron ore, scrap steel, graphite electrode. Delays in delivery and the interruption of global logistics have also contributed to the increase in steel prices.
Specifically, the VSA reported that the price of iron ore (Fe 62 per cent) on May 4, 2021 was at $189.4-189.9 per tonne, a $19 over early April, and increased to $210-212 per tonne on May 7, 2021.
Premium hard coking coal exported from Australian ports on May 4, 2021 was at $103.75 per tonne, down $5 over early April, while in China it rose high.
Heavy melting steel (HMS) I/II 80:20 imported through East Asian ports cost $466, a rise of $24 over early April. The price of HSM in the US has increased slightly, while in Europe and Southeast Asia it remained stable.
Hot-rolled coiled steel (HRC) on May 4 was at $925 per tonne at East Asian ports, up $130 over early April.
“Generally, the world market of HRC has been fluctuating, so the local market faces a lot of challenges because enterprises that produce flat steel (galvanised sheet, steel pipe) use HRC as manufacturing material,” VSA reported.
In order to adjust the supply of steel and stabilise prices, reduce speculation and price pressure, in early February 2021, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) in collaboration with relevant ministries and agencies submitted Document No.724/BCT-CN to the government.
The MoIT also asked the ministry’s units to check and build some technical barriers and quality standards to improve competitive climate and ensure customers’ rights, and apply some trade remedies for steel products in accordance with trade regulations and international laws.
Australia enhances investment in innovation to Vietnam
AUD3.5 million ($2.7 million) of the Australian government has just been committed to the knowledge and innovation of Vietnam in Aus4Innovation (2018-22) – the flagship investment under the Australia-Vietnam Innovation Partnership.
Speaking at a bilateral meeting with Vietnam's Minister of Science and Technology, Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Robyn Mudie said: "Four years since its establishment, I'm delighted that the Innovation Partnership between Australia and Vietnam, through the Aus4Innovation Program, has delivered tangible, significant results that are having substantial positive impacts on the lives of Vietnamese people. Our collaborative achievements with the Ministry of Science of Technology and partners from both countries are being realised thanks to an embrace of emerging technology and scientific knowledge. Our decision to increase support for innovation by AUD3.5 million ($2.7 million) reaffirms Australia's commitment to our strategic partnership with Vietnam, in which knowledge and innovation is one of the three priorities."
Aus4Innovation – which is delivered collaboratively by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) and Australia's national science agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – is building partnerships between Australian and Vietnamese universities, research agencies, high-tech businesses, and policymakers to help strengthen Vietnam's innovation ecosystem to deliver sustainable socio-economic development.
Over the first two and a half years, Aus4Innovation has explored emerging areas of technology and digital transformation, trialled new models for partnerships between public and private sector institutions, and strengthened Vietnamese capability in digital foresight, scenario planning, science commercialisation, and innovation policy.
"It is very reassuring to know that in this critical time, facing the severe pandemic worldwide and pressure to accelerate digital transformation to meet the goals set by the government, we have a trusted partner like Australia. Our collaboration is based on strategic trust in the role of science, technology, and innovation to drive sustained socio-economic development; and in the mutual benefit that partnership brings to both countries. We highly appreciate the support of the Australian government through Aus4Innovation Program and are pleased to see what the programme has achieved and impacted Vietnam's innovation ecosystem. We will continue to work closely for a successful transition period and look forward to more widespread impacts in Phase 2," Huynh Thanh Dat, Minister of Science and Technology added.
Since the programme's formal commencement in 2018, impactful results have been delivered across all program activities. 130 organisations from both Australia and Vietnam have been brought together in 43 partnerships.
These organisations are government agencies, research institutes, universities, and businesses – all key stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem. Practical, innovative solutions delivering development impacts have been applied in different sectors of the economy – health, aquaculture, clean and safe water, smart urban infrastructure, and more.
Overall capacity in science commercialisation has been significantly enhanced through training for knowledge institutes and individual researchers, the opening of technology transfer offices across the country, and the piloting of science commercialisation models to find the most suitable model for Vietnam.
A remarkable result of this effort is the Commercialisation Plus – How to Guide, co-developed with Vietnamese partners to introduce a structured commercialisation process to Vietnamese research institutes. Reports and econometric models have been conducted to provide policymakers in Vietnam with technical support and introduce lessons learned from Australia.
Aus4Innovation primarily works in two sectors: future digital economy (including digital technology and AI) and resilient agriculture and food systems. In the transition period 2021-2022, new initiatives will be incorporated such as the Vietnam Innovation Marketplace portal to facilitate connections between industry and research organisations and the Australia-Vietnam Partnership on Marine Plastic to help the two countries address this common environmental challenge.
Danang lures over $830 million investment from Singapore
Danang is emerging as an attractive investment destination for investors from Singapore, which have poured over $838.4 million into the central city.
Speaking at a recent webinar, leaders of Danang People’s Committee stated that Singapore is one of Vietnam’s most important investment and trading partners. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore remains the leading foreign investor in Vietnam by registering 248 projects worth $9 billion in the country last year.
As of March 15, Danang was home to 895 foreign-invested projects with the total capital of $3.86 trillion. Among them, there are 28 projects invested by Singapore worth $838.4 million. Singapore is currently the second-largest investor in 50 countries and territories investing in the central city, accounting for 22 per cent of the total registered capital.
The city has partnered with the joint venture between Sakae and Surbana Jurong to implement the general planning adjustment of Danang to 2030, with a vision until 2045. The project was approved by the prime minister on March 15, which is an important foundation for the city development in the future.
Singaporean investors and companies highly appreciate the potential and advantages of Danang. According to Holly Bostock, corporate affairs director at HEINEKEN Vietnam, Danang has developed complete infrastructure with land sites for investors. Its industrial zones and high-tech zones boast more convenient location than the neighbouring provinces. Moreover, the city has simple and transparent administrative procedures, creating favourable conditions for investors.
On the same note, Douglas Foo, president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) cum chairman of Sakae Holdings, lauded the potential of investment climate in Danang as a member of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network.
“Danang needs to establish an information centre about the city at SMF’s Vietnam Connection Center to connect Singaporean investors and Vietnamese partners. Singaporean investors want to invest in areas in line with the city’s development orientation, ensuring the progress and quality of investment projects,” he said.
Danang authorities said that they are proceeding with the establishment of the Danang Desk at the Vietnam Connection Center to promote Danang to more Singaporean businesses. With a view to becoming a smart city and startup hub, Danang is actively making changes and implementing innovative strategies. The city is committed to supporting Singaporean investors to do business locally.
Non-performing loans rise with restructuring
Banks have experienced a significant bad debt formation while implementing strict provisioning to control non-performing loans amid pandemic struggles – however, debt restructuring portfolios will slightly increase in 2021 as related conditions are expanded.
According to first-quarter financial statements released by 26 banks, non-performing loans (NPLs) on the balance sheets of these banks increased by 5.3 per cent to more than $4 billion.
BIDV, VPBank, and VietinBank posted the largest NPL holdings in the banking system with $944.5 million, $452 million, and $387 million, respectively. In the first quarter, 20 of the 26 banks recorded an increase in bad debts, with some like ACB and Vietcombank reporting drastic rises. ACB saw the sharpest increase in the quarter with 61 per cent to reach $128.26 million of bad debts.
The latest report by SSI Research shows that the surge in NPLs has come from a more conservative loan classification to stabilise credit quality. According to ACB's Board of Management, the bank has reclassified the debt of a large corporate client that may face difficulties in the future. It also forecast that it would need more than two years to deal with NPL collateral and is setting adequate provisions for this.
Vietcombank also recorded a 47 per cent increase in NPLs to reach $334.35 million in the first three months. Meanwhile, NPLs at MB rose 29 per cent to $180.87 million.
Only six banks posted reducing NPLs – VietinBank, Sacombank, SeABank, Techcombank, BAC A BANK, and Kienlongbank – with the latter seeing the most substantial decrease from $81.74 million to $24.35 million. The main reason was that the bank sold its STB shares in Sacombank which were used to secure a potentially sour loan in 2019.
The five other banks have seen a slight decrease in NPLs, with Techcombank down 12 per cent, VietinBank 6 per cent, Sacombank 8 per cent, SeABank 1 per cent, and BAC A BANK 4 per cent.
In addition, around 11 of the 26 banks recorded the lower NPL rates against the end of 2020. Some banks have reduced bad debts on the back of the slow growth of total outstanding loans, attributable to seasonal activities and the low credit demand.
In the first quarter of 2021, NPLs fared better than at the end of last year, despite previous warnings about a potential rise in 2021. However, restructured debts turning sour could have a negative impact.
Earlier last month, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) promulgated Circular No.03/2021/TT-NHNN announcing additional conditions for and extending the roadmap for debt restructuring until 2023. It authorised credit institutions to reschedule debt repayment terms for debts due to be paid between January 23 and the end of this year.
Nguyen Thi Phuong Thanh, analyst at VNDIRECT told VIR, "We believe that Circular 03 will support companies in recovering business lines as well as reducing provisioning pressure on commercial banks. Meanwhile, additional conditions regarding debt restructuring will allow companies to take up loans for production with extended repayment terms, reducing financial cost pressure during the post-pandemic recovery period."
Thanh emphasised that banks' debt restructuring portfolios would slightly increase in 2021 as restructuring conditions are expanded. However, impact on asset yields is expected to be minimal. In fact, since the end of 2020, several commercial banks have ceased debt restructuring portfolio expansion to avoid conditions on repayment time set by Circular No.01/2020/TT-NHNN which made similar allowances as Circular 03.
As of April 5, credit institutions have restructured repayment terms for 262,000 customers with outstanding loans of about $15.5 billion. At the same time, banks have exempted, reduced and lowered interest rates for more than 663,000 customers with outstanding loans of $55.2 billion.
New loans issued with preferential interest rates have reached more than $137.4 billion for 456,600 customers since January 2020. Once taking effect, it is expected that Circular 03 would create more favourable conditions for cash-strapped corporate and individual clients alike.
Pham Thi Trung Ha, deputy general director of MB said, "After the bank reduced interest rates, businesses were better prepared for debt payments. Up to 80 per cent of customers have been able to repay loans on time, with only 20 per cent falling behind in payments. Some of the most vulnerable sectors include accommodation, tourism, and services."
SBV Deputy Governor Doan Thai Son also promised that the central bank would ramp up assistance for the hardest-hit companies even after the termination of Circular 03.
Nguyen Quoc Hung, general secretary of the Vietnam Banks Association said, "The government must support the banking industry by allowing debt freezing with a maximum term of two years. This will provide credit institutions with a solid foundation while ensuring the legal aspects when granting any new loans."
Inspection rise in face of insurance hustle
Recent compulsory bundling of insurance policies with banking products despite customer unwillingness has triggered concerns over bancassurance activities in Vietnam, and as a result authorities are strengthening inspections of such rampant insurance cross-selling mechanisms.
"The MoF will closely cooperate with the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) to revise policy mechanisms, and strengthen management and supervision of insurance sale activities of credit institutions' agents," the ministry said. "At the same time, the MoF will continue to strengthen inspection and supervision of bancassurance, ensure compliance with the law, increase high-quality training credit institutions' employees to participate in insurance sale, and take measures to rectify and handle violations in a timely manner."
In April, it was reported that Vietnam International Commercial Bank's (VIB) Tay Ninh Branch forcibly sold insurance policies to customers as a compulsory part of the loans, even without their consent.
For example, with a loan package of VND200 million ($8,700), borrowers must purchase a life insurance package with minimum value equivalent to 10 per cent of the loan. Borrowers will enjoy the benefit of more preferential interest rate, as well as early disbursement within the next 3-5 days. Phan Hung Xuan, director of the Tay Ninh Branch, insisted that there was no such policy to force borrowers to participate in the insurance package.
Nguyen Xuan Hien, director of the SBV in the southwestern province of Tay Ninh, said, "We have received feedback from customers and hence issued Official Document No. 947/TNI-TTGSNH to rectify the insurance business and insurance agency activities of credit institutions in Tay Ninh province."
However, there are some cases where banks have received complaints from policyholders on being forcibly purchased insurance policies by banks.
"According to customer feedback, the credit officer of VIB in Tay Ninh forced customers to buy life insurance when lending money which is not in accordance with the law on insurance business," Hien said, noting that in the coming time, the SBV in the province will direct credit institutions to strictly comply with regulations on credit activities and insurance agency operations, and strictly handle violations.
According to the Vietnam Insurance Association, new insurance premium revenues through the bancassurance channel in 2019 accounted for 29 per cent of total new premium revenues, increasing from 10 per cent in 2016. In 2020, premium revenue from this channel continued to grow and accounted for more than 30 per cent of the total new premium revenue.
Last October, the SBV issued Document No.7928/NHNN-TTGSNH on regulating insurance business and insurance agency operations. Specifically, the SBV required banks to strictly abide by the regulations on insurance business. "Banks must not sell insurance forcefully to their customers. Any actions related to compulsory insurance in order to get loans are strictly prohibited," the SBV noted. "In addition, bankers must thoroughly explain terms and conditions of insurance products to customers, and help customers to fully understand their rights and benefits."
The SBV also asked commercial banks to disseminate the prevailing regulations on insurance business to their employees to avoid violations.
"Banks sit on mounds of customer data. However, bank staff are specifically trained to discharge banking services. Even insurance cross-selling mechanisms have been all the rage for the past few months, and not all bank staff have a thorough knowledge of insurance," one industry insider told VIR. "In some branches, there is no specific due diligence based on the actual needs of customers."
Bancassurance activities in Vietnam have witnessed an upward trajectory in the past few months, with both local and foreign insurers proactively expanding their bancassurance network by initiating tie-ups with lenders.
Along with some major exclusive bancassurance deals, such as VietinBank and Manulife, ACB and Sun Life, and Vietcombank with FWD, HDBank is now mulling over choosing a suitable insurance partner for the bank's monopoly agreement. Many international life insurance companies have offered to cooperate with HDBank, but negotiations have stalled due to the pandemic.
Elsewhere, brokerage SSI Securities believed that the fee received from SunLife (around $370 million) has helped ACB reduce capital costs. According to SSI, ACB's bancassurance performance in the first quarter of this year ranked second, after SCB, in terms of fee revenues.
Dragon Capital becomes largest shareholder of VPBank
Dragon Capital increased its ownership rate in VPBank (VPB) to 5.12 per cent, becoming its largest foreign shareholder.
The divestment from FE Credit helped VPBank have more capital to put into business, increasing growth room.
The bank’s annual report from last year said that no shareholder held more than 5 per cent at the end of 2020. Therefore, Dragon Capital has become the largest and only major shareholder of VPBank.
In particular, Dragon Capital’s funds bought 3.15 million VPB shares. Of this, Vietnam Enterprise Investments Limited (VEIL) bought the most with 1.5 million shares, DC Developing Markets Strategies Pcl. bought 600,000 shares, CTBC Vietnam Equity Fund and Norges Bank bought 500,000 shares;, and Samsung Vietnam Securities Master Investment Trust fund bought 50,000 shares.
VPB shares have doubled since the beginning of the year. Since the sale of 49 per cent stake in FE Credit, the bank not only earned nearly $1.4 billion and planned to triple its charter capital by 2022 but its stock has grown even more strongly with record liquidity.
In 2021, VPBank plans to make a pre-tax profit of VND16.654 trillion ($724 million), an increase of nearly 28 per cent compared to 2020. However, Ngo Chi Dung, chairman of the Board of Directors, said that the board is putting pressure on the board of management to achieve a higher profit.
In the first quarter of 2021, VPBank’s business results are very positive with a profit increase of 38 per cent, reaching more than VND4 trillion ($173.9 million). Of this, the profit of individual banks increased by more than 55 per cent on-year. The divestment from FE Credit provided VPBank with more capital to put into business, increasing growth room.
Falling prices of sweet potatoes in Mekong Delta leave farmers crying
Many sweet potato farmers in the Mekong Delta have been fidgeting lately because the vegetable price has dropped dramatically and a few people buy it. The falling prices have left farmers crying.
The gloomy atmosphere has spread in vast fields of sweet potato for export in communes Phu Long, Hoa Tan, and Tan Phu in Dong Thap Province in these days because farmers have been unable to find buyers.
For many years, there has been a paradox of plenty in agriculture that a bumper crop reaped by the farmers brings a smaller total income to them. The fall in the income or revenue of the farmer as a result of the bumper crop is due to the fact that with greater supply the prices of the crop decline drastically. More often than not, farmers are unable to assess market conditions and anticipate recovery of falling prices.
A lot of agricultural products are displayed at reasonable prices in supermarkets and trade centers in Ho Chi Minh City whereas scores of vegetables and fruits are piled up streets everywhere waiting for consumers. In general, farmers across the country cry bitterly because they are unable to sell the harvested produce in the market; yet, meanwhile, their peers feel secure because their products are bought all.
Nguyen Van Huynh, Chairman of Dong Tan Assembly Association in Chau Thanh District moaned before the Lunar New Year 2021, the price of Japanese purple sweet potato was bought at VND1 million per quintal (1 quintal = 60kg) by traders to export to the Chinese market, so farmers enjoyed a big profit. However, after Tet holiday (the Lunar Nee Year) until now, the price of the potatoes continuously dropped to VND600,000 per quintal, and then VND400,000 per quintal.
Worse, from April 2021, per quintal costs more than VND200,000 and to VND70,000-VND90,000 in these days. At the current price, sweet potato farmers suffered a big loss.
According to Mr. Huynh, farmers in Phu Long commune alone have kept about 20ha of sweet potatoes; while the crop needs to be harvested completely in a few weeks to sow the autumn-winter rice. Farmers grow approximately 3,400ha of sweet potatoes for export and domestic consumption in Chau Thanh District in Dong Thap Province. However, the current low potato prices have pushed many farmers to live in difficulties.
In recent days, people in Cu Yang commune, Ea Kar district, in the Central Highlands Province of Dak Lak have fallen in despair because traders refused to buy their pumpkin forcing farmers to sell at an agreed-upon rate. Along the main road to the commune, piles of pumpkins are seen in front of people’s houses.
Farmer Pham Thi Luu said her family harvested more than 20 tons. Traders disapproved to purchase the vegetable pressing the price to VND1,200 a kilogram while it was more than VND3,000 a kilogram last year.
Around 2,000 tons of pumpkins have been harvested in the commune but no buyers want to purchase them. The local authorities are calling for assistance from enterprises, supermarkets, and residents to buy the vegetable so that farmers can earn their living.
Elsewhere farmers in the northern provinces of Bac Giang and Hai Duong feel secured while harvesting lychees because the Ministry and departments in the agriculture sector have adopted measures to help them to sell the fruit.
Director of Plant Protection Department Hoang Trung said that the Department has directed plant quarantine divisions to closely to keep an eye on the actual situation to promptly announce changes in exporting to China which may affect the customs clearance. The Department also requested the establishment of a plant quarantine force to inspect exported agricultural products with the aim to curb congestion at the border gates. Moreover, related agencies take heeds of export lychee to the US and Japan.
To help farmers, lychees from the northern provinces of Bac Giang and Hai Duong are now officially on sale on one of Vietnam's leading online marketplaces, Lazada, from May 15.
Hai Duong Provincial People’s Committee today coordinated with the Ministry of Industry and Trade and related agencies to organize a virtual conference to connect and promote the consumption of Thanh Ha lychee and typical agricultural products of Hai Duong province. The virtual conference connected with domestic and foreign traders in the UK, Australia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Korea, Hong Kong, USA, Japan, France, Singapore, and China.
With bumper harvests, farmers are forced to sell the stocks to middlemen for a pittance or let them go to waste. Better integration of markets, development, and maintenance of storage facilities could help avoid this problem.
Source: VNA/VNS/VOV/VIR/SGT/Nhan Dan/Hanoitimes
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